Tuesday, October 15, 2013

AN EGGPLANT DIP WITH KASHK AND THE TALE OF A LEATHER JACKET - KASHKI BADEMJAN


♪ Music we're cooking to ♪

Mama, today at school - at lunch time - I dipped my carrots in the hummus.  When my carrots finished I dipped the apples.  When the apples finished - it was...(dramatic pause) FINGERS TIME! - Soleil

Have you heard?  The motorcycle jacket is back.  A fashion magazine told me so.  So it must be true.  It was a couple of months ago though - so it's probably old news by now. But still - it begs the age-old fashion question: if you wore it the first time around (or more like in its second or third incarnation) can you still pull it off? 



9:00 pm - the kids are tucked in bed.  Drew and I - operating on automatic - clock out and shuffle into the decompression chamber - aka the office. No words are exchanged.  We retreat to our respective posts.  Me - in front of the computer.  He - at his bass guitar - providing my nightly soundtrack. He's rehearsing for the upcoming school event.  A band made up of slightly aged, musically inclined parents along with fresh-faced school faculty. His agile fingers work through the familiar chords.  Elvis Costello, early years REM, Pete Townshend (like I said slightly aged parents). And just like that - my eyes glaze over - once again hypnotized and transported to another time and place by those few simple chords.  I stand, slowly, but with purpose.  Hypnosis has fully set in.  I walk over to the closet.  My arms stretch in to reach the very deep dark back.  I know it's there.  My hands fumble over other garments now packed away; just in case: what if I'm invited to a formal ball (vintage cape - mine), what if I hike Mt. Everest (Taiga - his), what if we get hit by a major snow storm in L.A. (parkas - ours).  I know it's there - what's so funny - I'm on my toes - about peacereaching deeper - loveI know it's there - and - reach - understanding - there it is.  Sturdy, smooth, zippers in all the right places,  with that oh-so-familiar and comforting smell of worn-in  leather. My motorcycle jacket.  

Hello, old friend.


For an entire year I worked after schools and all summer long to save up for this jacket. And the events of the day when I bought it were just as momentous as the purchase itself.  My Aunt Dixie had taken me to a leather goods bazaar somewhere in downtown Manhattan. I was visiting New York City for the very first time.  The trip that sealed my everlasting love affair with that city.  It was the late 80's and I was in my early teens.  Life was exciting and full of promise, the music that accompanied the need for the jacket pounded with anarchy and rebellion.  And fashion was...a black motorcycle jacket to go along with the other big ticket item that drained a teenager's life savings - Fluevogs

Ceremoniously I take the jacket off the hanger, and with a sense of ease and familiarity, slip it on.  Just like I had done every fall and winter (and sometimes even in the warmer months) all those years before it got finally stored away in the solitary confinement of the closet. The heavy weight of the jacket rests comfortably on my not-so-broad shoulders; the warm embrace of a long-lost companion.  The safety pin I had attached to the broken front zipper dangles back and forth, setting me deeper into my hypnotic state.  



Rainy and grey Vancouver skies, musty and crowded bus rides, high school, first love, first heartbreak, countless concerts, night clubs, university, warm breezy nights playing billiards and making haughty and broad proclamations about Joyce, Beckett and Shepard as only twenty-year-olds can, artistic endeavors, achievements and disappointments, travel across borders, a new life, palm trees and sunny skies, shiny blue Buicks and meeting the love that currently serenades me nightly.  This jacket has borne witness to my story and could probably tell it better than I can. Up until roughly 1997 that is.

Kashki Bademjan is an eggplant dip that I guarantee will give baba ganoush a run for its money.  Its ingredients and preparation are quite simple. First, you roast the eggplant in the oven and then finish cooking it off on the stove with a little water, sauteed onions and maybe a sprinkle of turmeric and saffron.  But it's the finishing garnishes that really give this dish its maximum flavor impact and make it dangerously addictive and delicious. I recommend using Japanese eggplants since they have thinner skins and I find them to be more flavorful.  Japanese eggplants also have less seeds so they are not as bitter as other varieties. Because of their thinner skin I don't peel them; but if you do use any other type make sure you peel the skin.  Traditionally the eggplant for Kashki Bademjan is first fried in a pan. I'm not a big fan of frying anything.  Not only for health reasons but also because I can't stand all the oil spattering everywhere and the mess.  So I like to roast the eggplant first in the oven for about 20 minutes or so.  The result is just as fantastic as frying them.  Kashki Bademjan is served warm with bread as an appetizer/ dip or can be served alongside the main meal as a side dish.  And of course, if you run out of bread there is always (dramatic pause) FINGERS TIME!

Caramelized onion, mint and garlic - naana dagh/piaz dadgh/seer dagh - is a garnish used quite frequently in many Persian dishes.  You can always prepare a large batch of caramelized onion, mint and garlic ahead of time and store it in the freezer for future use.  You can use it on soups, other dips like hummus or even on burgers.  Patience is the secret ingredient in well caramelized (not burnt) onions and garlic.  It takes about 30 mins but it is well worth it to draw out the natural sweetness from both the onions and the garlic.  You can caramelize the onion and garlic separately or together.  Dried mint is also added to the caramelized onion and garlic but only at the very end so that it doesn't burn.




The last thing that is mixed in to the eggplant dip is a creamy slightly tart ingredient. This can be in the form of strained (Greek) yogurt, sour cream, or even creme fraiche.  (I haven't tried it with creme fraiche yet but I think it would be great.  If you do please let me know!  And personally I'm not a fan of sour cream.)  But traditionally it is an ingredient called kashk.  Hence the name of the dish - kashki bademjan - which literally means kashk and eggplant.  Kashk is often referred to as whey - but it is not whey.  It is fermented yogurt.  And it can either be found in a liquid or dried form.  If you use the dried form you have to add water to it to reconstitute it.  I practically jumped off my chair when I came across this article about kashk.  It is so exciting to see all these spices and ingredients that were such a part of my everyday meals as a child become so popular now.  Sumaq, turmeric, saffron, cardamom, rose water and now kashk.  You know kashk has made it if Mr. Ottolenghi is talking about it!  Kashk is typically used to add a depth of flavor and creamy consistency to soups (like a variety of aash - thick soups), dips such as kashki bademjan or even to everyday scrambled eggs.  For non-Persians kashk could be considered an acquired taste.  When making this dip my mom will often substitute strained yogurt for kashk if she is serving non-Persians.  But I urge you all to try this "umami flavor" (Mr. Ottolenghi's words).  Just start with small amounts.  And for the record I'm still trying to figure out exactly what umami is.  I'm going to go with - deliciousness.  Kashk can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores.  I recommend using the liquid variety as it is less work than the dried kind.  I recently tried my hand at homemade kashk (pictured at the top of this post). More to come on that later.
      

I slip my hands in the front pockets of my motorcycle jacket.  Before my fingers are fully immersed I anticipate and instinctually reach for the soft cottonball-like sensation of the torn-up lining - the holes in both pockets so wide and deep they reach halfway around the bottom of the jacket.  There is a comfort in these rips and tears. These pockets that for so many years kept my hands warm.  As I dig deeper I pull out various artifacts of a time long past - paper clips, torn up pieces of paper, old bus transfers.  I look at the date and times on the bus transfers and try to imagine where I was, where I was going, whom I was meeting.  I put everything back in the pockets.  I don't have the heart to throw them out. These scraps have now become one with the jacket.  This is where they belong.  Before taking the jacket off I pop open the smallest pocket that is fastened with a button.  Keep in mind motorcycle jackets have many pockets.  I don't expect to find anything there. Without much thought my fingers reach in and I pull out - ahem - an unmentionable.  My mouth drops open and I stand there aghast.  Drew looks up from his bass and stares stunned at me.  Our eyes meet and we break into uncontrollable laughter.  The hypnosis is broken. I take off my jacket - quite un-ceremoniously.  It gets hung back up.  The motorcycle jacket might be back in vogue - but this motorcycle jacket's days have come and gone.  That is until my girls decide to break it out, dust it off and breathe new life and stories into it.

And for the record I own an identical white motorcycle jacket too.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

JARRING TOMATOES - CALABRESE STYLE - PART 2

























Continued from Part 1

Before continuing my conversation with Teresa about her family's annual tomato jarring tradition, I'd like to thank all the families involved in this years pomodori event and for sharing the ins and outs of this amazing tradition.  Thank you to the families Tiano, Marelli, Mercuriano, Novia, Cipollone, Corbo, Ferrara and Deravian.  And to my brother Ramin for the great photos (stills!).  Grazie mille a tutti.


Can you walk us through the jarring process?

Try to buy ripe but firm tomatoes.  Once you get the tomatoes home you need to take them out of the bushels.  They need to be sorted in case there are any rotten ones (if they stay in the bushel the rot will spread).
  
The tomatoes need to be laid out on a large flat dry surface in a single layer.  We normally use three or four large folding tables.  The tomatoes need to ripen because the riper they are the more sauce they will yield. This process can take anywhere from 4-10 days depending on how ripe the tomatoes were when you purchased them. 

You need to ensure that the mason jars are sterilized .  Lids need to be sterilized as well and you need to be sure there are no dents, dirt or rust on them (if they are being reused).

The sauce can be made indoors or outdoors.  My family makes it outdoors.  We usually make it at my sister's house using the space in the garage (thoroughly cleaned) and her driveway.


SUPPLIES: (based on making 4 bushels or 96 kilos which should yield approximately 55-60 jars; enough for one year for one family if you use 1 jar per week)

jars - 15 per bushel of tomatoes, with lids
extra large wooden spoon/spatulas (2 or 3)
extra large colanders with long handles (there are specially designed ones)
stainless steel heavy duty pots (42 litre size minimum)
4-6 clean plastic buckets (large size)
electric tomato squeezer machine
burners (my family has two going)
propane gas tanks
access to cold water
clean bushels (at least 4)
cheese cloths (large 4)
long aluminum skewers (2)
ladle
medium cooking pot (everyday pot is fine) 
canning jar funnel
oven heat-resistant glove

STEPS:  Day of tomato sauce making.

REMEMBER: STEPS 2-10 ARE DONE SIMULTANEOUSLY IN AN ASSEMBLY LINE LIKE FASHION AND EACH STEP REQUIRES A MINIMUM OF TWO PEOPLE.

1. Assemble your electric tomato squeezer machine on a table and have 1 clean plastic bucket or pot placed below it where the puree comes out, a medium aluminum roasting pan beneath the nozzle where the skin and seeds come out and another bucket to pour the seeds and skin into.  Place your bushels over large pots or buckets. 

2.  Tomatoes need to be washed thoroughly, to do this put as many tomatoes  as can fit into your buckets and wash thoroughly with cold water (see pictures in Part 1).  Drain the dirty water.  Fill your stainless steel pots about 2/3 with water so that all tomatoes are submerged.

3.  Place the pots on burners, turn the fire on and bring the water to a full boil.  Let tomatoes cook for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure they do not stick to the bottom of the pot.

4.  Place cheesecloth in bushel (cover bottom and sides) and carefully pour cooked tomatoes into bushel.  Poke the cooked tomatoes with skewers to allow excess juice to be strained through cheesecloth (approximately 10-15 minutes).

5.  Once the excess juice has been strained, it has to be pureed through the electric tomato squeezer.  This portion usually requires three people; one person to continuously place tomatoes into funnel part of machine, one person to operate the machine and one person to constantly clean the nozzle so that it doesn't clog up and to ensure the skins go into the pan and then into the bucket. Once the bucket has been filled place it aside.

6.  You may choose to repeat Step 5 one more time using the skins and seeds.  This depends on how thick the puree is initially.




7.  Once you have pureed your cooked tomatoes you pour the puree into the large pot.  2-3 inches from the top.

8.  The pot needs to be placed on the burner and brought to a full boil, stirring regularly.

9.  Remove tomato squeezer machine from the workspace.  Wipe it down.  Make sure clean empty jars are placed on workspace.  Snap lids need to be heated (sterilized) so place them in a medium pot and immerse in boiling water and heat for a few minutes.

10.  Once the tomato puree comes to a full boil it has to cook at that heat for 20-25 minutes, being stirred constantly. 

11.  Begin filling your jars.  This process takes about 3-5 people.  One person to continue stirring the puree on the heat.  One to fill the jars using a ladle.  One to place heated snap lids with rims and clean the jars if excess puree has spilled over.  One person to make sure the rims are securely tightened (make sure this person is wearing heat resistant gloves) and one to place the filled jars into boxes.

12.  You will hear a popping sound either immediately or throughout the cooling down period.  This sound ensures that the jars have been properly sealed. 

13.  Boxes of jars need to be stored in a dry dark place.  The sauce needs to cool down for 2-3 days.  It's then ready to use.  The jars will keep for at least a year.




Please note:  Teresa tells me since they double boil their sauce they do not put the jars in a hot water bath process.  Nor do they add any lemon juice or citric acid to their tomato sauce.  However if you choose to do so for extra assurance against spoilage there are plenty of resources available to give you exact amounts on the lemon juice/citric acid addition and how long to immerse your jars in the hot water bath (depending on where you live).

I am so inspired to make and jar our own tomato sauce/puree.  With summer now long gone and fall in full swing (thankfully we had our first LA rainfall today) this gives me a few months to gather my supplies and recruit interested parties.  Wanna sign up? 

All photos in this story courtesy of Ramin Deravian copyright 2013










Tuesday, October 1, 2013

JARRING TOMATOES - CALABRESE STYLE - PART 1


Some cultural traditions (habits?) are very hard to break.  Food as a souvenir is one that stands out in my family.  Whenever my parents come to visit from Vancouver they pack their suitcases with barbari bread (it came out of the oven this morning - I told the baker I was visiting my daughter and grandchildren so he threw in a few extra...) pistachios, toot (fresh mulberries), feta cheese, the saffron Mrs. So-And-So just brought back from Iran, cinnamon, tea, etc.  Keep in mind that I live in Los Angeles - aka Tehrangeles. All of these things are readily available here. But somehow - this food stowed away in those suitcases, and then eagerly pulled out by the girls in search of goodies for themselves - tastes better than anything I could purchase at my local Persian market. (Those suitcases don't go back empty either - Trader Joe's has yet to open in Canada.)


The very first time my lovely sister-in-law Teresa and my brother Ramin visited us  (she was his girlfriend at the time), I knew she was the perfect match for my brother and that she would fit in seamlessly in our family. Within minutes of arriving at our house she zipped open her suitcase and pulled out the most beautiful jar of homemade pure tomato sauce which had survived the trip from Toronto just fine.  It also helped that she could fit right in and not be baffled by our loud and passionate kitchen table conversations, comedic hand gesticulations, and of course our passion and love of food.  She is Italian after all - Calabrese - from Calabria to be precise.  Which also qualifies my Roman-born brother for some good-natured teasing!


Teresa and her family jar tomatoes annually in Toronto.  It is an event I have wanted to be a part of but have been unable to find the time.  They can't say exactly when it will happen since they are at the mercy of the tomatoes.  Which makes purchasing a plane ticket difficult.  So this year I asked Teresa if she could virtually walk us through this amazing family tradition.  I also asked my professional photographer brother if he could take some pictures.  And in typical Ramin fashion he couldn't just snap a few photos - he had to make a film instead.  But we'll have to wait for the film as the maestro is busy with other non-pomodori-related projects.  In its place, we have some stills from the said film.  

Here is Part 1 of my conversation with Teresa:

How long ago did you start your tomato-jarring tradition?
As far back as I can remember, I think my parents and aunts and uncles brought the tradition over from Italy. 

How and why did it start?
As the tradition started from Italy, I believe that my parents' generation wanted to maintain it.  Also, it was economical and time-saving to have enough sauce for an entire year (and sometimes longer).

Who gets involved?  How many people does it take?
Well, it definitely is a team project.  How many people you need will depend on how many bushels of tomatoes you have.  Usually we make for three or four families.  But at the very least you need 3-4 people on the day you actually set aside to make the sauce.

What kind of tomatoes do you use?  How many kilos of tomatoes do you use?
We use organic Roma tomatoes.  The amount of tomatoes varies per year.  This year we made for four families and bought 14 bushels which is about 336 kilos.

Do you buy from a certain grower or farm?  Do you change every year?
We have bought our tomatoes from an organic farmer for the past twenty years.  It is a local Ontario farmer.
 




Do you use the hot water bath canning process?
When I was really young I remember my mom and aunts using the hot water bath canning process but it has been a long time since we have done it that way.

How many jars do you produce?
This year we produced 165 1-litre jars.

What do you typically use the jarred tomatoes for?  
We make a tomato puree, so it is mainly used for anything you would use tomato sauce for.  Pizza, pasta etc.  You can make chopped tomato, but my family has not done that for at least 15 years.

Do you see the younger generation, your nieces and nephews, carrying on this tradition?
If you had asked that question a few years ago, I would have said no.  But in the past couple of years my niece and nephew who are in their twenties have participated at different times throughout the process, which surprised me and makes very proud that they want to help.

Anything else you would like to share?
This tradition has evolved and changed over the years but the basic elements are still there.  It is a wonderful way to pay homage to our parents.  You also have incredible tasting and completely natural and organic tomato sauce to feed your family; and for me it is a day spent with family and friends, working but having fun at the same time.  I am so glad we still choose to do it. 

I've been toying around with the idea of jarring/canning/putting up our own tomatoes for some time now.  I guess I need to start looking for and recruiting some like-minded tomato sauce consumers to join me.  What do you think?  Would you be up for it?  Join me and Teresa and her whole family for Part 2 where Teresa will walk us through the actual jarring process...And tell me, do you travel with suitcases full of food?

All photos in this story courtesy of Ramin Deravian copyright 2013