Wednesday, April 30, 2014

AN ARTICHOKE, MUSHROOM, AND SOUR GREEN PLUM STEW - KHORESH KANGAR-E-FARANGI BA GOJEH SABZ - AN OFFICIAL DINNER INVITATION



 ♪ MUSIC WE'RE COOKING TO ♪

Mama!  The radio just said Air Force One landed at LAX.  Can the President come over for dinner?  Please?!

What's Air Force One, Luna?

Air Force One is the President's airplane, Soleil.  And he's here!  If Mama says it's ok then he can come over for dinner.  Can he Mama?  Please?!  You could make Polo with Tahdig.  I bet he would love it.  Let's call him.  Mama please!!.

How do you know so much things, Luna?

Well, I'm a first-grader, Soleil.  First-graders know a lot.  And I'm going to be the president when I grow up.  And a pop-star.  First I'll be a pop-star, then I'll go to space and then I'll be president.  If you want - when I'm president I can make you mayor or one of those people in a cabinet. 

I don't want to be mayor or a cabinet.  I'm going to be a mommy and a teacher when I grow up. 

Isn't it strange, Soleil - there haven't been any girl presidents.  Like - at - all. How come, Mama?



Food serendipity.  Or more like a food puzzle.  Sometimes that's how a meal comes to life around here.  On this particular day it started with a bunch of fragrant mint we got from the overflowing garden at Soleil's preschool.  The next piece easily fell into place with our farm box delivery: parsley, spinach, spring garlic.  Followed with a visit to the Farmers Market:  baskets upon baskets of baby artichokes.  A quick stop at the Persian grocery store and the fate of this evolving puzzle was sealed: sour green plums - gojeh sabz.  A Spring Stew.

Sour Green Plums - Gojeh Sabz 
A sour green plum - also referred to as a green cherry plum - is essentially a plum that's not yet ripe.  Biting into one of these is a delightful explosion of crunchy sourness, making this a highly coveted and sought-after fruit.  Typically it's consumed raw as a snack - just as it is - with a pinch of salt. Take a bite - sprinkle some salt on it - take another glorious bite of spring - repeat process.  Try not to over-consume.  As a child, there was nothing better than to be greeted with a bowlful of Gojeh Sabz after school. Gojeh Sabz is also used in stews or also preserved to make a pickle.  Persians have an affinity for anything sour.  Which is why you will often find something sour or acidic added to a dish, not only to brighten up all the flavors but also to balance out the salt and sweet.  To bring all the flavors to life.  As the Gojeh Sabz slowly simmer away in this stew they soften up and release their tart juice.  I also think they add a nice visual texture to the stew.  Just be mindful of the pit.  If you can't get your hands on sour plums you can always compensate by increasing the amount of lemon or lime juice used in the stew.  Sour green plums are only available for a very brief period in the spring time - before the plums ripen up. They can be found at Persian markets between April and MayMake sure you ask for them as sometimes they are kept behind the cash register - in view but not within reach - as they were at my market.  They are a hot commodity!  I also spoke with a farmer at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and he said he'll be bringing in sour plums in the next couple of weeks.  Worth asking around and keeping an eye out for them at farmers markets and Middle Eastern grocery stores.   



The Persian word for artichoke is Kangar-e-Farangi, which translates to foreign or European cardoon.  In our house we use either their Italian name - carciofi or their French name - artichaut.  Semantics.  Artichokes are very popular in our house.  Luna often claims two whole globe artichokes all to herself.  I was smitten by the baby artichokes at the market and knew they would make a perfect companion to the tart sour plums, the chopped up greens, and the meaty mushrooms in this stew.  But here's the thing - prepping artichokes (much like shelling 4lbs of fava beans) - paring them down to the heart for a stew like this - takes some time and loving dedication.  And certainly not a job for a weekday.  But if you have the time or if you have little helpers that can assist in peeling away the outer leaves then it is well worth it - otherwise feel free to use frozen artichoke hearts.  They work great as well.   As in so many Persian stews, the greens are a necessity here.  Not only for flavor but also because the parsley and mint aid in offsetting the indigestion (read flatulence) that can occur with the use of the sour green plums and artichokes.  Just keep in mind that mint can burn very quickly and too much of it can turn the dish bitter.  This Artichoke and Sour Green Plum Stew is fantastic served over rice of course.  But I also like to serve it spooned over some crusty bread with a dollop of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt.  I've also reheated leftovers with a couple of eggs cracked over it for a quick and delicious lunch.  


Dear Mr. President,
This is a long shot, I know.  But as the official Social Secretary to a certain seven-year-old I feel obliged to carry through her request (it has actually grown into a fever pitch command) to invite you and your family over to dinner next time you land at LAX.  Stopping by our house might actually be of assistance to you.  For reasons out of your control I'm sure - what with layovers, flight availability, weather delays, flight cancellations - you seem to have a penchant for braving the streets of our fair city at 6pm.  I understand - it cannot be helped.  But you see Sir, everyone and I mean EVERYONE is in their car and on the streets in Los Angeles at 6pm.  So it might not be such a bad idea to avoid this sea of humanity and machinery and join us for some Polo and Tahdig.  I'll bet anything Polo and Tahdig will not be served at the dinner party you are scheduled to attend.  It is also my understanding that you do not enjoy beets.  Neither does my four-year-old.  Beets shall not be served.  With the weather warming up we can also grill some kababs to go along with the rice and enjoy it all with a side of Artichoke and Sour Green Plum Stew.  Not sure what your position is  where artichokes or sour green plums are concerned.  On this side - the seven-year-old loves it - the four-year-old not so much.  Much to discern, much to discuss.
Thank you for considering this invitation.  
Yours Truly, A Mom

OK Luna I emailed The President inviting him over to dinner.

Mama - you should have called him. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

GRILLED HALLOUMI WITH BARBERRIES, TOASTED PINE NUTS, AND PRESERVED LEMONS - A DINNER PARTY - A NOMINATION

♪ MUSIC WE'RE COOKING TO

When your bucket is full you're really happy.  And when your bucket is empty you're really sad.  When a person dips into your bucket they're making you sad and taking some good feelings out of your bucket. When a person says something nice to you or are nice to you, they fill your bucket.  - Luna

It always starts with a dinner party (and maybe some wine - and of course some Tahdig).  About a year ago we had our good friend Krista over for dinner.  Loobia Polo - Mast-o-Khiar - all the usual edible suspects.  Krista asked me about the preparation of Tahdig, which got me talking about this idea I had for starting a food blog; an idea that had been brewing in my head for quite some time.  There it sat comfortably - in its cozy home clothes - in the back recesses of my mind - composing itself - cooking itself - photographing itself.  In short - taking up some valuable real estate in my already cluttered mind.  After patiently listening to my meandering diatribe on sharing what I know about Tahdig making with friends and its relation to writing a blog - Krista gave me a straight-up talking to.  Time to get the Tahdig out of my head and onto the blogosphere.  The right friend - with the right words - at the right dinner party. 

And so here I am one year later, absolutely humbled and honored to be nominated by SAVEUR MAGAZINE for their 2014 Best Food Blog Awards.  Bottom of the Pot is nominated in two separate categories:  Best Regional Cuisine Blog and Best New Blog.  If you would like to vote for me or any of the other amazing nominated blogs you can click on the link or on the SAVEUR awards badge on the side bar.  Voting closes on April 9th.  Thank you all for all your support, kind words, and encouragement.  But most of all thank you for joining me on this Persian food journey.  

The idea for this Grilled Halloumi appetizer was also born out of a dinner party.  An impromptu dinner party - the best kind.  2pm on a Saturday afternoon. Phones start lighting up.  How about a casual dinner at our place - the kids can all play... 5 pm - same day. The house awakens from its lazy slumber and echos with laughter/shrieking/crying/stomping/dancing and delectable secretive whisperings of children.  Lillet, and Drew's homemade kombucha flow freely (not in the same glass!) amongst the grown-ups.  Friends are put to work chopping the preserved lemons, assembling the salad, stirring the Kashki Bademjan (I had thankfully stored that away in the freezer - perfect for a last-minute dinner party dish).  Chairs are pulled out of every room of the house - the kitchen table far too small to seat all fifteen of us.  And yet, somehow we all manage to squeeze in.  Some sitting - some standing - a couple sharing the piano bench -  Drew crouched in the corner on the foot stool.  Baby Lilah is passed around the table like another delicious appetizer so her parents can have a moment to eat.  And the best part of all - the children are eating!  Some (not mine) have even dug into the sauteed mustard greens.  The children call out to "aunts " and "uncles" - although technically no one is anyone's aunt or uncle. These are friends with whom a night like this is possible.  Old friends with history.  Family.  

Barberries - Zereshk
Dried barberries are typically used in any number of Persian dishes - mixed in with rice (Zereshk Polo) - used alongside other ingredients as stuffing for poultry or seafood - enjoyed as a stew - or turned into jam preserves.  The dried berries are small like a currant and have a distinct tart flavor. When cooked they release their bright red color and add a beautiful hue to the dish.  These little berries really liven up a dish both visually and with their tart pop of flavor.  Besides the traditional methods of preparing them I think these berries can really accentuate any number of dishes like salads, quinoa pilafs, eggs, even baked goods.  Barberries are also known for their medicinal qualities - such as aiding with indigestion and other digestive ailments.  I bet we will soon see these little berries lining up the shelves at Whole Foods touting their ancient medicinal powers - declaring them the next superfood.  In the meantime you can purchase dried barberries (for a very affordable price) at Iranian grocery stores or online here, here, or on Amazon.  A search for organic barberries online will also give you a few options.  What's important is to use the freshest berries.  The ones that are bright red. The shriveled up darker ones are usually old and should be discarded.   It is also important to wash and soak the berries before use.  The berries contain a lot of sand so soaking them allows the sand to settle at the bottom.  Soaking also re-hydrates and plumps up the berries.



Preserved Lemons
This past winter I made my first batch of preserved lemons with the abundance of Meyer Lemons that were popping up at every Farmer's Market.  And I am so glad that I did because they are fantastic.  Salty and sour.  Once again - right up my alley. There really wasn't much to it.  A bunch of good looking lemons, stuffed with sea salt and left to ferment in their own juices for a couple of months.  I also stuffed a couple of cinnamon sticks in there.  There are many sources online that can guide you through the process such as this post by David Lebovitz and this one from Nourished Kitchen.  You really can't go wrong.  I already have so many plans for my preserved lemons.  The first of which was this topping.   

Halloumi Cheese With Sunset Hued Toppings
Halloumi is an unripened, brined cheese from Cypress.  It is typically made from a mixture of goat's and sheep's milk.  And because of its high melting point it's great for grilling or frying.  It is somewhat similar to feta cheese in its salty, briny flavor.  This cheese is right up my alley.  It makes a great appetizer served with a salad or topped off with some delicious ingredients as I have used here. The tart pop of the barberries, the crunch and nutty flavor of the pine nuts and the intense, unexpected and lively bite of the preserved lemons really make for a delicious and beautiful topping for the grilled (or fried) Halloumi cheese.  A perfect appetizer for an impromptu or planned dinner party - or even a party of one!

Many years ago I made the decision to once again re-locate - to another city - another country- same continent this time.  Away from parents, family, and childhood friends.  In search of a new adventure, chasing old dreams and a California sunset.  That new city has now become home.  But with aging parents, and children who are growing much too quickly I more and more find myself longing for a place and time where we could all be together.  And it's on these days that we throw an impromptu dinner party.  To celebrate everything and nothing in particular.  To celebrate good news and good friends who have become our surrogate family.  And we celebrate the only way I know how.  By sitting around a far too small kitchen table and sharing a meal.  

Suffice to say my bucket is full