In this post about the Persian winter fete of Yalda, I thought it’d be fun to share some behind-the-scenes photos of the very recent time when I cooked up a batch of khoresh ‘eh fesenjan (using my mom’s awesome recipe) for a Shab-e-Yalda Persian celebration recipe that was featured in the article Diverse Holiday Feasts from Five New York Families in the New York Times.) Sometimes a blog is just a journal. A keepsake. And this event is certainly one that I want to keep for the sake of not just an amazing milestone for Fig & Quince, but the pleasure and fun of having shared it with an awesome family I am privileged to know and call friends. So I hope you’ll indulge me sharing some photos and tidbits and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
What is Yalda?
The long (there’s a pun here but you won’t know it till later, ha!) and the short of it is that the ancient Persians loved (and modern Iranians continue to love) to take any opportunity to make a ‘sofreh’ — an elaborate spread laden with edible yummies and symbolic objects that I like to dub by a highfalutin moniker of “tableau vivants” and also a less pompous nickname of “still lifes” — and to make a big festive whoop out of greeting seasons with joyous celebrations.
There is Norooz: hello sweet young thing Spring! Mehregan: hello moody enigmatic Fall! And Yalda: why howdy dominatrix Winter! (Come on, don’t act shocked. You know that Winter whoops your you know what. And some of you like it.) What about summer, you ask? Well, Summer, bouncy lass as she might be, seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to ancient Persian celebrations. Which is fine. Summer is widely worshiped across the world (and it does a popular kid good to see what it feels like being excluded) while winter always gets the short shift and the cold shoulder.
But not in Iran! On the eve of the longest night of the year (winter solstice or shab ‘e Yalda in Farsi), Iranian families gather together and stay up long after dinner — munching on ajeel & seeded pomegranates sprinkled with golpar (ground angelica) and whiling the time away by catching up with each other, telling stories, and consulting the poetry of the Persian lyric poet Hafez for glimpses into the future – a type of bibliomancy that is called fal-e-Hafez. Knowing Iranians, if it’s possible to have music; there will also be music, and if there’s even the slightest chance to get up and shake one’s groove thing, there will also be dancing. (Providing ample opportunities for beshkan zadan.)
This ancient Persian tradition of greeting winter not with gritted teeth but by spreading a festive spread of pomegranates, ajeel, candles, flowers, sacred texts and books of poetry and engaging in story telling, dancing and poetic divination is the celebration called Yalda and after Norooz, it is the most widely observed national, secular festival in Iran.
Hi everyone! My lovely friend Ahu (of Ahu Eats) and I want to break bread with you! You heard right! We want to meet you, gab, and go grab a hot bowl of ash ‘e reshteh or abghusht from the famed Taste of Persia kiosk at the Union Square Holiday Market, then gab some more, mix and mingle, and spread some Christmas and muli-denominational holiday cheer!
WHERE: Let’s meet in front of Abraham Lincoln’s statue in the park and bask in Honest Abe’s beautiful presence until everyone arrives. (Aside: Lincoln is my #1 most favorite U.S. President — albeit with some stiff competition by Thomas Jefferson & F.D.R. I have such a soft spot for Abraham Lincoln, I can’t even begin to tell you. Well, actually, I do want to tell you about it, and in the context of food, but some other time.)
WISH: I wish that all of you lived nearby or that there was a way to ‘beam you up Scotty‘ to Union Square Park in New York. (Technology: get with it!) Those of you who are local, I hope you can make it. Come, bring your friends, and let’s party! [Please RSVP in the Facebook invite here.]
Your faithful blogger
Hi everyone! Before delving into our recipe post, I have to share the news that I cooked fesenjan for The New York Times as featured in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover story of “Diverse Holiday Feasts From Five New York Families.” It was a fun and exciting adventure and I’m going to write all about it in a future post. Meanwhile, to new readers finding your way from that article: Welcome!
Meigoo polo (shrimp rice) — a unique Persian rice dish made with shrimp, raisins, walnuts and caramelized onions — is a delicious example showcasing the fond emphasize on seafood in the culinary traditions of the southern provinces of Iran.
My parents first had meigoo polo at the home of my aunt – a vivacious Kermanshahi beauty who married a doting Shirazi gentleman, moved to Shiraz, and seamlessly adopted the accent and all the ways & wiles of that fabled region to praised perfection. My mom got the recipe from my aunt and this unusual and unusually tasty mixed rice thereafter became a standard albeit special treat at our family dinner table.
While meigoo polo looks suitably impressive and is a knockout when it comes to taste and culinary pleasure, it is actually a relatively easy dish to prepare if (and I know that’s a big “if”) you’ve already mastered making the Persian steamed white rice because all you’ll need to do is to either top or layer the rice (when serving) with the mixture of sauteed shrimp, walnuts, raisins and caramelized onions and give it a good dousing of butter. Amen, hallejlujah! Yum! (If you need an intro for making Persian steamed rice, check out the detailed posts in the Persian Rice 101: How to Make the Perfect Persian Rice pictorial guide series.)
Now let’s not spend senseless time chit chatting when we could be making and digging into this tasty dish instead!
Hi everyone! This post is not related to food except insofar as it relates to what I do to put the bread (and sometimes the yummy polo khoresh) on the table. Have I ever told you? No? Well, don’t be mad, it’s not like you ever asked! Some other time I’ll tell you all about “Azita version 1.0″ and what (shenanigans) she was up to but as far as the current model “Azita version 2.0″ goes, what I do is: I write, design and illustrate.
Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What should I do with the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers?
These are age old existential questions we angst over. I confess I’m still grappling with the first two but I do have an idea how to transform the all-American leftover turkey into a nourishing, comforting food with a philosophical Persian flair. That cunning dish being none other than ‘halim‘: a slow-cooked porridge made with wheat (usually, or bulgur) and meat (lamb, chicken, or turkey) topped with a generous drizzle of melted butter and sprinkled with just enough sugar and cinnamon to delight one’s inner child.
Nutritious and highly caloric, halim is traditionally served as a hearty breakfast, often in cool seasons — best suited for days of vigorous activity or hard work, but equally delicious when one is hardly working as well.
Before the advent of food processors, making halim required patient commitment and a good bit of elbow grease. Turning hard grains of wheat into a creamy paste by hand is not the work of the meek. My mom tells tales of neighbors pulling all-nighters, making halim in big pots called ‘patil’ — stirring, stirring, stirring — using wooden spoons with very long handles (“almost resembling oars“) while chanting ‘salavat’ and reciting prayers. “Basically, they were meditating while cooking it!” Mom observes.
Hi everyone! How do you like my little needlepoint lady? She’s dancing like a twirling dervish and do you know why? Because her heart is filled and made buoyant with deep thankfulness! And guess what? Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A day centered around food, family and giving thanks.
I plan to reflect at length regarding gratitude before the year is over, but right now I must say that when I count my blessings today (as I plan to do sometime before or after wolfing down turkey, stuffing, and pie, lots of pie!) the fact that you take the time to read here is one of those many blessings, and it’s one that makes me as profoundly thankful as this dancing needlepoint lady. (Thank you! ♥)
Often, when I think about true gratitude — the buoyancy of feeling deeply and sincerely thankful — this poem of e.e.cummings, one of my favorite poets, pops into my head. It encapsulates in a simple and gorgeously earnest way the soaring transcendental nature of spirituality and conscious gratefulness. I can’t in good conscience pass up the opportunity to share it with you here:
Gentle Reader! Do I have a special treat in store for you! It is my pleasure to introduce you to the utterly talented culinary enthusiast Caramelflahn (Helen!) who is my new Instagram friend and cooking inspiration and obsession. I found Helen after stumbling on the sensuously fluffy and gorgeous rainbow-colored Korean ricecake creation of hers you see above, called ‘mujigae ddeok.’ Needless to say I gaped and gasped and oooh’d an aaaah’d upon spotting this beauty. Once I resumed my powers of reason and speech, Helen and I conversed and bonded over our mutual frustration with the 1001 ways one can spell Persian or Korean nouns in English. Words like ‘mujigae’ which means rainbow in Korean.
I begged Helen for a guest post and she complied by writing not one but two truly stellar guest posts for Fig & Quince. One is savory, a classic Korean dish imbued with intriguing inspirations from the Persian cuisine; the other is sweet and seductive as a nightingale’s song in a Persian garden. I’m entirely flummoxed and spoiled for choice as to which guest recipe post to present to you first, but either way, that’s a dilemma for another day, since I have a foodgasmic wealth of material to present first that deserves your uninterrupted attention and requires a tissue or two to wipe off the drool as your mouth waters. You see, Helen prefers to remain alluringly mysterious and mostly anonymous, however, I managed to coax an interview as well as a priceless photo out of her, and today, I share this earnest, thoughtful and fun interview with Helen about food, cooking, eating. I also quizzed her about some of her impressive culinary creations, including her sky scraper 100 layer lasagne and an awesome half beer half chicken Korean dish, and I will torment you by posting photos of a few of her mouthwatering dishes as well.
But first, a fun self-captioned photo of our most honored culinary sensation captured doing what she does naturally, beautifully and with gusto and passion: enjoying food!
“My friend Matt and me at Eleven Madison Park losing our minds when we found out the amuse bouche was a bakery box of savory mini black-and-white cookies with black truffle and parmesan. We are obsessed with black-and-whites and truffles, and that amuse bouche was quintessential NYC perfection. Our reaction was completely unscripted. That’s just how we are around food all the time.”
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