A group selfie at the Caspian Sea, iran | Found on Instagram
For many years, I yearned for glimpses of the life and people of Iran aside from its myopic presentation on mass media. After my epic trip to Iran, I now have my own first hand experience and pictures and stories that I’ve been excited to share with you, and I am eager to continue to share. Albeit, at the slow pace the series is unfolding, it may take me 3 years to recount a 3 month journey! (Which, an aside, a query: Why can’t I clone myself and put my clones to work? Do you think it would be alright if I crowdfund a cloning project? The clones would have to work feverishly from sunrise to sunset, it’s true, but they would get to listen to a Googoosh and Abjeez sound track and get plenty of tea and noon ‘o panir, as well as the occasional polo khoresh on festive holidays. So I wouldn’t hear of any complaints from them. Oh no! No sir! They should just be thankful and count their blessings to be so gainfully employed. Ungrateful wretches! … And yes, please do ignore me, I’m just being ultra silly.)
During my trip to Iran, my wonderful friend Haleh made a host of delicious Persian food (as alluded to in this post) for me to enjoy (boy, did I!) and also so that I could photograph and share the recipes of all that yummy Persian food with y’all. This Persian saffron rice pudding (one of my favorites) was one such specimen of Haleh khanoom’s beautiful & tasty handiwork. ‘Dastesh dard nakoneh!’ (May her hands not ache!)
Traditionally speaking, Persians consider snacks of such things as a mixture of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and raisins; fresh seasonal fruits at the end of a meal; and sips of tea sweetened with either sugar cubes or nabat (rock candy) or else with nibbles of dates or dried figs; as sufficient indulgence and cure for the sweet tooth. There really is no authentic culinary tradition of ‘dessert’ in Iranian cooking: cakes, cookies and pastries, often purchased from ‘ghanadi’ (pastry shops) instead of being made at home, used to be strictly reserved for company and festive gatherings such as the new year celebration and weddings. Which explains why Iranian cuisine, so rich and inventive in many ways, is somewhat paltry when it comes to a repertory of desserts.
Among the few authentic Persian sweets, a classic and stellar one is ‘sholeh zard’ which literally means “yellow wobbly” but is often translated as ‘Persian saffron rice pudding’ — which, let us acknowledge, is a far more fitting and refined name for this fragrant, sweet and comforting Persian treat. (Although, I am partial to the monicker of ‘yellow wobbly’, it has a naively charming ring to it.)
As you might have guessed from its English name by now, sholez zard gets its sunny disposition from saffron; its aromatic scent from rosewater (and butter); its wonderful smooshy texture from rice; and for its soft but not blandly mushy texture, sholeh zard owes a debt of gratitude to the crunchy almonds.
I’ll start by announcing that this is a post where I bury the lede. Some good and interesting thing(s) happened recently but in order to tell you about it, I first have to tell you the story of how it all came about.
You guys, I had a delicious sholeh zard post scheduled for today but I’m bumping it to next week because instead I want to share the news that this coming Sunday I’m giving a non-political ‘show and tell’ talk about my trip to Iran, at De-Construkt — an art space in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The title of the event is: A Homesick Journey to Iran – A Hyphenated American’s Nostalgic Visit Home
The ‘show’ part will be a slideshow of photos and video snippets; the ‘tell’ part: the stories that go along with the images. There will be Persian music and Persian food will be served. Ooh yeah!
Do you want to hear how this whole thing came to be?
De-Construkt is run by my friend Laura who is an artist and an inspiration.
Laura had been away on a long off-the-beaten-path journey across the world around the same time as I had been on my journey to Iran and it was only just a few days ago that we managed to get together — right around the golden hour, at the beautiful Brooklyn Promenade — and finally catch up and talk about our adventures.
Laura is one of those rare people who truly listens, so I was kind of giddy with the pleasure of sharing the stories of my trip, sitting on a bench in one of my favorite parts of Brooklyn with one of my favorite people, and the visual feast of a pink and golden sunset and the Manhattan skyline. One minute I was wistfully saying “I wish I could do a show and tell about my trip” and next thing I know, Laura is saying: “let’s do it” and then we were really doing it! Laura finished watching the sunset, then she quickly wrote a to-do list for me on the back of her grocery bill, gave me a deadline, and off we went!
And that’s how the talk came to be. And now I’m both excited and nerve-wracked!
Here’s the synopsis of what the talk is all about | Here’s the invite on Facebook | Here’s the date, time and place: Sunday August 24, 5 pm at De-construkt | And here’s the address: 41 Seabring Street, 3rd Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11231
I hope those of you who live nearby can come!
My happy-go-lucky ameh (paternal aunt) who lives there picked me up at the airport: coiffed, fully made-up; spiffy and snazzy in her leopard-print head scarf and dangerously high heels. After an emotional greeting and the hustle and bustle of getting the luggage we settled inside her car — me in the passenger seat she behind the wheel — when she turned to me and said: “Do you want to go to a party?” Turned out, that night was one of her ‘doreh’ parties with a few hundred (ha ha slight exaggeration) of her closest girlfriends.
[What is a ‘doreh’? When a specific group of friends have parties at regular intervals, typically monthly, each taking orderly turns to host the event at their house, it is called a doreh. It is not unusual for Iranians, specially those of a certain generation, to have at least one and oftentimes quite a few doreh social circles.]
But back to our story! So … my aunt, with one hand poised on the wheel of the car and one hand about to turn on the ignition, turned to me and said: ‘mikhai berim mehmooni?’ How could I say no to such an offer! So off we went. Barely having set foot on the soil of the magical city of Shiraz, and here I was, being whisked off to a proper Persian party straight off the airport. Ah, the fun turns and twists of life.
And here I must take a slight turn from the narration as well to tell you that driving (or being a passenger in a car for that matter) in Iran is not for the weak of heart. I say this without any exaggeration. Driving in Tehran was the worst but the smaller cities were not that much better. Slightly less terrifying, yes, but still, sufficiently terrifying! I’ve got to give kudos to my aunt who deftly maneouvered her stick shift car in the unpredictable traffic with utmost blase concern while continuing our chatter.
Last year around this time, my mom and I set up a Fig & Quince table (of goodies and books) at the Children of Persia 9th Annual Walk. (All ‘ye Metro DC area folks who like a good cause & delicious Persian food: Mark your calendars for their 10th Annual Walk.)
For our goodies we offered: Persian mixed trail (ajeel); Persian honey almond saffron brittles (sohan ‘e assal); and 3 types of Persian pickles (torshi.): 1) mixed veggies pickles (torshi makhloot); 2) eggplant pickles (torshi ‘ye bademjoon); and 3) grape pickles (torshi’ ye angur.) The pickles were the first to go, and fast! Everyone loves a good torshi.
The eggplant and mixed-veggies pickles were my mom’s tried and true (and stellar, I might add) recipes – but making torshi ‘ye angur (grape pickles) was a novel one for us both. Its recipe one I’d found while scouring Najaf Daryabandari’s Persian cookbook (a masterpiece) for information and inspiration. (I actually had the honor and pleasure of meeting the gentleman on a few occasions during my trip to Iran. Full story: soon!)
I was excited about pickling grapes and my mom was game as well but she was rather skeptical about whether it would taste good. Turned out, the result was just wonderful. Sweet, sour, a little bit salty, and crunchy. In a unique, pleasantly palatable way.
Want some good news? Aside from its favorable taste and texture, grape torshi is ridiculously easy to prepare. Requiring not so much a recipe as know-how. So simple in fact that I won’t even bother with the usual recipe format and will just do a step by step pictorial.
By way of ingredients all you will need are: white vinegar, salt, sterlized airtight glass jars, and a good batch of nice, dent-free, firm, crunchy (no smooshy ones, oh no no no) red or black grapes. We used black grapes, as you can see.
Gently wash & dry grapes. Taking care that none of the grapes separate from the stalk.
Allow grapes to dry completely. (Leave to drain in a colander, or, lay on cloth.)
With a kitchen scissor, cut the grape bunch into separate stalks, each stalk having at least 3-4 grapes on it.
Fill pickling jars with a few grape stalks. (Don’t stuff the jar – leave wiggling room for the grapes.)
Add vinegar (enough to cover grapes, leaving some room at the top.) Sprinkle with a dash of salt. Close lid.That’s it. Your job is done.
Now, according to the original recipe, it’ll take a month before this pickle has ‘settled’ and is ready to serve, but we tried it only one day afterwards, and honestly, it was good to go!
Definitely try this. It’s an interesting way to enjoy grapes and with its melange of sweet, sour and salty taste, it makes a unique condiment that goes quite nicely with meat or a rich dish.