— NousheJan (@NousheJan) July 25, 2014
Let’s start part 2 of the Persian nooks and crannies of cyberspace (see here for part 1 and the series’ mission statement) with Anthony Bourdain – the chef and food critic bar none who visited Iran this past spring. Very much look forward to seeing this episode when it airs.
Before continuing, let’s please note that all of the images in this post are scoured from social media sites and are live links — just hover the mouse over the image and/or the handle name. I encourage you to click and go right to the source to explore and follow their content!
If you’re very lucky, you have quince trees growing in your garden. If you’re not that lucky but still occasionally caressed and fondled by lady luck, there is a boy who volunteers to send you all the quinces from his quince tree. (Now, isn’t that a charming gesture of woo!) If you’re somewhat lucky, you can either find quinces in one of your local markets or else you can surreptitiously forage some from here and yonder. And if none of these apply, well, let’s face it, you’re entirely out of luck! At least when it comes to quinces. And that is a fate I would not wish for you, because I love quinces and I’m equally fond of you.
A decade ago, pomegranates were obscure objects of desire but by now everyone is appraised of their charm and eager to heap praise on the ruby-red-jeweled fruit. Quince — an ugly fruit with a heavenly scent and a multitude of hidden charm — is for certain destined for an equal if less glittery future of popular recognition. If you have not yet jumped on the quince bandwagon, do it! Do it now! Do it before it is commonplace and mundane.
Now, as befits a Persian food blog bearing the monicker of Fig & Quince, we have covered recipes for: stuffed quince (dolme ‘ye beh); quince kookoo (kookoo ‘ye beh); quince tas kabob (a finger licking slow-cooked fusion of many delicious things that has to be tried and marvelled at) and we were also graced by Maria’s Dulce de Mebrillo Sweet Quince guest post. By and by, delicious plans are afoot to bring you the recipes for the Persian quince stew (khoresht ‘e beh) and also for quince sharbat (sharbat ‘e beh) as well. But right now, that is at this very moment in time, when our beautiful silvery moon in the sky is in its waxing gibbous phase, it’s time to share with you the recipe for quince jam (moraba ‘ye beh.) A toothsome affair that goes mighty nicely with tea and buttered bread.
A little aside: I regret a few things about my trip to Iran. Regrets not too few to mention. Like: why did I not go up hiking on the mountains in Tehran more often ? Why did I not motivate and go visit my friend at her mother’s house that one time? (I really should have.) Why didn’t I make the time to go visit Joobin at Khoosh Nevissan cafe? Why didn’t I spend at least one whole day sitting in a cross town bus traversing this side to that side of Tehran? Why didn’t I take a Persian shirini making class? And why oh why oh why oh why did I not indulge in the traditional Persian breakfast?
For while I did allow myself to take great and even at times greedy pleasure in the plentiful goodness of the delicious Persian food (homemade and otherwise) widely available to me when in Iran, I stuck to my old boring albeit healthy breakfast throughout the trip. Yes! I do so confess! So even as my sundry Persian guest hosts broke their fast with excruciatingly soft and recklessly sweet smelling Persian bread freshly delivered or bought from the local noonvayee — lovely bread like nooneh sangak or barbari or lavash — that they wantonly buttered and then jam’d with spoonfuls of moraba (jam) and took big bites in between sips of hot tea, I in turn had my plain bowl of yogurt with sliced banana and some chopped walnuts and their quizzical looks of concern and pity! Yes, I was virtuous, but at what price! What folly was this! Tssk tssk!
It’s not possible to turn back the clock, alas, nor as of yet is it possible to replicate the amazing freshly baked bread of Iran outside of the borders of “the most charming country in the world,” but at least the moraba (jam) is one that can be remade to redress and remedy regretful neglects, and it’s specially nice when it is made with quince and I urge you to consider making it as well.
The quince moraba comes out a little soft, a little chewy, and a lot tasty.
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!