Hi everyone! When planning for my excellent adventures in Iran, I reached out to Margot to reprint some of her recipes. She generously insisted however on writing a Persian inspired recipe specifically for Fig & Quince. I feel lucky and privileged to have made such a caring and wonderful friend. Margot’s shiny personality gleams and glints and sparkles in all of her posts on her beautiful blog. Gather and Graze may be less than a year old, but it is already a treasure trove of reliably good recipes that are carefully and beautifully presented. Margot prepares food with love and it shows. Take this recipe for example, a dreamy concoction made with Australian apples, pistachios, rosewater and cardamom. Sigh! Go and visit Gather and Graze. It’ll make you hungry but it will also feed your eyes and soul. Then come back and read about this beautiful recipe.
My friend Azita is traveling overseas over the next couple of months… to her beloved homeland of Iran that she hasn’t seen in 35 years. Her excitement and anticipation for this journey is well and truly infectious! Not long ago, she approached a number of her blogging friends to help out with providing a ‘guest post’, so that Fig and Quince may continue to run smoothly during her time away. I was completely humbled (and surprised… and excited…) to be invited me to do this… Gather and Graze is still less than a year old and most of the time I still feel like the new kid on the block… winging it as best I can. (Editor’s note: doing a wonderful job! Wishing you huge success!) The one request she had, was that my dish, if at all possible, should have a Persian-slant to it.
So, this is for you dear Azita…
Beautiful (new season) Australian apples have been infused and enhanced with the exotic delights of cardamom, pistachio, barberries and rosewater to create a Persianised Crumble that (may not rival the foodie delights of Tehran and surrounds, but…) will at least touch upon some of the flavours that make Persian cuisine so delicious and unique.
I’ve now been traipsing in and around Tehran for precisely a month. During this sojourn in the city of my birth and childhood, I have taken a ridiculous number of photos and videos. Click, click, click. Mostly of sights and of others, but this post is devoted to "me, myself and I" in Tehran – a gallery of selfies and snapshots of yours truly. Thus, I present to you a very selfish tour of Tehran.
This is a guest post scheduled to publish while I travel in Iran. Courtesy of the lovely Maria Dernikos! You do remember Maria’s gorgeous koloocheh recipe, right? (If not, you’ve got to check it out.) Kefteds, the featured food, is similar to the Persian version which we call koofteh. A delicious, comforting, and universally beloved type of food. In addition to the recipe, there’s a harrowing tale of a trip, one that I remember reading while on the figurative edge of my seat. Read on and you’ll see for yourself!
Kefteds - Guest post by Maria Dernikos (Post originally published here.)
Keftedes (pronounced keftethes) are Greek meatballs eaten hot or cold. There is something special about them, they are incredibly moreish and I think every Greek household must have their own version of the recipe. I use lamb mince but there is nothing to say you cannot use pork, beef, veal or a combination. In summer I eat them cold with tzatziki and a salad and in winter I eat them warm with fava. The recipe is versatile in that you add more bread to increase volume, or add different herbs.
The summer I learnt to make Keftethes was the summer I travelled to Athens by Magic Bus. My friend Karen and I had talked for weeks about going to Greece overland and spending the summer lying in the sun. We scoured the back of Time-Out for cheap tickets. One advert caught our attention ‘The Magic Bus’ – return ticket London/Athens/London £55. Tickets were only issued on a cash basis and in person, the offices of The Magic Bus were above a shop in Shaftesbury Ave and pretty shabby. We were both nervous in handing over our hard earned cash for a non-refundable coach ticket but the thought of a summer of love was greater. Our fate was sealed. Hello summer of expectation.
My parents drove us up to Victoria bus station where we boarded the packed coach. My protective father interviewed the two Greek drivers who had little to no English, the cross examination went well until they asked him if he knew the way out of London. I could feel the chill of an ill wind whistle pass my seat.
The promised three and a half day trip turned into ten days of hell. The coach was old, and tatty. It was packed to the brim with people and luggage. There was very little legroom and had we known that we would have to sleep sitting up in our seats for the next ten days we would have got off at Victoria. We were lucky in that the nasty infection which spread through the coach was limited to the foot, which was so nasty the chap sitting behind us ended up in a Greek hospital.
Our drivers were hell bent on driving at break neck speed with as few stops as possible, they had a mission and the rest of us were not in on it. As we approached Mont Blanc the driver’s behaviour became very excited and as we weaved up the mountain we could see what was an earlier Magic Bus. To celebrate their reunion, they took it in turns to over take each other, whilst opening and closing the door shouting and waving. As the coach climbed higher the stunts became more dangerous with the other coach’s spare driver managing to hang out of the door whilst trying to drink a glass of white wine. I think if I hadn’t been so tired, hungry and bashed about I would have been frighten senseless. I sat there rooted to my seat glancing out of the window at the massive drop and wishing I was somewhere else. I had gone off the idea of love.
Shortly after this we had several long delays, which pushed our drivers to the brink of meltdown. One of their ideas was to cut the length of time for our food and toilet stops to a minimum. We as a group tried to revolt and refused to be rushed in returning to the coach. Two of us passengers learnt a hard lesson that we were not in that strong a position, because the coach left without them. No amount of shouting and abuse at the drivers by us stopped the coach. We never saw them again.
From then on in the journey was just pure hell. Two days stuck at the Yugoslavian borders and a lot of backtracking due to the drivers being completely lost. When we did finally arrive in Athens all I can remember is that I was tired and filthy and longed for home.
It took about 24 hours before we bounced back. I spent the rest of the summer staying with Patroklos in Athens. Kyria Cisci, Patroklos’ mother lived in the flat below and was keen to take me under her wing. During the day when Patroklos was at work Kyria Cisci would show me how to iron a man’s shirt and how to cook.
One of the recipes she showed me and has stayed with me is keftedes. I think it was because she told me her secret ingredient, which was a little bit of Ouzo added to the mince mixture. I felt very honored to have been let into her secret. I would sit in her kitchen early in the morning (to avoid the mid day heat) and take notes as she went about creating her recipes. I might not have found love that summer but I certainly was prepared if I did!
For part II of the traditional Persian Norooz sweets, I present you with a select but delightful array of goodies that were on display and offered to guests at the home of my friend Sara. All of these sweets were handmade by Sara’s talented sisters in law.
These first batch of cookies may be my most poetic gastronomic discovery yet as I valiantly eat my way through Iran. They are called mojde ‘ye bahar – or literally: "spring’s good news." And they really are good news. Crunchy, fragrant, with just the perfect hint of sweetness. Sara tells me that to make these, her sisters in law store blanched almonds and hyacinth flowers together — all the way from June and until just weeks before Norooz — so that the almonds absorb the fragrance of the hyacinths. They then use these almonds to make these pretty little crispy and sweet smelling puffs that are meant to resemble little blossoms. A truly wonderful treat.
I thought you may enjoy a delicious gallery of images of some traditional Persian New Year sweets (shirini) that my friend Afrooz had on hand at her home for Norooz- plated in various wares – and ready to sweeten the palate of visitors and guests.
This first sweet — a pop in your mouth treat with an excellent crumbly and melty texture — are called noon’eh nokhoodchi (chickpea cookies.) This batch were handmade by my friend’s friend. Quite impressive.
Hi everyone! As part of the continuing series of guest posts scheduled while I’m off on my excellent adventures in Iran, this is a guest post, made possible by Laila – a lovely reader of this blog – and chef Hanif Sadr. Laila’s story; the story of Golestan (a full immersion Persian preschool in Berkeley); and chef Hanif Sadr’s delicious recipe for this lush meatball stew hailing from the Northern region of Iran are all fantastic – so let’s just hurry and get to those. Enjoy!
A Gilaki Dish and Golestan for Kids in Berkeley - A Guest Post by Laila:
I stumbled upon Fig and Quince while looking for cooking inspiration, and I found the holy grail… I have seriously been hooked since. (Editor’s note: Thank you!) I am a native and current resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, the first of three children of an Iranian father and an American mother, married to a Jewish Mendocino County native. Quite an eclectic mix we are! I have been so lucky to have recently found opportunities to get in touch with my family’s culture and history, and to give my own children access to the richness and depth that comes with being Iranian. I’m a psychotherapist/social worker by day, but lately my passions include kitchen adventures involving cilantro, cumin, and pink sprinkles, attempting to put together the intriguing puzzle that is the Persian language, and being exhausted by the dizzying delight that our little ones, Soraya and Ezra (ages 3.5 and 10 months) bring us.
The Golestan Center for Language Immersion and Cultural Education (Golestan Kids) in Berkeley, California, is a multi-classroom preschool, after school program, and resource for educators worldwide. Founded in 2007, thanks to the tireless efforts of a handful of families, Golestan has become a haven for anyone seeking connection with Iranian culture. The program is for children ages 2-5 and elementary school aged children as well, and is conducted entirely in Persian. The school day is steady and rhythmic, and includes art, science, movement, story-telling, gardening, music, outdoor play, and of course, food to tie it all together.
The children participate in the cooking and preparation in whatever ways they can, and are learning to distinguish tastes and textures. They eat family style, and respect particular mealtime rituals including setting the table, the before-meal blessing, an after-meal gratitude song, waiting until all are finished to get up from the table, and clearing their own dishes after the meal. As a result, children feel excited about and involved in the process of choosing food, preparing it, and eating together. In fact, while chopping the sabzi for the recipe below, my three-year-old daughter came and peeked over the counter, asking for a “taste of herbs, please.” I gave her a piece of what I thought was parsley, she tasted it, made a face, and stated with confidence, “Spicy. This is NOT parsley. THIS is cilantro.”
The kitchen is the center, the heart, of Golestan. The chef, Hanif Sadr, takes thoughtful measures to ensure that the food that the children and staff eat represents the culture at our roots and stays true to the school’s mission flowering above us. Hanif does all of the school’s grocery shopping by bicycle, feeding approximately 40 children and 15 staff daily. The philosophy behind the cooking at Golestan is this—fresh, unprocessed food makes for happy children and a healthy planet. Organic and local produce and ingredients are used whenever possible. Pasture raised, organic grass-fed meat is sourced from a farm nearby. The only processed food is organic pasta. Even the whole grain bread and crackers are made in-house. The menu is chosen to reflect the children’s increasing awareness of the world around them—on Fridays, they eat foods from the country they learn about that day.
The recipe below comes from the Gilan province of Northern Iran. Gilan’s lush, humid climate allows crops such as tea, rice, citrus, and kiwi to flourish. Parsley, cilantro, mint, and spinach are indispensable ingredients used in most all cooking. Pomegranates, as well as the thick-skinned, sour citrus fruit Narenj, are reduced down to make tart, concentrated syrups that impart bright flavor to Gilaki dishes. Hanif is from this region and prepared this dish for the children at Golestan when they learned about Shab-e-Yalda. It was very well received by their tender taste buds! It is generally eaten with rice—Kateh, to be precise.
Because the school has a “no nuts” policy due to allergies, Hanif replaced the walnuts with sunflower seeds. This did make the dish slightly less deep and rich, but it was still quite successful. He uses ground beef in his recipe, but chicken or turkey could be substituted easily, or the meatballs could be omitted entirely for a vegetarian version of this delicious, simple dish.
This is a lunch I had by myself at a tiny kabab and halim establishment. I got a window seat decorated with the Norooz trappings of sabzeh and goldfish and hyacinth and ordered the Kabab that came with grilled tomatoes nestled inside two generously sized, soft and stretchy layers of freshly-baked-on-the-premise taftoon bread. What a luxury! I also had yogurt – a "whole fat" one – that really hit the spot. I pretty much ate this entire meal with my fingers: tearing off pieces of bread, making a sandwich with a piece of kabab then adding a dollop of whole fat yogurt. So satisfactory. So yummy. I was very hungry and this food was very tasty and I confess I polished most of it off. You can’t say you blame me.
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