This post was written while I travel in Iran.
One night, a few weeks ago, my friends and I ended up eating dinner at a hopping (not fancy but well-known and well-loved) self-service restaurant in the heart of Tehran. Picture a huge salon with a seemingly endless aromatic array of all types of Persian food (you name it) which could be had simply by pointing – a dazzling and dizzying and enticing spectacle for sure but I nevertheless managed to keep my wits about me and remained mindful of taking a few pix for posterity.
This particular gentleman, the head chef, was (as you can see) quite agreeable regarding having his picture taken.
But this other assistant chef/server is giving me a scorching look like nobody’s business. Although, if I squint, I find his expression oddly enigmatic. A Persian Mona Lisa!
Now a note of warning: if you ever make it to Tehran, do not go to this restaurant when you are very hungry. Because you will inevitably pile your tray with a tremendous amount of food.
But they all look so delicious! Must. Eat. Everything!
And pile up the food we did! There were only 3 of us for dinner but we got enough food to feed a good number more.
And because I know you want to know, I am duty bound to tell you what’s what in each tray.
Top left tray contained the following goodies: mixed veggies; torshi (Persian pickles); fava bean rice (baghali polo) with lamb shank (mahicheh); and a can of an obscure beverage called Coca Cola.
Top right tray contained: ash reshteh, a big salad; yogurt with raisins, cucumber and walnuts; and an entree made with tongue (khorakeh zaban.)
As for this bottom tray, it belonged to a greedy but very happy person, and I will let you guess who that person may have been.
Let’s identify the delicious edibles clockwise from the top: a bowl of spinach and yogurt; a beautiful cherry rice with the thickest most wonderful tadig you could possibly want; a tray with a combo of jojeh kabab (grilled chickent) and kabab ‘e barg (lamb kabab); and for good measure — lest this greedy person might not be entirely sated afterall — also a bowl of delicious kashk bademjoon (eggplant and whey dish) topped with fried, dried mint.
It all looked good and all of it tasted from delicious to very delicious, save for the jojeh and lamb kabab, which were lackluster, alas, and ended up as fare for the cute and coddled family pet.
And that, my friends, was just one night and one meal.
I have not even begun to tell you about the marvels of the various types of Iranian bread. Like this “barbarri” bread.
But that is a topic worthy of its own post, so on that mouth-watering note, I take my leave. And because someone (hi Tina!) asked in the comments of an earlier post (which I’m sorry but I really can’t respond to the comments for various reasons): I DO still fit in my clothes. It is a true Persian miracle! (Also, if you missed it, do check out the earliest Lusty Pictorial Tour of Food in Iran.)
This fun guest post is a Persianized version of a Mark Bittman tofu dish recipe. Persianized by Dan Silverstein, that is, an artist friend of mine who is gregarious, quirky, a man of action, and a landscape designer and gardener par excellence. Dan studied landscape design at The New York Botanical Garden and completed the horticulture program at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. If you’re in Brooklyn or Manhattan and need a landscape artist, Dan is your man. See, it even rhymes. And If you would like a Persianized tofu dish, well, Dan is, once again, your man. Without further ado, let’s read the recipe in Dan’s own words.
Hi everyone! This is my favorite quick tofu dish. It’s a Mark Bittman recipe that I’ve “Persianized” by adding raisins and pistachios.
The important thing is to make sure that when all is cooked and the liquid bits have cooked down there needs to be some saucy liquid left so that the rice can become infused with the flavors. Adding the raisins and pistachios increased the need for a bit more liquid than originally called for. Tasting during the process is important so that the dish isn’t too salty.
Serve over rice and eat immediately!
Thank you Dan for a quick, healthy and fun recipe! May you continue to beautify New York City one garden at a time.
Hi everyone! I just returned from visiting the fabled and beautiful city of Isfahan and in a day or so I’m off traveling to a few other cities in Iran. Blogging time is scarce so I hope you’ll let me get away with sharing these random pix selected for your viewing pleasure.
To begin with, this is a tabletop shot of one delicious cream puff and one delectable cream roll that my cousin and I were patiently nursing at a pastry slash coffee shop while waiting for our beverages (hot pot of tea with milk for me, a cappucino for her.) The were copies of the poetry of Hafiz on every table in the cafe which I found to be a charming touch. Iranians are fond of consulting the poetry of Hafiz as a divination fortune-telling method of sorts (not exactly like the iChing but very remotely kind of sort of like that and more precise details on the exact method later) to make decisions. Our copy of Hafiz is open at the page that revealed the poetic and rather obtuse answer to my query. Thank you Hafiz. Rohet shad!
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.