Sadegh Hedayat was an iconic Iranian writer famous for his modern and dolorous prose. His demeanor, deportment, and the somber shroud of his melancholy remind me of Edgar Allen Poe. Both writers give off that noir vibe in spades. Sadegh Hedayat committed suicide in Paris in 1951 and is buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery.
This gorgeous photograph is the poster of an Iranian documentary film by the name of “From No. 37” by Mohsen Shahrnazdar and Sam Kalantari about the writings and life of Sadegh Hedayat. I really like this poster – especially the expressive calligraphy in the background. I love documentaries and Judging a film by its poster, I hope to find and watch this one.
This is a photograph of Simin Daneshvar and her husband, Jalal Al Ahmad. A powerhouse literary couple – significant and influential writers of essays and fiction, each in their own right and their own way. They are like the Simone de Bouvoir and John Paul Sartre of Iran. Except that they were happily married; did not have an open relationship; and were decidedly not existentialists. Other than that, separated at birth! (Right after drawing the comparison this occurred to me: Simin and Simone! Huh!)
Simin Daneshvar wrote a book called Soovashoon (often spelled Savushun) which is considered a masterpiece of Iranian literature – beautiful, poignant, tragic – with an engaging and unforgettable narrative. Every time I re-read it I’m enchanted anew and I’m heartbroken anew. She passed away a year and half ago. I can’t believe she’s gone.
Zig zagging away from the literary theme with no rhyme or reason and no concern whatsoever for continuity and coherence, I finally maneuver to the topic of the post: How to Groom a Persian Cat! Excuse me while I chuckle for a bit.
So here’s the story. I have horrible terrible dreadful impossible dastardly painful torturous and yes dolorous deadlines. I’m stressed out! So needless to say I value every second and that naturally explains why I spent some of that precious time Googling for images of “stressed Persian cat.” But anyhow, I did it, guilty as charged, and then this image from a pet grooming website popped up, and then I was … in love! Now mind you, I’m not entirely certain this cat is indeed Persian. It does not have that stereotypically Persian cat mien. But really, no matter, who cares. Just look at that face! Excuse me again while I go chuckle for another bit.
Anyway, so that’s how I found this amazing creature and if you have a Persian cat and would like to know how to groom it, head for this incisive article, from whence this priceless image was sourced. And also:
Have a lovely weekend!
I hope you’ve been practicing the art of making Persian rice, because it is time to amp up the volume and foray into the eclectic wonderland of Persian mixed-rice, and making a good bed of fluffy white Persian rice (polo sefid) is its delicious prerequisite.
I’m excited to finally share with you the afore-promised “how to hack a plain Persian rice” installment of Fig & Quince’s “Persian Rice 101 series” — so named because my mom has a simple, genius method of hacking a plain Persian saffron rice into an impressive, gorgeous and sublime mixed-rice dish that is fit for any festive occasion:
What my mom does is to layer spatula-fulls of the plain rice with a mixture of sautéed berberis and candied orange peels when plating the rice on the serving platter. Sometimes, she also likes to add candied & spiced matchstick-cut carrots to the mix as well (to wit, see the sunset-colored spectacle of the rice dish below.) Optional final touches are to garnish the pyramid of rice with slivers of almond and/or pistachio, and no matter what, she always ends with a devastating coups de grâce flourish of dousing the platter with a couple of tablespoons of melted butter.
The end result is basically a modified and hybrid zereshk polo (berberry rice,) shirin polo (sweet rice,) javaher polo (jeweled rice) and havij polo (carrot rice) all in one. A stunning crowd-pleaser. Something that makes you happy to be alive when you look at it and inhale its fragrance, and the kind of food you close your eyes when you eat it.
This picture is of the dish my mom made this past Norooz and I swear by all that I consider sacred that it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. I boldly take some of the credit for making the candied orange peels that came out just the perfect cut and texture and taste – slightly sweet but with just the right hint of bitter zing. The combo of the candied peels with tangy berberis and soft, sweet carrots alongside with the fluffy saffron & butter imbued rice and let’s not forget to mention the crunchy tadig and the perfectly roasted rosemary chicken was … honestly: everyone was in a trance! A truly memorable dish. And so pretty!
Here’s a step-by-step how-to guide to please and entrance a crowd of your own with a gorgeous Va Va Voom Powabunga Persian rice dish:
Step #1 Make polo sefid aka Persian rice.
Follow the directions to make the perfect Persian rice as detailed here. [Introduction to Persian rice and tadig and pictorial how-to tutorials also at your disposal here and here should you need a friendly reference.]
Wash, scrub, and dry a large orange. Score skin with knife in 4 sections and peel out neatly without tearing off the skin. Using a small sharp knife, cut out the white spongy layer of the peel. Scrape any stubborn white pith clinging to the peel by running the edge of the knife against the peel in a back and forth scrubbing motion. (Do leave a thin film of the white pith otherwise the orange peel won’t withstand the several boiling baths that awaits it.) Cut into even-sized matchstick-shaped, thin, long-limbed strips.
In a small pot bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add orange peels, boil for 3 minutes, then drain in a colander. Do not rinse! Repeat this exact step two more times, each time using a freshly rinsed pot and fresh batch of water. After the 3rd boiled-water bath, bring 1 more cup of water to a boil in a clean pot, and cook orange peels and 2 tablespoons of sugar on medium heat until all the liquid has been absorbed. Keep a watchful eye to avoid burning the peels. Once finished, sample a taste and if you find it still too bitter, add more sugar to your liking and stir to mix. Sugar liquifies and it will be absorbed by the orange peels. (A hint of bitterness is a wonderful contrast with the rest of the dish’s ingredients.)
Rinse 1 cup of berberis several times; then soak in cold water for 5 minutes. After a final rinse, spread on a paper towel and allow to completely dry. Then sauté for just one minute in a mixture of olive oil and butter with 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and a hint of ground saffron. Keep a watchful eye as berberis burn easily.
Step #4 : Make Spiced & Glazed Matchstick-Cut Carrots.
My mom recommends only a store-bought one pound bag of very thinly-matchstick-cut carrots for this technique:
Bring 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and 1″ sized cube of peeled ginger to a boil. Add carrots, bring to a boil again, then reduce to medium heat and cook for 30-45 minutes or longer until the syrup is entirely absorbed. At the last 5 minutes of cooking, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon to the carrots. When done, fish out the ginger and discard.
This step is optional. If you skip it, you’ll end up with zereshk polo (rice with berberis) pictured on top; which is elegant and delicious in its own right and a classic Iranian rice dish.
Step #5. Roast a Chicken.
Coat chicken (washed & dried first) with a mixture of lemon juice and grated ginger and let sit for several hours. Just before roasting, pat dry the chicken with a paper towel, rub its skin with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a twig or two of a fragrant herb such as sage or rosemary. Roast in an oven preheated to 375 degree. Depending on the oven, the chicken will be roasted within 30 minutes. Once roasted to your satisfaction, baste it with its own juices and serve alongside with the rice.
Final Step – Putting it all together:
Once rice is cooked and ready to be served, set aside the saffron colored crown portion for a last-step garnish. Plate the remaining rice, a few spatulas of rice at a time, on a serving platter, and sprinkle each layer with a mixture of berberis and orange peels. Repeat this process till you are only left with the crunchy bottom-of-the pot yummy tadig. Form the rice plated on the serving platter into the shape of a mound and top it with the saffron-colored rice that was earlier set aside. If using candied carrots, arrange it in the shape of a thick halo around the rice. Sprinkle the remaining berberis and candied orange peels over the rice. If using slivered almonds and pistachios, artfully sprinkle those on the rice as well. Douse rice with a few tablespoons of melted butter.
As for the tadig, use a spatula to lift and remove the tadig layer out of the pot – ideally in as intact a shape a possible. Cut the crunchy bottom-of-the-pot tadig into serving wedges. Garnish with berberis and/or candied orange peels. Serve alongside with the rice and the roasted chicken.
Recently, the wonderful editors of Mashallah News — an online publication devoted to shaking up Middle Eastern stereotypes — asked me to contribute to their “food” theme series. I was only too glad to do so, and a nostalgia-filled rhapsody of the poetics of Persian food was thus born! I would be delighted if you would read it, so, begging your kind indulgence, it follows in its entirety below.
Eyes are the windows to the soul, per an old English proverb. In a similar vein, it can be proposed that a nation’s cuisine is the window to the heart and soul of its countrymen. Praise be, then, for much like its people, Iranian food is sensual and oft poetic.
That Iranians are sensual and romantic at heart may seem a preposterously incongruous claim at odds with the image of the country, mired as it is in polemics and controversy, but only if one overlooks the fact that the ancient and majestic tree of Iranian culture is branched out of thousands of years old roots that bear solid testament to a heritage of lyrical and aesthetic nourishment, accomplishment and sensibility. A sensibility reflected in everything from a proclivity to the arranging of beautiful, elaborate and symbolic celebratory tableaux vivants for weddings, Norooz (New Year) and the fete of Yalda (winter solstice); to an inordinate fondness for gardens and fountains and flowers and nightingales; to a talent for creating delicately charming ornate design in painting, carpets, textiles and architecture; to a coquettish flair for flirting; and to an unabashed affinity for and partiality to poetry.
In some cultures a love of poetry is the true sign of the dork, the nerd, the socially clueless and inept. But in Iran, appreciation of poetry—far from branding one as “uncool” and banishing one to social Siberia—is not only accepted but is even taken for granted and reciprocated amongst people of all ages and walks of life. It is not unusual to find groups of friends or family sitting around eating, drinking and making merry while chewing the fat or playing backgammon all while trading lines and verses of the poems of Hafiz and Sa’adi and Khayam and Rumi and Ferdowsi as the muse inspires and circumstances dictate. A cantankerous shopkeeper may quote a poem to site his ire; a grandparent may well call on one of the epic poets to drive home a moral lesson to a grandchild. After all, poetry is what saved the Persian language—the epic poem of Shahnameh, to be precise, is credited with this historical accomplishment—and that may explain why a love of poetry flows in the veins of most warm-blooded Iranians, whatever their walk of life, instead of being the rarefied passion of elite intellectuals and cultured intelligentsia as it is in most other places in the world.
People unfamiliar with Iranian food often assume it is hot and spicy, much like its politics or its perceived climate, but it is not. Iranian food—fragrant and pretty with its signature playful combination of sweet and tart and savoury—is downright poetic at heart.
After all, how many cuisines count rosewater, cardamom, pistachios, rose petals, dried mint and saffron as staple pantry provisions? How many have a dish called jewelled rice, so named because barberries, pistachio slivers, and candied orange peels peek out of a nestling pillow of aromatic saffron rice gleaming, much like the gems one would expect to find spilling out of a treasure chest if one perchance happened to abracadabra open the door of Ali Baba’s fabled cave?
How many cuisines have since the ancient times revelled in the glory of the pomegranate, a fruit that is a testament to a divine design, bearing a crown with a charming disarray of tendrils and jewel-like seeds. Pomegranate is a mainstay symbol of the Yalda celebration spread, in which a bowl of its seeded ruby arils, sprinkled with a touch of ground angelica or salt, forms a refreshment to offer guests, or else its nectar turned into a paste brooding with ground walnuts to make the chocolate-coloured stew of Fessenjan, which some call the khoresh of kings?
And, probably more than any other cuisine in the world, Persian food harvests flowers! Countless bushels of Mohamadi roses are every year distilled into aromatic rosewater; red and pink rose petals are dried so that they can be crushed and used as a pretty and aromatic sprinkled garnish for food. Vast fields of purple crocus are harvested for the long, fragile, burnt amber threads of saffron that turn an effervescently sunny golden shade when ground and touched by hot water, a drop of it turning a bed of steamed rice into a pretty sunset. A bevy of fragrant herbs and blossoms are distilled to make aragh—a refreshing and medicinal beverage—with mint, chicory, musk willow, sweet briar, palm pods, citrons and orange blossom. So many flowers, the very names of which are not merely mellifluous but also summon up an instantaneous sense of delight and pleasure.
Sometimes, the seductive charm of Iranian food is overt but guileless, like a yogurt and cucumber soup, garnished with inter-crossing paths of crushed rose petals and dried mint; or overt and artful like a dark amber halva infused with saffron, rosewater and cardamom, sprinkled with pistachio powder in a curlicue design.
Sometimes, it is covert, like a Salad Shirazi, a salad that is beautiful because it is stunning and is stunning because it is the epitome of simplicity—an edible haiku—nothing more than a choir of cucumbers and tomatoes and onions, singing with lemon juice and olive oil and crushed dried mint.
And sometimes, the disarming charm of Iranian food is downright lyrical, because if fluffy and fragrant saffron rice made moist with a stream of succulently savoury khoresh is not transcendental lyricism in a spoon—then, pray tell, what is?
The other day I shared the foraging tale of Cornelian cherry (zoghal akhteh) — a cranberry-lookalike savored in many countries but left to the birds & foragers in the U.S. The delightfully tart yet sweetly floral Cornelian cherry is very popular in Iran as a fresh fruit snack – a treat that is sometimes enjoyed sprinkled with salt.
Cornelian cherry is a fruit that also lends itself quite nicely to being preserved. The simple pickle recipe (torshi ‘ye zogahl akhte) is where I left it off the last time, but because of its pretty color, pleasant scent and unique flavor, zoghal akhteh is favored for making sharbats and moraba and marmalades as well. The recipes follow below, but first, here’s a glossary of what may be unfamiliar terms:
Sharbat is a Persian type of syrup (floral, herbal, or fruit based; or a combination thereof) made in a number of flavors with various gorgeous colors, that is diluted with cold water and savored as a refreshing thirst-quenching drink. During summer in Iran, making bottles of various types of sharbats is a long-held tradition of good housekeeping; and offering guests a tall glass of aromatic, colorful sharbat to ward off the heat of the summer is an expected trademark of up-to-par hospitality.
Give me a sun, I care not how hot, and sherbet, I care not how cool, and my Heaven is as easily made as your Persian’s. — Lord Byron ,1813
The sharbat made with Cornelian cherry comes out a very pretty and bright red color; naturally and beautifully fragrant. The first batch I made was my very first experience partaking of this sharbat and it was a pleasant revelation. I can say with candor that I would like to partake of it again. And again.
Moraba is basically nothing more than good old-fashioned jam. Persian jam-making’s major points of distinction from its Western counterparts being: an inclination towards using fruits whole or in big chunks whenever possible; a more eclectic selection of things that are turned into jams (i.e. watermelon rind or flower blossoms); and the potential use of ingredients such as rosewater, cardamom and cloves.
Cornelian cherry jam is tasty and the extra syrup made in the process of its creation can be turned into a sharbat – a good culinary shortcut and windfall! The downside is that since the pit to flesh ratio of Cornelian cherry is high (kind of like an olive) and it is nearly impossible to pit this fruit without destroying its delicate flesh, this jam is made with un-pitted fruit.
If spitting out pits isn’t your idea of a merry jam, you may want to give Cornelian cherry’s marmalade a go instead. I used (and slightly revised) a recipe from Turmeric & Saffron‘s stellar Persian food blog and ended up with a pleasantly tart and delicious marmalade-type of spread with a very appealing color.
In conclusion …
Cornelian cherry is not a fruit you’ll see in the markets, true, but just in case you ever find yourself with a bounty of its harvest and would like to know what to do with it aside from enjoying it as a vitamin-packed fresh fruit snack, I do give the thumbs up for the effortless pickled Cornelian cherry (torshi ‘ye zoghal akhteh) and heartily recommend the pretty and fragrant sharbat ‘eh zoghal akhteh as well. Equally enthusiastically, I endorse the well-worth-the-effort marmalade - it is basically like a novel version of cranberry sauce – I’m saving some of my stash to serve at Thanksgiving.
The jam (moraba‘ye zoghal akhteh) … I hesitate to recommend this to the world-at-large — primarily because the pits do pose a problem to some, but hasten to add that personally, I enjoyed spoonfuls of it as a satisfactory treat for sweet-tooth cravings; and a jar of jam that I took to a family dinner was polished off with enthusiastic mutterings and positive relish as a dessert.
Note: The photographs (none are mine) are credited & linked back to the source, except where it was not possible to identify the copyright-holder.
Recently, a dear and too-long-no-see cousin (my pessar amoo to be exact) came for a visit to New York and after a day of expedition in the city thrilled us all by showing up with a foraged harvest of the beauties you see in the picture below. Leave it to an out-of-town explorer to unveil the secret delights of your city!
If you have to ask, “what the heck are these?” you are certainly not of Persian persuasion. If, however, when looking at this picture your mouth waters and you are all at once covetous, excited, and deeply curious as where this loot was found – you are almost certainly a hyphenated or sans-hyphen-Iranian in diaspora.
A popular summer fruit called zoghal akhteh in Iran, this berry-like fruit (dubbed “Cornelian Cherry” in the West) is rarely if ever eaten in the U.S. — and then, mostly by the birds! Unless foraged by Iranian, Russian, Turkish, or Eastern European enthusiasts who have since the ancient times enjoyed its goodness.
Cornelian Cherry’s taste is a combination of tart and floral – hard to describe. The less ripe it is, the harder the flesh and more astringent the flavor, but when dark red and ripe, it is more sweetly floral than tart and has a soft mushy texture.
In Iran, zoghal akhteh is mostly enjoyed as a fresh fruit – sometimes sprinkled with salt; and it is also sold dried (tasting like a tangy combination of raisins and cranberry) which is a very popular snack to munch on. Zoghal akhteh is also preserved and turned into sharbat (floral or fruit-based Persian syrups that are diluted with ice cold water to make fabulous summertime drinks) and moraba (jam) and marmalade and torshi (pickles.)
The zoghal akhteh torshi or pickle is exceedingly simple to prepare and does not require a recipe so much as an assemblage direction:
With the remainder of my beautiful bounty of zoghal akhteh, I made a divine bottle of sharbat; several jars of meh-but-not-too-bad moraba aka jam; and a batch of pretty, pink, and delicious marmalade. Respective recipes to follow in separate posts later this week, so keep your eyes peeled.
The other day in Manhattan (in the Washington Heights neighborhood to be precise) I saw this nice guy with a cart filled with colorful bottles that stopped me in my tracks. He said they were flavorings for the “delicious” shaved ice he sells — everything from mint to coconut to mango. We chatted a bit, he offered me a gratis shaved ice which I regretfully had to decline, and he gamely let me take a few pictures of him. A really good and friendly guy. The encounter one of the million reasons why I LOVE New York.
Speaking of love and colorful things, here’s a striking sunflower detected blooming in a community garden just a kitty corner from BAM — that is the Brooklyn Academy of Music for those of you who don’t live in these neck of the woods.
I love how in the photograph the colors of this beautiful flower are in perfect harmony with the colors of the dance poster in the wall behind it. And even the leaves of the flower seem to pantomime the gesture and movement of the dancers in the poster. Could the flower possibly be cognizant of it? Well, to slightly paraphrase Papa Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises: “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?”
Here are a few other pretty things growing in that small but beautifully landscaped and cultivated community garden that harbors the sunset-colored sunflower:
And finally, now that we all know what’s in the bag, here’s a date update. Ha ha, get it?
After a few more days – out and about, I didn’t feel like putting the poor dudes back in the paper bag – most merely grew more wrinkly and in dire need of a good moisturizer, but 3 dates ripened and turned brown. I gobbled one up and I’m very happy to report that its skin was translucent and the flesh was soft and sweet and tasted like candy! The two remaining ripe brown ones are on the vine as you can see. At this point, I’ve nixed plans of doing anything to the dates save for gazing at them, waiting for the rest to ripen, and once ripened, popping them in the old pie hole as a little sweet snack.
And on that note, signing off and wishing you a sweet-as-ripe-Bahari-date weekend.
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