Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What should I do with the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers?
These are age old existential questions we angst over. I confess I’m still grappling with the first two but I do have an idea how to transform the all-American leftover turkey into a nourishing, comforting food with a philosophical Persian flair. That cunning dish being none other than ‘halim‘: a slow-cooked porridge made with wheat (usually, or bulgur) and meat (lamb, chicken, or turkey) topped with a generous drizzle of melted butter and sprinkled with just enough sugar and cinnamon to delight one’s inner child.
Nutritious and highly caloric, halim is traditionally served as a hearty breakfast, often in cool seasons — best suited for days of vigorous activity or hard work, but equally delicious when one is hardly working as well.
Before the advent of food processors, making halim required patient commitment and a good bit of elbow grease. Turning hard grains of wheat into a creamy paste by hand is not the work of the meek. My mom tells tales of neighbors pulling all-nighters, making halim in big pots called ‘patil’ — stirring, stirring, stirring — using wooden spoons with very long handles (“almost resembling oars“) while chanting ‘salavat’ and reciting prayers. “Basically, they were meditating while cooking it!” Mom observes.
Hi everyone! How do you like my little needlepoint lady? She’s dancing like a twirling dervish and do you know why? Because her heart is filled and made buoyant with deep thankfulness! And guess what? Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A day centered around food, family and giving thanks.
I plan to reflect at length regarding gratitude before the year is over, but right now I must say that when I count my blessings today (as I plan to do sometime before or after wolfing down turkey, stuffing, and pie, lots of pie!) the fact that you take the time to read here is one of those many blessings, and it’s one that makes me as profoundly thankful as this dancing needlepoint lady. (Thank you! ♥)
Often, when I think about true gratitude — the buoyancy of feeling deeply and sincerely thankful — this poem of e.e.cummings, one of my favorite poets, pops into my head. It encapsulates in a simple and gorgeously earnest way the soaring transcendental nature of spirituality and conscious gratefulness. I can’t in good conscience pass up the opportunity to share it with you here:
Gentle Reader! Do I have a special treat in store for you! It is my pleasure to introduce you to the utterly talented culinary enthusiast Caramelflahn (Helen!) who is my new Instagram friend and cooking inspiration and obsession. I found Helen after stumbling on the sensuously fluffy and gorgeous rainbow-colored Korean ricecake creation of hers you see above, called ‘mujigae ddeok.’ Needless to say I gaped and gasped and oooh’d an aaaah’d upon spotting this beauty. Once I resumed my powers of reason and speech, Helen and I conversed and bonded over our mutual frustration with the 1001 ways one can spell Persian or Korean nouns in English. Words like ‘mujigae’ which means rainbow in Korean.
I begged Helen for a guest post and she complied by writing not one but two truly stellar guest posts for Fig & Quince. One is savory, a classic Korean dish imbued with intriguing inspirations from the Persian cuisine; the other is sweet and seductive as a nightingale’s song in a Persian garden. I’m entirely flummoxed and spoiled for choice as to which guest recipe post to present to you first, but either way, that’s a dilemma for another day, since I have a foodgasmic wealth of material to present first that deserves your uninterrupted attention and requires a tissue or two to wipe off the drool as your mouth waters. You see, Helen prefers to remain alluringly mysterious and mostly anonymous, however, I managed to coax an interview as well as a priceless photo out of her, and today, I share this earnest, thoughtful and fun interview with Helen about food, cooking, eating. I also quizzed her about some of her impressive culinary creations, including her sky scraper 100 layer lasagne and an awesome half beer half chicken Korean dish, and I will torment you by posting photos of a few of her mouthwatering dishes as well.
But first, a fun self-captioned photo of our most honored culinary sensation captured doing what she does naturally, beautifully and with gusto and passion: enjoying food!
“My friend Matt and me at Eleven Madison Park losing our minds when we found out the amuse bouche was a bakery box of savory mini black-and-white cookies with black truffle and parmesan. We are obsessed with black-and-whites and truffles, and that amuse bouche was quintessential NYC perfection. Our reaction was completely unscripted. That’s just how we are around food all the time.”
Here’s how the Persianizing popcorn idea came to be:
I’d like to lose 10 pounds. This is not for health reasons, I confess. I’m fit, in fair shape, and knock wood, no health problems. It is, I confess again, for combined reasons of vanity and comfort: I like how I look and feel when I’m a tad bit lighter. Now, losing weight is not a unique or laudable goal by any means but it is a fine goal so far as those things go. In any event, it is my goal. So, again: fine. But the problem is that as much as I like to lose these 10 pesky ponds, I am a shekamoo. I really, really like to eat. D’uh. I have a food blog! And if you’re reading here, I don’t need to tell you how amazing and awesome food is. In fact, certainly one iteration of heaven might be that it’s a place where you’ll get to eat anything and everything you want, as much as you want, without any consequences. Glory be! Amen!
I recently had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Fred Parvaneh, the wonderful creator of Fred’s Dog House — a creative, quirky and entirely fun foodie page on Facebook devoted to making hot dogs every which way.
I asked Fred to gift Fig & Quince with a guest post and he obliged with a very interesting and super appetizing Persianized hot dog recipe, dubbed The Arianne — as Fred is wont to name his recipes after his friends. (I’ll have to boast of getting a recipe named after yours truly as well — an intriguing melange of sausages, quince, anise pods, ginger, granny smith apples, clove and golden raisins — which, let me tell you, may have occasioned a delighted squeal.)
In a simple yet tasteful coronation ceremony earlier today, Pumpkin was crowned king. In a touching and wisely brief speech, King Pumpkin pledged his desire to carve a role in history as a just and yummy ruler.
Hi all! Let me kick start this festive post by saying that it is part of an effort by a whole gang (a veritable tribe) of us Persian food scribblers who gathered together to bring you a roundup of recipes in honor and celebration of Mehregan. Please scroll all the way to the end to see the index link to all these wonderful writers’ delicious posts: a lovely bounty in honor of a festival of love and bounty!
What is Mehregan? Dating back to 6000 years ago, Mehregan is an ancient Persian thanksgiving celebration of harvest and bounty — also referred to as Festival of fall, as it marks the harvesting season and is a tribute to nature. The word ‘mehr’ in Farsi means affection, kindness, love. It is also the name of the seventh month (coinciding with the zodiac sign of Libra) in the Persian calendar, dedicated to Mehr: the Zoroastrian Goddess of Light, Knowledge, and Love.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need tell you that Mehregan is no longer widely celebrated in modern Iran, except in a few cities such as Yazd and Kerman where there still reside a considerable Zoroastrian population, which was the religion of ancient Persia. But at one point in the history of Iran, Mehregan was as important a festival as Norooz, the Persian New Year.
In ancient Persia, the year was divided into two seasons: summer and winter. Norooz heralded the beginning of summer and Mehregan heralded the beginning of winter. Each festival was a major celebration and ancient Persian kings gave two audiences a year: one at Norooz and one at Mehregan. A perfect and harmonious symmetry. The two festivals share many rituals and symbolism in common, including: wearing new clothes; thoroughly cleaning one’s home; preparing a feast and celebrating with friends and family; setting a decorative and symbolic table with things like sweets, nuts, water, mirror, various grains for prosperity (such as wheat), fruits (specially pomegranates and apples), flowers, wine, coins (similar to haft seen) and burning candles and wild rue.
It’s funny how some of this knowledge may not be conscious but runs in one’s blood! A good few weeks ago I was minding my own business when all of a sudden I had a deep yearning – practically a physical craving – for a thorough spring cleaning. I wanted to khoneh takooni, which as you may remember means ‘shaking the house’ and refers to the vigorous spring cleaning that is one of the cornerstone traditions of the Persian New Year. It struck me as funny then to have this unseasonal instinct for spring cleaning with fall approaching and I even tweeted about it. (Because remember: if you don’t tweet or Instagram it, it did NOT happen!) And it was only when researching Mehregan for this post that I realized that my seemingly uncalled-for craving for a spring type of khone takooni was merely the ringing bell of ancient memory and instincts!
Now what kind of food does a Persian food blogger make in honor of Mehregan? Well, I once again invite you to explore the index link at the very end of this post to see the wealth of offerings. As for yours truly, since Mehregan is a festival of Thanksgiving, I chose the stuffed chicken as an homage to the stuffed turkey at the table of American Thanksgiving feast. As for reshteh polo, I chose it for two reasons. One is a nod to the meaning of ‘mehr’ which as I mentioned means love and affection and so I wanted to make something that I love and have much affection for and that is … carbohydrates! Thus: reshteh polo – a type of Persian rice made with noodles! Because if Persian rice on its own is not awesome enough, imagine it embellished with soft noodles and punctuated with the bewitching taste and texture of dates and raisins sauteed in caramelized onions. Oh, have mercy! A heavenly carb-load! The other less gluttonous reason is that reshteh is the Persian word for thread and in a pun, it also means clue, and as such, Persian noodle rice is one of the dishes served for the Persian New Year in that it symbolizes one having a grasp on the threads of their life!
A delicious way of saying: Get a clue!
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