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.
Hi everyone! As part of the continuing series of guest posts scheduled while I’m off on my excellent adventures in Iran, this post is by the lovely, artistic and witty Angie of the Novice Gardener. Angie does everything beautifully – cooking, gardening, baking, writing, blogging, guest blogging — with an offhanded and effortless enchantment and a vibrant sense of infectious excitement. She also throws awesome and rowdy Fiesta Friday Parties. (If you are a food blogger, you should RSVP a resounding yes to the next one!) And in the same vein of just being an awesome person, she generously insisted on creating a Persian inspired recipe specifically for Fig & Quince! How did I get so lucky? I’m stunned by the beauty of these treats she’s made and beyond touched by the beautiful gesture of her friendship. Now let’s go and nibble daintily this charming and delicious morsel and treat!
She’s a little bit Iran, she’s a little bit NY. That’s Azita, Iranian born, Brooklyn bred. By the time you read this, she will already be in Iran, fulfilling a life-long dream of traveling back to a place where it all began for her. Good grief, that sounds too serious, but anybody who reads her blog knows that Iran runs deep in her veins. My thought on hearing the news was very much like how I felt when a close friend found her dream job in a far-away place. I was excited and happy for her, yet sad that I wouldn’t be able to see or talk to her anytime I wanted to. Thankfully, with the internet and Skype, the distance was made shorter. I expect the same will be the case with Azita. I expect that she will stay in touch and keep us abreast with all the merriment she’ll be having. I have a feeling she’ll have the time of her life.
She is saying she’ll be staying for about 2 months, give or take, more or less, approximately. Is there a catch? I’m thinking there’s a chance she might like to extend her stay. I’m thinking that 2 months can possibly stretch into 3, maybe 4. I’m thinking there’s a likelihood that she will forget about us. I’m thinking there is a need to remind her that there are people waiting for her here, in her other home.
And I’m thinking we need to send her off in style. So, I’m sending her off with these special treats that doubly serves as a reminder. I call them the Persian Big Apple Treats. It’s a little bit Iran, it’s a little bit NY, just like Azita. Persian because of the saffron and pistachios and rose water and NY because of the apples.
And I’m thinking let’s not say good-bye, let’s say instead, au revoir. Au revoir, Azita! Until we meet again!
Hi everyone! Happy spring and Norooz Pirooz!
This cute and disarmingly gregarious boy is Elliah. (I met and got to talk to him at a hustling bustling market pulsing to the beat of frenzied shopping for sabzeh, goldfish, fruits and flowers and such accoutrements of greeting the Persian New Year – just hours before spring and Norooz were to sprung.) He is 10 years old and he was shopping for a goldfish and in the course of our convo he informed me that he has his own radio show! Too bad he wasn’t carrying his business cards or else I would have tracked him down for an extended interview! Elliah is holding a colored egg – one of the traditional items placed in the Iranian New Year’s Haft Seen spread.
Just in case you still don’t know what a haft seen (the Iranian New Year’s “tableau vivant” as I like to call it) is exactly, here are some real life honest to goodness examples of it.
My friend’s haft seen at home
My friend’s haftseen at her office
And finally, a pretty haft seen at one of the houses we went for did va bazdid (the tradition of paying a visit to friends and family during Norooz) with my uncle and his wife.
I wish I could post and write a lot more but I have to rush off to get ready for the ardous task of going over for a festive and certain to be delicious lunch at a relative’s. Don’t you feel tremendously sorry for me? Ha ha. I have been merrily eating my way in Tehran and I promise a post entirely devoted to at least some of the many amazing things I’ve had to eat so far. Soon! But until then let’s end with this shot of some Persian cookies traditionally served at Norooz that were handmade by my friend’s friend.
Aren’t they something? Clockwise from left: nooneh nokhodchi, shirini bernji and the one at the bottom is a cookie with topped with handmade jam.
And on that teasing note, untll soon!
Hi everyone! I made it! I’m in Tehran! Can you believe it? I still have a hard time believing it.
I am digging the snow-laden mountains and the amazing food and getting spoiled rotten by a dear friend. There’s no way I can express or detail the events, feelings, impressions, and my thoughts right now – I wish I could – but I’ve taken loads of pix and videos, and until I return to NY and have time to decompress and reflect, I’ll the photographs do (most of) the talking.
This first photo is one that I took of 3 cute and vivacious young girls who were only too happy to oblige my request to take their photograph. One of them said: "Oh! Let me first take off my ugly thick socks" and promptly did so and then the three of them posed with the skill and ease of Hollywood stars on the red carpet. Turned out they are architecture students. I loved their energy, enthusiasm and zest. Meeting them really cheered me up.
Koloocheh is a Persian treat baked and eaten at celebrations. These beautiful round golden discs are fashioned with a decoration of indented circles pressed into the dough. Baked with yeast, milk, butter, yogurt and eggs it has a rich dough but inside lies a rich seam of walnuts mixed with sugar and cinnamon. As they bake in the oven the whole kitchen is immersed in a cloud of cinnamon perfume. As they cook the smell creates a real feel good factor and a sense of something promising.
Until recently I had never heard of Koloocheh nor ever tasted them. The Fig and Quince kitchen asked if I would like to write something. I know that Azita and her family are preparing for the Persian New Year and I wanted to bring something that would honour that occasion. As I like to bake I thought the natural thing would be to produce a sweet of some sort and there starts my journey of learning about Persian food. One of the things I have learnt is that recipes are handed down and that a Koloocheh recipe alters depending on where you live in Iran. Scattering poppy seeds on the top being one example of this.
This recipe is not one that has been handed down, it is an amalgamation of all those recipes, which I hope will give everyone a piece of the Koloocheh they know and love. So forgive me if it is not exactly as you know it. On the poppy seed issue I have scattered a few on some of them!
I have made the Koloocheh in both a gas oven and an electric fan oven and there is no difference to how they cook.
As this is a dough recipe containing yeast, the amount of water/milk might need to be altered slightly. A tighter dough produces a firmer Koloocheh whilst adding a little more liquid will give the Koloocheh a consistency more like that of a brioche.