Last week I posted some choice vintage pix of a time in Iran that is by now a foregone conclusion. A few of you were surprised by the Iran of the past and a few were wondering about the Iran that exists now. Just who are these Iranians we hear so much about on the news? Let’s take a pictorial journey across the ocean to a land steeped in ancient culture and modern controversy, the land of caviar and saffron and pistachios and rosewater and Rumi and Khayam, one of the oldest dynastic empires, and a land infamously labeled the Axis of Evil. (Since I have not been back since we left, I relied on Uncle Internet to gift me with some photographic evidence. Credit is given when the copyright owner is identifiable.)
Let’s start with the national Iranian airline again. In contrast with the swinging 60’s mini skirt touting flight attendants of the last Friday post, here are some pix I found of a modern day Iran Air crew: pilot , co-pilot and flight attendants. All seems normal and copesetic. But: no mini-jupe in sight!
Let’s take a look at some of the people who live in iran. Maybe we’ll see something different than just the saturated media images. What do people do in Iran? How do they live?
Looks like some people ski …
While some others snow board …
And some crazy people snowboard down the handrail.
Some women embrace the mandatory hijab (covering up, that is) with gusto while some observe it with a degree of inventiveness.
Some people take the train. They go places. Then they come back.
Some people enjoy a private swimming pool to mingle and play.
Some people go to the mosque of Emam Reza in Mashad to worship and pray.
Some people play music on the street. (Look! Iranian hipsters!)
And some people call it a day already and take a coffee break.
And on that note, I’m going to follow suit and break for coffee! To be continued!
Until then: Bye Bye & Happy Weekend!
Quince is a praiseworthy fruit unaccountably overlooked in the West but surely poised to receive its due justice and high praise … any minute now. Tick, tock, tick, tock! But while quince tap, tap, taps its foot, awaiting an end to its role as a steely ambitious understudy for the glorified pomegranate and making it “All About Quince” and finally taking center-stage in the West, it has the solace of having being treated with affection and high regard in other parts of the world, particularly in Iran, from the beginning, and since the ancient times.
In Persian cooking, quince is relished as a treasured culinary ingredient in manners both savory and sweet. From quince stew (khoresh ‘e beh) to quince dolmeh (dolmeh ‘ye beh) to a toothsome quince jam (moraba ‘ye beh) to the glorious quince tas kabab (tas kabab ‘e beh) to a quince and lemon syrup (sharbet ‘eh beh limoo) that is a refreshing and aromatic summertime drink, to a few other culinary treats besides. As you can see, in the Iranian culinary tradition, the degree of partiality to quince is extensive and eclectic.
That said, I’d never heard of a quince kookoo (kookoo ‘ye beh) until I read the “Forgotten Kookoo Recipes” section of a wonderful two volume encyclopedic Persian cookbook (a veritable tome) researched and written by Ostad Najaf Daryabandari. (More on this gentleman, who is a revered translator and public figure, and on the treasure of the cookbook he produced, at a later time.) It appears that the recipe for quince kookoo traces its origin to a 19th century cookbook scribed by one Mirza Ali Akbar Khan Kashani who was the chief royal cook of one of the more famous Persian kings of the Qajar dynasty: Nasser El Din Shah Qajar. The Qajar dynasty was corrupt (to the bone) but their saving grace is leaving a legacy of a specific style of painting that is nothing short of stunningly gorgeous. Behold as exhibit A, a portrait of the said Nasser el din Shah himself as painted in the Qajar style of art:
May we take a quick detour away from food and recipes and venture into the arena of amateur art appreciation? I mean, look at all the patterns in this painting! So many intricate and ornate patterns and yet, nothing clashes and the whole comprises a harmonious eye candy. That is quite an artistic feat, don’t you agree?
I am also quite amused by the body language of the king, who hails from the 19th century, yet whose posture is quite modern in that it’s entirely casual. His title may be “His Majesty King of Kings, the Ruler of the Whole kingdom of Iran” — that’s the translation of the Persian text (تمثال عدیم المثل اعلیحضرت شاهنشاه کّل ممالک محروسه ایران) inscribed below the painting — but the king’s posture is so nonchalantly cool that I could very easily imagine him holding a glass of artisanal micro-brewed beer in his right hand while holding court in a hip Brooklyn bar! The king does sport the much-praised Persian unibrow (praised by and a trademark of many Persian artists that is – often, women depicted in Persian paintings have magnificently arched and full unibrows.)
And do let’s talk fashion. Because I so dig the clothing! My mom looked at this painting and said: “Gosh! Can you imagine people wearing clothes like this?” And I looked at this painting and thought: “Gosh! Can you imagine people wearing clothes like this?” But my mother’s tone is one of “thank God the fashion and styles have changed” and my tone is “it would be ever so delightful if we still went around like this.” I love the profusion of paisley patterns – the quintessential Persian design motif – and I am amused by the eccentric hat that is also a crown bearing paisley-shaped gems in its feather duster band. It all looks entirely comfy, cozy and yet supremely pretty and luxurious to me.
One question before moving on back to food: are those shoes the king is wearing, or is he just wearing socks?
Moving on back to the delicious and delightful topic of food … since I’ve already sung the praise of kookoo on 3 separate former occasions (Kookoo sabzi, kookoo sibzamini, kookoo Sabzi II) and since we already spent a bit of time casting an admiring glance at the role quince has played in the cuisine of Iran and how it’s verily on the verge of stardom here in the west, I will cut to the chase and spare you further bavardage (or bolboli kardan as we call it in Iran, meaning chattering ceaselessly much like a canary) and suggest we head over to the recipe section and review the direction for the quince kookoo recipe found in the cookbook penned by the Qajar King’s royal chef.
I will only add that kookoo ‘ye beh (quince kookoo) is soft and lush and tastes very good and smells good too and it will serve you well as either an appetizer or a light meal. You could enjoy it with yogurt and a platter of fresh herbs (sabzi khordan); or you can go the route of topping it with something sweet like jam or syrup or a dusting of confectioners sugar. Either way, it’ll go quite well with some soft flat bread. Nice, comforting and yummy. Noosh ‘eh jan in advance!
A Friday post calls for a fun post. So I thought I’d round up for you some images of Iran that have caught my eye while perusing the Internet. The theme: vintage Iran of the 60′s and the 70′s. Let’s travel back in time. Berim!
This first picture is of 4 Iranian airline stewardesses (flight attendants) posing with varying degrees of levity in front of a plane that bears the words: “هواپیمای ملی ایران” which means: Iran’s National Airline. In English lettering to the left of the plane we have “Persia” except that the “P” is cropped out of the shot, leaving us with just “ersia.”
Judging by the outfits, this is the Mad Men era. And judging by the length (or lack thereof) of the skirts, it is Mad Men circa Don Draper’s second (Megan Draper) and not first (Betty Draper) wife. In Iran, mini skirts were known as “mini jupe” — the French term for the said style of garment.
By the way, going back to the airplane, do you see the 10th window-portal of from the right? Those were usually the reserved row of seats where the rolled up flying magic carpets would be stored for use in case of an emergency.
I kid! I kid.
This rather handsome man, Behrooz Vossoghi, was the biggest matinee idol (think Brad Pitt or George Clooney) of my parents’ epoch. I don’t believe I ever saw even one of his films as my parents were rather picky and strict about the type of movies we could watch. Pity, but such are the cards we are dealt in life. Do you see the movie poster in the top middle that reads: Arrivederchi Tehran? Oh, I would so like to see it! Netflix … are you listening?
Like any sex symbol movie star worth his salt, Behrooz Vossoghi was romantically linked to a number of stars and starlets. None however piqued the interest of people more than his pairing off with Googoosh. Ah, Googoosh, Googoosh! Googoosh was a huge pop star, an icon, and someone I would like to feature at length. But for now, let’s just note how pretty the two look together and leave it at that. Behrooz Vossoghi and Googoosh married, divorced, and made a few (not good but popular) movies together.
Speaking of vintage and times gone by, you can’t get more vintage than this: Jacki O, the Shah of Iran, Farah Diba the former Empress of Iran, and JFK – all dressed to the nines – on the occasion of what I presume can be nothing other than a formal White House visit circa Camelot. I do like how they all seem sincerely interested and engaged.
So many things to note about this picture! It is the cover of what was a very popular women’s magazine named “Zan ‘eh Rooz’ which means “Today’s Woman.” My mom would bring issues to the house but I was strictly forbidden from reading it. However, I will confess that I considered it a dare and managed to read every issue, front to back and back to front, on the sly. This particular cover is apparently of that year’s “Dokhtareh Shayesteh” which literally means “glorious girl” (or something like that) and which was Iran’s title given to the winner of a beauty pageant who would go on to compete in the Miss World competition. This cover announces the excitment of Iran’s contestant’s impending trip to partake in the international beauty pageant competition.
Most interestingly: she’s posing in front a Paykan car.
The bilingual highway sign is sufficient commentary for this photo I found online, don’t you think? I can look at this photograph for a long long time.
This truly is a moment frozen in time. On the verge of exiting Tehran.
While I dream of seeing the sign on the other side of the highway:
“ENTER. TEHRAN. 1 Kilometer.”
Is it too late to take stock of 2013 and reminisce about the past year? Are we over the newness of this year already? Please tell me it isn’t so — 2014 is only a hint over two weeks old, still shiny and filled with promise and potential and hope, and surely not in need of some botox yet — what, with 349 whole days left till 2015. (Although actually, while that sounds like a lot of time, let’s face it, it may go poof and vanish just like a dandelion caught in a gust of wind.)
Did you make any resolutions? Are you sticking to them? I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but I do have a few mottos I have adopted throughout life that I do my best to live by, and come a new year, I polish them up so that they burnish more brightly on the forefront mantlepiece of my mind. They serve me well, so I’ll share them with you:
Perfect is the enemy of Good. (Another variation of this motto is: Done is better than Perfect. Quilt artists are fond of this aphorism. Understanding this wisdom liberated me beyond measure. Ending a bout of years-long self-fulfillment paralysis. May it do the same for you. Whatever you want to do, just do it. Who cares whether it is perfect or not?)
Don’t drown in a cup of water. (I forget where I came across this. It is simple yet profound wisdom. I interpret it to mean: don’t freak out, don’t fret over little things, handle conflict and travails with grace, have faith.)
Be Bold. Whatever you do or dream you can, begin it. (Ghoethe said this and I’ve already waxed plenty poetic about it.)
Be kind. (Kindness is a gift to oneself as much as it is to others. I try to remind myself of this and practice it. Even on the subway!)
It is the sign of the times we live in that blogs also have occasion to review and take stock of their performance in the year past. WordPress sends out an “annual report” for all the blogs they host. A nicely designed and engineered report with a fun and festive fireworks animated GIF and interesting statistical analogies that among other things also identifies the 5 most popular posts of the year on one’s blog. A few cool bloggers shared their top 5 blog posts of 2013 list, and I thought I’d be a copy cat (MEOW!) and do the same.
Let the countdown to Fig & Quince’s top 5 posts of the year begin:
A yummy & truly simple vegetarian (can also be made vegan style) eggplant dish from the Northern (shomal) region of Iran. The story and recipe delightfully narrated by Yvonne joon, a most charming racounter, and the very first Fig & Quince guest blogger. I’m not surprised that out of the 60 odd posts on the blog last year, Yvonne joon penned one of the top five. She is witty, pretty, kind and oh so bright and her friendship I count as one of the great bonuses of having started this here blog.
Bearing some resemblance in looks (if not taste) to the Mexican mole, fesenjoon (also called fessenjan), is known as the king of khoresh. Made with a mixture of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, fesenjoon’s flavor is tangy and sweet and rich and its texture is heaven: soft but granular and thick. It is almost unbearably delicious when served with rice. Trust!
Persian rice is a science and art to itself and the measure by which one gauges the true talent of an Iranian cook. This post, part 1 of a Rice 101 series, is an introduction to the rice (polo) and also to tadig (also spelled tahdig sometimes) or the bottom-of-the-pot crunchy crust of the rice that is the most coveted offering at any Iranian dinner table.
Oh, I get so happy looking at these pictures. They bring back fond and wholesome memories! They are from this past March when I sprouted lentils and sprouted wheat and watched them grow. Sprouting seeds, called “sabzeh sabz kardan” is one of the many very pretty customs of the secular and ancient celebration of the Persian New Year aka Norooz. I confess I’m still smiling looking at the photos – they are synonymous for me with spring! I may just rush spring and sprout some seeds right away just for the sheer pretty pleasure of it. ( A step by step guide to grow sabzeh at the full post.)
And, ta da, drum roll, the number 1 most viewed post:
Perhaps not surprisingly, yet another Persian Rice 101 post, this one a pictorial step by step guide to making the perfect Persian rice took the #1 most viewed post. All credit is due to Persian rice itself, which truly, is the best rice in the world. It just is! The directions may seem exhaustive, but give it a try or three, and once you get the hang of it and it becomes second nature, you can make a fluffy pillowy bed of fragrant and perfectly steamed rice with one arm behind your back and win friends and influence people. Promise!
So that was Fig & Quince’s highlights in 2013, according to Word Press. For 2014, I have some theme adjustments (that I hope you’ll like) and a few fun plans for Fig & Quince up my sleeve. One of the plans intersects with my personal life and it is major and so dear to me that just thinking about it makes my heart go: thump, thump, thump! I hope I can realize it. I pray it will happen. I will weep if it does (with joy.) I will weep if it doesn’t (with sadness. And I might just burst.) Hint: its realization involves getting on a plane! ;) Please wish me luck!
And in conclusion and as I bid you adieu till we read again, I hope the new year has been treating you kindly thus far and that it will coddle and pamper you till the next one and I hope that you are either keeping up with your good resolutions or have the good sense not to beat yourself up if you have not.
One of the earliest posts on Fig & Quince was a recipe for kookoo Sabzi, a very popular type of Persian kookoo that is enjoyed year round and is also among the traditional foods served during Norooz — the Persian New Year’s 2 weeks long celebration — because it is green and thus symbolizes growth, renewal and spring.
What exactly is a kookoo? As I wrote earlier, I like to imagine kookoo as the precocious love child of a quiche and a soufflé. The Zelig of egg dishes: because it bears a semblance of resemblance to a frittata, fritter, omelette or even a pancake!
But ultimately and in a nutshell, kookoo refers to a genre of Persian food made with whipped eggs which then are folded in with various ingredients. In Iranian cuisine, we have garlic kookoo, eggplant kookoo (one of my favorites – yum), green bean kookoo, potato kookoo (delicious with candied turnips), meat kookoo, cauliflower kookoo, and a bunch more besides. Variations abound! Kookoos can be served as an appetizer, a side dish, or a light meal. Since they travel well, most versions of kookoo are also quite popular as picnic fare.
A good kookoo sabzi is a thing of beauty: fluffy, fragrant, hearty yet light, filled with nutrition, and absolutely delicious! The contrasting play of the tangy berberries and crunchy earthy walnuts in a bite of fluffy herb-infused kookoo sabzi, when partaken with yogurt and some bread, is poised to delight even a persnickety palette. [Fun Fact: Kookoo sabzi was one of dishes served at the 2012 White House Passover dinner.]
Recently I had occasion to avail myself of the goodness of this lovely kookoo and it occurred to me to repeat the recipe for those of you who may have missed it earlier – because it’s just too good a recipe to miss tasting and having in your repertoire, and because as Doctor Seuss said: “If you never did eat kookoo you should. These kookoo things are fun and fun is good.”
Let’s not just sing Kookoo sabzi’s praise – let’s get cooking and make some!
My friend Mette (who hails from the magical land of Hans Christian Andersen) and I have a giddy, gushing love of New York in common, plus a penchant for walking, and we have really good walking karma! In the good ol’ days when Mette lived in New York, we would go on epic strolls (reminiscent of Toni and Christopher who flânent their way through Paris in the wonderful Metroland novel by Julian Barnes) and we would always, somehow or other and often in surprising ways, encounter and experience perfect and memorable New York moments. Back then I was solely an urban walker but Mette also biked and mind you this was: without a helmet; in all manners of weather; and before the city was even remotely bike-friendly. I was torn between aghast horror for her safety and appreciative marvel at her chutzpah.
When I recently signed up for NY’s bike program, you may recall that my city biking adventures began somewhat inauspiciously. But as soon as my bruised ribs healed I was back on that bike and I have to say, I’m 100% addicted! Save for snowy days and a few sick days, I have been racking up the miles, rain or shine, pedaling in traffic and over bridges and alleyways and city streets and bike paths, visiting old far-flung haunts and discovering new ones, and through it all, I have often missed my buddy Mette because if she still lived here I know that we would be having so many epic biking adventures. Like all good friendships, when it comes to being enchanted by things, we speak the same language. Hopefully she can move back here like she wants to in the near future (let’s all send her positive vibes to win the U.S. Green Card Lottery) but meanwhile the consoling news for her tribe here is that she gets to visit us in NY rather regularly. She was here just recently, matter of fact. And of course, we had to go biking through Brooklyn!
And so it was that a few weeks or so ago we met up mid-afternoon in Brooklyn, on a FREEZING but super pretty (sunny, puffy clouds, blue sky) day and pedaled our way from the waterfront views of Williamsburg towards Vinegar Hill and on to DUMBO (with a fun coffee + chat + toe-warming pitstop) and then onwards to the Brooklyn Heights promenade. From there we traversed the gorgeous Brooklyn Bridge and on to Chambers Street in Manhattan, then rode all the way West to the Hudson River trail where we headed up north to 16th street (chatting while stealing glimpses at the glittering New Jersey skyline and a cruise ship sauntering slowly on the river) and we then made our way East to Union Square where we finally bid adieu to the bikes.
It was a whole lot of exertion, a whole lot of gorgeous views, a whole heck of a good time, and just an overall feeling of exuberance.
And then, we made our way to my parents apartment for din-din. Now, my parents theoretically & technically reside elsewhere, but for awhile now they mostly live in New York because of my father’s work. That day, they had just returned to the city in the early afternoon hours when I called my mother and asked: misheh ma sham biyayim khonahtoon? That is: I invited us over for dinner! My mom, champ & khanoom that she is, agreed and somehow or other in the scant few hours she had between returning to the city and before we got to their apartment, she’d set the coffee table with a bowl of fruit and ajeel (such a Persian thing to do!) and prepared a delicious dish: adas polo (Persian lentil rice) with raisin and dates and walnuts, served with saffron chicken breasts. (There was tadig too — of course!) Mashallah & hats off to her!
When we got to the apartment, we were welcomed not just with warm greetings but also an intoxicating waft of the heavenly scents of saffron, rice, cinnamon, and butter mingled together! Oh, mon dieu! Let me pose a perfectly rhetorical question: is there anything better than being hungry like a wolf and dropping in just in time to sit down to a delicious meal in the company of some of your favorite people?
Over dinner, being as it was the eve of their wedding anniversary, my parents told the story of how they’d met. (An interesting tale where the ritual of serving a tray of tea plays a pivotal and traditional role — so I’m saving their story for a future post about the ceremony of tea drinking and Iranians.) Mette indulged us with accounts of her life and work in Copenhagen; and I went on about the 1976 UFO sighting in Tehran (WHAT!) which I’d just found out about while listening to a TTBOOK podcast! After dinner, we had tea (with milk, please) and seeded pomegranates (another quintessential Persian thing to serve when having guests over) and some cookies for dessert. It was a really fun night. The perfect ending to a perfect afternoon. Wish you all could have been there!
Were it only possible! Sadly, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s decree on the impossibility of impossibility notwithstanding (and anyhow we saw how Napoleon fared with that motto of his in Russia) that lovely scenario does not seem to be ever possible in the realm of practical reality. BUT, it is entirely possible and even practical (that is if something that tastes magical could ever be said to be practical) to recreate your very own mouthwatering and delicious adas polo.
Now, a shocking thing about Persian lentil rice is that it is traditionally not considered a fancy enough dish for formal dinner parties, which is heresy and crazy talk as far as I’m concerned, because the amalgam of taste, texture and scent of humble lentils made decadent with saffron, butter, rice and advieh (mixed spices) combined with crunchy walnuts and sweetly succulent sauteed and buttered raisins and dates is enough to incite a swoon … oh my, do give me a minute to fan myself out of this tizzy.
Theatrics aside, what I’m saying is … Trust me, this is no hyperbole. Persian lentil rice is good, good, GOOD! Go for it! Make it your New Year’s resolution.
Happy 2014! Make every day count this year!
Old Mac Ghassem (also known as Mashdi Donald) and his coddled pishi kat Meeyou and the rest of his cute critter-menagerie join Fig & Quince (and 7legs) — in this very special time of year — with a heartfelt and bellowing chorus to wish you all:
Happy Holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a very happy New Year.
Let’s all sing along together now (to the tune of ♪ Oh, Old MacDonald Had a Farm E.I.E.I.O ♫ ):
With a woof woof woof and a cluck cluck cluck and an oink oink oink and a meow meow meow and a Perzh Perzh Persian and a neigh neigh neigh here and a baa-baa-baa there, here a cluck, there a woof, here an oink, everywhere a baa, here a Persian or two, and there a MEOW … Ooooh …
La la la la la LA! ♪