Koofteh, Calligraphy, Kangar & Langar in Our Nation’s Capital

There’s a saying in Farsi when someone goes to visit someone and doesn’t leave that they have eaten kangar (cardoon) and they have put down langar (anchor.)

What is kangar (cardoon)? Picture a celery with attitude and thorns! The Heatcliff of edible vegetables! Kangar is not found in the U.S., so I’ve certainly not had any, but, it appears that I’ve most certainly put down a langar here in the DC area while visiting my folks.

  • Aside #1: Despite its thorns, cardoon is a popular ingredient that is used to make a very delicious Persian stew (khoresh ‘e kangar.) Mom says: “don’t forget to mention that kangar mast (cardoon & yogurt) is very good and delicious as well.’ OK, Maman joon, you got it! But really, who was the first person who beheld this uninviting vegetable with thorny leaves and thought: ‘I must make a meal of it!” The origins of many dishes are fascinating. N’est ce pa?
  • Aside #2: It is a truth universally acknowledged that people living in the Washington DC metropolitan area often respond that they live in DC when asked by outsiders. Technically, I’m in Maryland, but DC is just a few subway stops, I mean Metro stops away.
  • Aside #3: The subway, I mean Metro, is by far cleaner, nicer (and also much less lively) here than in New York, but in its lieu, the fares are substantially higher than in New York and unlike New York’s flat rate, the further you travel, the more you fork over. They also charge you more if you travel during rush hour. So you are basically penalized for having a regular 9-5 job.)

Now lest you think I’m just living it up here, sippin’ sharbat and eating ta’dig and reading Persian fairy tales, let me say: I wish! And: yay and nay! That is, this is a working holiday but I’m trying to have as a cozy a time as possible nevertheless and to soak up the good vibes of being near those who are darling and dear.

I’ve been cooking up a good bit while here too, and the other day decided to make one of the earliest recipes I learned from Maman, a type of koofteh (Persian meatball), to write as a post to feed the blog monster. (Remember: blog monsters are always hungry!) So I made the koofteh and its yummy mushroom sauce and then took the standard operating procedure food-blogging photos (on a Persian tablecloth with a traditional Persian motif called ‘galamkar‘) and was quite pleased with myself and life and feeling somewhat accomplished when … I realized I’d already posted this Persian koofteh recipe  last year! Insert here a big: D’OH!

What is a food blogger in want of a quick blog post to do? Why: show pictures! Lots and lots of pictures! (As for the been-there-done-that koofteh: it is delicious; goes super nicely with bread and yogurt; leftovers taste even better the next day; and for the recipe please go here.)

And now begins the show and tell ‘Persian culture’ portion of our visit.

I’m usually super lazy when visiting my family and pretty much camp at home, but, I did motivate and trekked to the Smithsonian one fine sunny day. (Love, love the Smithsonian! Giving a good name to “institutions” everywhere!)

In the Smithsonian Castle I spent some time with this cute and cuddly astronaut!

Then I made my way through a beautiful garden to go check out the Persian Calligraphy exhibit on view at the Freer Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian. The gallery considers calligraphy to be “Persian culture’s most expressive from of aesthetic refinement. (By the way, calligraphy means “beautiful writing”.)

A rather hypnotic video screen – a woman engaged in the practice of calligraphy – greets one at the entrance to the Nasta’liq – Genius of Persian Calligraphy exhibit. It is not a grand show, by the way and by any means, just one small room and anteroom, but the selection is interesting and at times exquisite. Worth a visit for sure.

There’s also a permanent exhibit of ancient Persian objects at the Freer Sackler Galery. I’ll share just a few images that may be of interest to you:

The imagery of winged lions (what the Smithsonian calls ‘the fantastic feline’) as seen engraved on this plate is a frequent motif in the design of ancient Persian art.

“Winged horses appear frequently in Sassanian art, but their exact significance has yet to be determined. On this symmertrically organized plate, a pair balances on a stylized crenellated ground as if grazing or drinking. The familiar Sasanian (a Persian dynasty) vine scroll encircles the plate’s inner rim. Similar winged horses have been interpreted as a Zoroastrian astronomical sign or a representation of Pegasus, the mythical horse that was introduced to the Sasanian world through the Romans.”  The Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art

“Among the most remarkable Parthian ceremonial objects are wine horns, originally known in Persian as palogh and later as shakh (horn).  Wine horns may have been included in special royal ceremonies, such as the Persian New Year (Nowruz) marking the vernal equinox. The tradition of creating elaborate wine horns continued well into the Sasanian period, but few of the vessels have survived. This extraordinary example with a protome (forepart) in the shape of a gazelle is decorated with an unusual scene: a bull and a resting antelope flank one side of a tree, and a roaring lion and a second antelope appear on the other side. While the precise meaning of the imagery is unclear, the meticulous design and fine quality of the wine horn suggest it was created in a royal workshop.” The Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art


If you’re still with me, and I hope you are since the best is to come, I personally found this following exhibition text (re the tradition of feasting in ancient Iran) to be fascinating. Since the image is blurry and not entirely legible, here’s the transcript:

“According to written accounts, ancient Iranians were known for their elaborate etiquette, meticulously prepared banquets, and conspicuous consumption. Not only were they one of the first societies to eat meals in multiple courses, but they were also renowned for their rich desserts and delicious wines. According to one Sasanian source, the favorite foods of King Khsurow (reigned 531-579 CE) included lamb, beef rubbed in olive juices, and ox cooked in broth and eaten with sugared candies. Fruits, nuts, and spices were also classic ingredients of Iranian cuisine. Eating and drinking were also integral to formal ceremonies associated with Zoroastrianism, the principal religion of ancient Iran. The city of Shiraz in southern Iran was said to produce some of the finest white wines in the region. Its widespread fame gave rise to the myth that the modern wine called Syrah (sometimes Shiraz) originated in Iran.”  The Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art

At this point, if not out of consideration for wearing out your scrolling finger and patience, I was tempted to also include some of the photos I took of the gorgeous ancient Persian ruins of  ‘takht’e Jamshid‘ in Persepolis, Iran that are relevant to this post’s subjects. But: let’s just end here. Hope you enjoyed this disjointed but earnest Persian food and culture post about koofteh, calligraphy, kangar & langar in Washington DC brought to you by your faithful blogger who is currently basking in the pleasure of being at the bosom of family, but is also suffering from a nasty cold.

Khoda hafez until we meet next!

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Comments (21)

  • Bonnie Eng 6 years ago Reply

    I am endlessly fascinated by the treasures at the Smithsonian. Thanks for sharing–the Persian calligraphy cup is very cool!!

  • Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    My pleasure bonnie! It would be nice for drinking tea too, no? 😉

  • Cardoons! This is a vegetable I’ve long wanted to try and know I’ll have to try to grow if I want to…..

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Ooh, if you grow some up definitely let me know! How cool and adventurous of you!

  • apuginthekitchen 6 years ago Reply

    Love the Smithsonian, Freer Sackler, miss going there I was there all the time when I was in DC. Beautiful exhibits and galleries. Thanks for sharing the gorgeous calligraphy . I don’t think I have ever tasted cardoon but would love to one day.

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Maybe we can grow some caroon (kangar) in Brooklyn! Wouldn’t that be fun? 😉

  • Ahu Shahrabani 6 years ago Reply

    This is amazing. I relish each of your posts! Blog monster is the best descriptor ever. What an amazing exhibition! There was a Persian calligraphy exhibit at The Asia Society here a couple years back – did you go? Small but awesome.
    Feel better!!!

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    I missed it Ahu jan but from now on, we can make a field trip of it for these types of events! & thank you for such a sweet comment <3

  • Fariba Nafissi 6 years ago Reply

    I’m one of your blog monsters 😉 xoxo

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Awwww! You are one of the blog bunnies, not monsters! Lots and lots of love! xoxo

  • Bizou 6 years ago Reply

    So sorry that you’re having a cold. I hope you would feel much better very soon. This is a fantastic post & I’m sure it was a lot of work just like all the previous ones. It is so wonderful to be reminded of our heritage & history. Thank you. And now the food part. It is so interesting lately I had been thinking of Kangar & that NO ONE has talked about it or perhaps even remember it & then here we are. How wonderful. I only remember having it once as both the stew & with the yogurt & it was delicious. But I’m not so sure if it is Cardoon. Cardoon is silverish/green/ gray & the flavor is very mild in compare. It might be from the same family though. Northern Italians use cardoon a lot & it grows here in Calif. as well. I must try it in the Persian manner & find out. Thanks for the tip.
    Have a great rest of the week & feel better soon.

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Bizou joon (that’s your nickname here!): I’m always deeeeelighted to get your comments. Perhaps because you are always so ever awesome and nice to me! Re kangar (aka cardoon) Turmeric and Saffron, one of my very favorite Persian food bloggers has in fact written about boarni ‘ye kangar (http://turmericsaffron.blogspot.com/2011/05/borani-kangar-persian-yogurt-and.html) you should check it out! When I was in Iran, a friend of mine told me about and sent me pix of a borani ye kangar she’d made as well and I hope to post it sometime in the future. As to whether kangar is really cardoon … honestly, I’m not entirely certain but that’s how I saw several Persian cites have translated kanger and also that’s how Najmieh Batmanglij translated it, so that’s what I’m going with! 🙂 I now will have to ask my Italian friend and fellow food blogger if she has any experience in using cardoon, would like to know that. And do let me know once you try the California cardoons (kangar) in the Persian manner.
    Thank you for visiting! xxxx

    Bizou 6 years ago

    Thank you for the recommendation. I do visit that blog here & there & I do like it but not a follower. The reason I think Cardoon is not Kangar is because one the pic. you posted of Kangar is very correct & unfortunately the Cardoon plant doesn’t look like that that much specially the flower and second Kangar grows in winter time but Cardoon grows in Spring/Summer time. (At least here in Calif.) Hope you don’t mind my saying so. In any case I’ll still try it as Kangar when it is in season.

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago

    Oh, I don’t mind you saying that at all! In fact… I also have somewhat a nagging suspicion that Cardoon may not be indeed the correct translation (even though by now most of our cooking terms and ingredients have been correctly identified/translated) but it is the only translation or translated term that shows up when checking Google and cooking references. IF you find out the right translation, please let me know?

  • Bizou 6 years ago Reply

    Ps: forgot to mention, the table cloth is BEAUTIFUL. I LOVE textile.

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Mersi, cheshmetoon khoshgeleh! ;))

  • Oh you’re unwell dear Azita! Hope the cold disappears soon… though what better place to be to recuperate than with family surrounding you!
    Gorgeous informative post… those plates and wine horn are absolutely stunning! M.xx

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply

    Getting better and better thanks to excellent care by my lovely Mom! Speaking of, my folks are visiting Australia soon! I wish I was too and could come and see you in person and EAT some of your good food!

    That’s so exciting! When are they coming out? and are they coming to Canberra at all, or just the bigger cities? So very much wish you were travelling with them… it would be so wonderful to spend some time together! 🙂

  • Sophie33 6 years ago Reply

    Waw, what a fabulous interesting exhibition! I love reading & seeing it all! thanks, my dear Azita! x

    Fig & Quince 6 years ago Reply


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