Hello lovely folks! Here I am on a freezing Sunday in Tehran tending to my blogging duties. I’m forsaking you not, so forsake me not! But what the heck, my friends: the world is turning topsy turvy and going cuckoo and not in a delicious Persian kookoo way. I am not flippant and I don’t mean to be frivolous and I know this blog is a platform (one that I yearn to use to its full extent) but I also don’t want to get involved in politics. I won’t get involved in politics. Whatever I say, whichever I say it, will be held against me, one way or another. Politics, by nature, is divisive. Food, by nature, is yummy and unifying. So I will only communicate via stories of food and culture, as has been the modus operandi of this here ol’ blog. I must note that a number of you lovely readers have reached out to me publicly and privately – asking about my well being and expressing your concern and support — and for that, for your sweet and thoughtful care and consideration, I am grateful! I can’t send you all Persian cream puffs (’tis a true pity) but I’m sending you something nearly equally wonderful and less caloric: LOVE! There’s no ban on that yet, huh? And I’m happy to report that while it’s true that I shiver and bite my nails when reading a certain someone’s Twitter stream and fret about the mayhem that may be unleashed, I nevertheless remain hopelessly optimistic that all will be well … and as it is now, I’m busy in Tehran with work and enjoying various Persian delicacies and recreational activities. And I do long to share it all with you! (ps Apologies that this post was prematurely published a few days ago. That was a snafu.)
Hi and hope you all had a delicious Thanksgiving! We had a pretty snow day on Thanksgiving day here in Tehran and I was torn between feeling rapt with the enjoyment of it in the here-and-now and also acutely aware of the significance of the day and feeling distinctly homesick for friends and family on the other side of the ocean. Not to mention craving turkey and pumpkin pie and of course stuffing! Oh yummy yummy stuffing. But actually do you know what edible thing it is that I truly and deeply miss the most? Avocados! Nice, ripe California avocados. Imported and home-grown avocados can be found here but they don’t look the same, don’t have the same texture and they definitely don’t taste the same. It’s a bit tragic. I daydream about daily gorging myself silly on avocados once I finally make a visit to the homestead. One of these days!
Anyhow, trying to get back in the blogging groove and figuring out where to pick up the much scattered thread of narrative. When in doubt, let’s go with a story and a recipe. In the last post I mentioned that I’ve started a digital marketing company called Zeerak. What I didn’t get to tell you is that Zeerak is one of several companies in a private accelerator slash incubator called MAPS. Now MAPS itself is outfitted in an old, traditional house with a big yard in the heights of “Darband” — a neighborhood in the north of Iran that is basically at the foot of the mountains. Quite scenic.
Now another thing I can tell you is that this house is still also the residential home of the founder and the father of the founder of MAPS and in addition, a sweet hardworking family (husband, wife and 3 rambunctious children) also live here who take care of the house and the household and the yard and the family. Also 6 days a week, Aazam Khanum, the lady of the caretaker family, makes a delicious lunch for all of us ravenous and stressed out motley crew gang of the multiple startups of MAPS. Sometimes our headcount is 30 or more! A veritable army! Yet every day at 1:30, lunch is served – nourishing and delicious and served with either salad or fresh herbs — and Aazam Khanum feeds our savage bunch with a graceful feast. (Using huge pots! I should document that one day as well.)
The spacious, multi-tiered and charming yard of this equally charming house is home to a multitude of fruit trees. Winter came early this year and this week we’ve already had snow a few times but just a little while ago persimmons were ripening on the branches of trees; a few months ago there were black mulberries whose very juicy existence were in my mind a very convincing raison d’etre for being alive; and in early spring, the grapevine in the yard sported bright green leaves and clusters of unripe grape leaves.
As a food blogger, this was an opportunity not to be missed to make stuffed grape leaves (dolmeh ‘ye barg ‘e mo) and Aazam Khanum kindly obliged and agreed to make a big batch to feed our gang and also let me document her cooking and gave me her recipe. She is a sweet and spirited woman, with a open and friendly intelligent face. I truly wish I could share a few photos but she adamantly prefers to stay away from the cameras. Luckily though, we can for sure show off the actual labor of her work, the beautiful dolme and share the recipe.
Hello hello hello! Is There Anybody Out There? (God, I love this album.)
But seriously: Are any of y’all still reading here? The blog stat says that a good bunch of you all are still coming and visiting (thank you! thank you!) but I know I’ve been MIA and I’m truly sorry for the absence. Perchance it made the heart grow fonder?
You see, my second epic trip to Iran (commenced circa September 2015) which was meant to last all of two months turned into a semi-permanent stay. I ended up not leaving and instead living here. In the interim, a whirlwind of activity ensued: I gave a TEDxTehran talk; I took a few cool trips (gastro, cultural and business) in Iran; I started a podcast series called the “Stories of Fig & Quince” (in Persian for the time being but moving forward I hope to do have an English version as well); AND, I ended up starting a digital media company (Zeerak Media) in Tehran! I mean, WHOA!
Throughout, I’ve wanted to share it ALL with you, every bit of it, every day, and yet, a body has just so much energy and yours truly is doing my best to stay afloat and play catch-up (while self-medicating with plenty of Persian pastry and such for the upkeep of spirit). It bears repeating that while absent from the blog’s website, I have been micro-blogging regularly and practically daily on Instagram and if so inclined, you could always follow my adventures there. Just saying!
To get warmed up and back in the blogging game, I thought I’d share a few photos of my very short yet truly memorable trip to the exotic, colorful, hospitable and entirely fascinating Persian Gulf region of Iran (or “jonoob” as we also call it here) circa February 2016.
The genesis of my trip was an invitation to attend a 3-day music festival in “Tiroor” (a small city an hour drive from Bandar Abbas, the main port of Persian Gulf.) The festival planners had set up local food and arts & crafts kiosks for the local artisans to show off and flaunt and vend their handiwork. The lady in the photo, a local artisan, is covering her face with something called a burqa. This is a type of hejab exclusive to the “bandari” women of this region, and it has become more or less defunct and prevails mostly as the custom of the women who live in the small cities and villages in the region. There are many different types of burqa and each has a significance and signals the wearer’s status: married, widowed, young, old, bride. It is fascinating and yet too deep a subject for us to address except in this very harried and rather perfunctory way. (You can see a bunch of examples here.)
The traditional “bandari” clothing is very ornate, very cheerful, and boldly bright. There is nothing bashful or understated about the fashion, let’s say that straight up! The embroidery is called “golabatoon” and it is used on all the party and formal wear of the women. For example, a bride typically needs to have a trousseau of at least 20 outfits – tunic and leggings – all of which needs be embroidered and bejeweled by hand and it can take up to two weeks just to create one legging! It is a big and serious business, and the sweet lady featured here is one such much-in-demand artisan who meticulously embroiders these ornate designs on fabric. She told me she was booked solid for a year!
During the 3 nights that I spent in Tiroor, I was hosted by a wonderful family, with 6 daughters and one son; each nicer and kinder and more hospitable than the next, and here are glimpses of the 2 youngest sisters with whom I spent the most time. As you may be able to tell from the photo, the leggings are a marvel of patterns and handiwork, and mind you, these leggings are the casual ones they wore for informal entertainment around the house!
Continuing with the dizzying yet pleasing plethora of the bold patterns abundant in the region, here we have a bowl of dry & crispy and somewhat spicy snack popular in the region that is called “pofak hendi” or alternatively “ajeel hendi” but it also has a very cute bandari nickname which unfortunately I no longer recall!
Now let’s discuss this photo! It brings back such wonderful memories! The cover photo at the top of the page and this one is the documentation of the lovely and delicious breakfasts I was treated to every day by the very nice family who I mentioned hosted me during my 3 night stay in Tiroor. As you can spy with your little eye, the breakfast (served in a round tray as is the charming custom of Iran) included walnuts, sliced tomatoes, honey, taftoon bread, feta cheese and tea! It was such a nice and indulgent way to start the day. The lady of the house also made a tall stack of the small round soft bread you see in this tray in a little portable “tanoor” oven she had in the house. The sound you heard just now were a re-enactment of the squeals of joy I made when I was offered this bounty!
And let’s end with this still life of some of the souvenirs I brought back with me from this awesome trip. From top & clockwise: a really great book about the region written by a local female scholar; a red woolen burqa (older women wear this); a gold burqa (brides wear this); and a lovely bag of bandari mixed spices (cardamom, pepper, rose petals in the mix with other spices) that the locals use in everything from stews to seasoning fish and seafood.
OK, then! Hope this will do for a breaking-the-ice post after such a long absence and that you enjoyed it and that you’ve forgiven me a bit for going radio silent.
Meanwhile, for those of you who are farsizaban, I have a new podcast episode up narrating a tiny bit more of the story of the marvels of this trip to the Persian Gulf region of Iran. Do catch a listen and if you enjoy it, please do share the link with your friends. (Link!)
And now, it’s time to bid you a fond farewell. Thanks for sticking with me and I promise I shall be back soon with actual recipe posts (the food of the south and north of Iran is a revelation!) plus photo essays and travel stories. My intention is to start writing here regularly again. That is my fond hope and desire, and by golly, I shall do my best to fulfill it or bust.
Hello friends! One of the interesting things that happened to me while I’m here in Iran is that I was approached to do a podcast series. I’ve been a podcast junkie myself for like ever (like totally! & way before Serial) and absolutely love the genre; and of course as a blogger – namely someone who is compelled to record and share observances and thoughts and stories – the concept of creating a podcast channel immediately and intensely appealed to me and hence, I jumped on the idea! So it was that the “Podcast tales of Anjir ‘o Beh” was born! (“Anjir o beh” is Persian for “fig and quince” in case you were wondering.)
I debated about doing a bilingual version – one in Persian and one in English – and I really really do want to be able to offer the podcast stories in both languages in the future so that those of you who don’t understand Persian (Farsi) can also have a listen but at least for the first season, it was not feasible. You should go have a listen anyhow! 😉
I’m happy to let you know that the 1st season is in the bag: a couple of teasers about Norooz (the Persian New Year) were released (here and here) earlier in the spring and the first full episode – an introduction – finally went live a few days ago.
Going forward, there will be new episodes every Sunday and Wednesday at 4 pm (Iran time.)
The 2nd Fig and Quince podcast episode is also now up as well. And it’s a really good one! In this episode I chat with Haleh Farajollahi, a dear childhood friend (our moms were classmates and BFFs) and she tells mesmerizing tales of witnessing the sight and sound of thousands of silkworms feasting on grape leaves and the beautiful heirloom cloths her grandmother then made with this harvested silk and other impeccable housekeeping customs of her grandmother (let’s put it this way, Martha Stewart would have LOVED Haleh’s grandmother!) and the delicious food of the northern region of Iran.
The cover photo is a souvenir pic of me and Haleh just before we went down to the studio to tape our episode. (The turbaned gentleman in between us is none other than Ferdowsi, the revered Persian poet who is to Iranians what Homer is to the Greeks.)
Here are a couple of other photos related to what we talked about in this podcast:
One of the heirloom silk cloths: handmade and designed and dyed by Haleh’s grandmother with the silk harvested by the silkworms feasting on grape leaves. Isn’t that enchanting?
And this is another such priceless heirloom silk cloth. Haleh says she very carefully stores all of the cloths passed on to her by her grandmother and hopes to pass them on to her own children and that each year, just before Norooz and as an integral aspect of the “shaking the house” part of greeting the Persian New Year, she takes them out and airs them and admires them, before storing them again for another year.
What a treasure trove !
And here’s Haleh as a little girl with her little stuffed animal. I mean: how adorable is she?
Do go and have a listen to this delicious 2nd episode of Fig & Quince podcast series (even if you don’t speak Persian, haha) and if you like what you hear, please do share the link with your family and friends.
Till soon, I remain your faithful blogger
With love and affection, from Tehran Iran
As wise as making lemonade out of lemons is making sweet jam from sour cherries.
Start with a heap of fresh lovely bright red and oh so tart sour cherries. Wash and dry. Take out the pits. While you are thus occupied by this monumental yet ultimately meaningful task dangle a few double-stemmed sour cherries from your ears like earrings. A throwback to the days of yore of childhood; when even eating fruit led to simple joyful pleasures. No reason it can’t be that way still.
Fill a pot with all your pitted sour cherries. The labor of your beautiful soul, your beautiful hands. Add sugar, the equivalent of the amount of your sour cherries, on top of the heap. For example, if you have one pound of pitted sour cherries, add a pound of sugar. Allow sugar to lay restful, in intimate sojourn with the sour cherries for 3 or 4 or even let’s say 5 hours. Snow white and crimson, sweet and tart, in an embrace. Oh, what will they speak of. The tales they will tell.
After a few hours, feel free to interrupt this aforementioned liaison. By then, sugar and cherries will have concluded their tete a tete by creating a beautiful puddle of lurid pink liquid. Use a utensil or preferably your (clean) hands to nudge and gently mix well the sugar with sour cherries.
Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Gently boil for … how long? Well, the length of times depends on how much sour cherries you used. For example, for a pound of sour cherries, 20 minutes will suffice. Longer if you have more cherries.
Make sure to skim and discard the pale pink foam as you boil the sour cherries. Doing so will make sure that you’ll end up with jam that won’t spoil or turn sour. Heed this advise and profit.
Once you’ve boiled the sour cherries for a sufficient amount of time, remove from heat, add rosewater, and let cool. How much rosewater you ask? Again, depends on how much sour cherries you used to make your jam. For example, for one pound of cherries, add 1/4 cup of rosewater. Feel free to trust your tastebuds, your senses, your instincts.
Allow to cool. Store in sterilized jars. But before doing so, make sure you make a number of delicious bite-sized sandwiches with yummy bread and butter. I personally also love the taste of feta cheese with sour cherry jams. Yummmmmmy!
You may also want to pose with your sour cherry jam for a food blog. Ideally in a scenic yard at the foot of beautiful mountains in Tehran. A swing set is optional. But preferable. Vastly preferable I say! Essential, some may even lay claim.
Hope you liked this recipe and may you enjoy the summer and its delicious bounty my friends. Let’s not even think of fall and the mares of nights of November elections with its orange-skinned people and such things. Let’s just pick fruit off trees and eat our fill and make and eat moraba. With rosewater. With pleasure. With gusto. With love. With bread! Lots of bread. And butter.
ps I must mention (and not in passing but with much gratitude) that the wonderful moraba ‘ye albaloo (sour cherry jam) photographed here is the handiwork of a truly wonderful khanum who feeds us at work. I’ll write more about the lovely khanum and also feature her stuffed grape leaves (dolmeh ‘ye barg ‘e moh) and finally tell you all about this work I’m doing here in Tehran, Iran by and by and now truly bye bye.
Hi guys! A future blog post is about making dolmeh with grape leaves but today’s post is about loss and scholarly life in Tehran. With some fruit and food pix thrown in for good measure. To distract you from the fact that I haven’t written any recipe posts lately. Tssk tssk.
First the loss – already alluded to in the last post. That is, I lost my phone. It must have slipped out of my pocket while I was riding a “taxi khati” (the kind of taxis where you share rides with others who are going your way, a manner of transportation that has its own lore and lure and culture and tricks and charms and repulsions, and one that I should definitely write about in a later post) and I only realized it was missing once I was home. A realization that had me in a cold sweat (literal!) followed by a hot sweat (also literal) and then a few minutes of numb acknowledgement of the fact. Is it hyperbole to say that the sensation – a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach and a clenching of the heart – felt like grief? Like deep mourning? Because it kind of did. Ah well, by now I’ve come to terms with it and have learned the lesson of backing up data the very hard way. Ouch and ooy and boo hoo.
Anyhow! Let’s now change course and look at some delicious fruit as an amuse bouche topic:
The pile of herbs are “sabzi Kohee” or wild mountain herbs; and right behind it we have some loquats (azgil) and next to it we have that mythical and iconic Persian fruit of spring, that is: “gojeh sabz” aka, sour green plums.
Ok, so these are obviously not fruit, but I can’t help resist the impulse of sharing with you this yummy photo of a window display with tantalizing offerings of kooloocheh, n’oon panjareh (Persian “Window” candy) and “cake ‘eh Yazdi” (very similar to muffins.) If only calories did not count, it is quite possible that I would spend days if not weeks eating nothing but generous multiples of each of these every blessed day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I am nursing a nasty cold but no grudges; I lost my workhorse iPhone but on the bright side I have a refrigerator filled with barbari bread and sour cherries picked from a garden near Tehran; and I have lots of news and a bunch of good posts coming your way – delicious recipes and sweet and bittersweet stories and lots of snap-happy photos, but meanwhile … I woke up this morning to the wonderful surprise of an email from my Edible Manhattan editor with the news that the article I recently wrote for them about Norooz in New York is an Eddy Awards 2016 finalist in the “Best Story” category. Say what! It obviously made my day. It’s an honor to be a finalist but (needless to say) I won’t scoff at the idea of actually winning in the category either. That’s where you, wonderful gentle reader, come in. As the winner will be decided by votes.