In this fifth installment of “Drinking in Iran” — a photo-essay series documenting the tasty drinks (aka nooshidani) yours truly had to sip, gulp, swig, imbibe, taste, devour, knock back, or merely gaze at covetously during my sentimental and epic trip to Iran — I thought it was high time to talk about one of the most popular Persian soft drinks, and that would be … doogh.
Iranians love doogh! But what is doogh? Let’s commence with our pictorial journey to find out. (Warning: there may be many yummy Persian food pix along the way as well. Accordingly, proceed your viewing pleasure with caution.)
I got to make and taste and nibble on a host of yummy Persian goodies whilst I whiled away the time in the city of Angels (Los Angeles) a couple of months ago around Norooz time … when the sweet business of making and buying and eating Persian shirini was at hustling and bustling and fever pitch best. Persian shirini like these delightful mouthfuls pictured above called tut (also spelled toot) – named after and shaped like mulberries – that I made with my very own dainty little hands.
My lovely friends and hosts, Laya joon and Mehdi, also procured a whole host of Persian goodies from baghlava to gottab to bamiyeh and goosh ‘e fil and zaban. Persian sweets that are respectively named after okra and elephant ears and tongue!
It tickled your faithful scribbler’s fancy to notice that quite a few Persian shirini are named for and molded to resemble such disparate, and frankly, weird things from tongue to mulberries to okra to elephant ears … to window panes and spring blossoms! So I thought it’d be fun to take a quick tour of these sweet Persian avatars together and mull it over with each other. Ideally over tea! Let’s get started! (more…)
This post is dedicated to the memory of Doctor پ . A wonderful physician, musician, family friend, and all around lovely gentleman whose presence was a boon to all who knew him and who will be dearly missed. May he rest in peace.
Recently I made a short and sweet trip home for a visit with my folks when among other things my mom made this and this and also did this; and when I got to hang out with Azi2 and also got to go to a do’reh (a regular monthly-or-so Persian get-together among friends who take turns hosting) and have a fun visit with a host of dear and old family friends who I had not seen in a good while. Some of my favorite people in the world. Sight for sore eyes! A true pleasure!
My folks live in the DC Metropolitan area and while it is by no means the new Tehrangeles, there are a good number of establishments where one can grab a quality Persian chow, be it polo khorosh or kashk ‘e bademjan or bastani and reportedly even very good Armenian pirooshki. There are also several good Persian grocery stores scatterd in the area, including a smallish but quite good store near my parents where one does seem to find most everything required to run a respectable Persian household, from kashk to various types of Persian bread to halva ardeh to — as I was thrilled and squealed to find stashed in the fridge — stalks of perky unripe grape clusters! Or what we Persians call ghoreh غوره. (Query: The wine aficionados amongst us may perhaps identify a better name for “unripe grapes”?)
Gentle reader: you may by now have a noticed a pattern with Iranians and their love of unripe fruit and: it’s true! Be it unripe almonds (chaghaleh badoom چاقاله بادوم ), unripe green plums (gojeh sabz گوجه سبز), and now unripe grapes — which are usually picked halfway before maturity.
Are you familiar with that classic Aesop fable of the fox and sour grapes? The story was well known in Iran as well. But what the roobah didn’t know and Persians have known since times of ‘yore is that sour grapes can be quite wonderful!
A staple of the Persian pantry, unripe sour grapes (ghoreh: غوره) and verjuice (or abghoreh: the tart juice of unripe grapes) is used as a chashni (taste, flavor) to add a bright but gentle tartness and deepen flavors in khoresh (Persian stews) and abghusht and tas kabob and āsh (thick hearty Persian soups.)
Fresh sour grapes have a very fleeting season – a few weeks late in spring – so to preserve ghoreh’s goodness for use throughout the year, Persians had several tricks up their sleeves.
One that we’ve already touched upon is juicing the ghooreh to make abghoreh or verjuice. (Fun linguistic fact, the word verjuice comes from the French words verjus which literally means green juice!) Maman says in the olden days before the availability of store-bought verjuice there was a whole ritual where each family would purchase as much of sour grapes as was within their needs or means and then wash and crush the grapes and store the extracted abghureh in a cool dark place in a very specific type of glass bottle with a long narrow neck — that could then be used as chashni the whole of winter.
Another method was to dry out the ghureh and then grind it into a powder (gard ‘e ghoreh گرد غوره) form; or, they would pickle the unripe grapes (in verjuice, or in salty water); and of course now in modern times, ghoreh can be frozen for later use.
Ghureh is extremely beneficial for various health problems. Rheumatism and diabetes among them. Maman tells me a story that when she was growing up, there was a doctor named “Hakim Abghureh” (literally: Doctor Sour Grape Juice! Ha ha!) named thus because whoever went to him with ailments would be prescribed ash ‘e abghureh (a verison of Persian thick hearty soup made with plenty of verjuice) to clear and clean out the stomach and intestine as the good hakim believed that all diseases gather in the stomach and the intestines!
Unless you are a wiley fox not interested in sour grapes, below are directions for making your own: verjuice; ground sour grapes; pickled sour grapes; and the best method for freezing these tart fleeting gifts of summer.
This is tahchin, or upside down Persian rice. Tahchin is made with half-cooked rice that’s mixed with yogurt, saffron, and egg; layered with chicken or lamb; packed and molded (nice and snug) into a casserole dish; cooked in the oven; inverted into a serving dish; and garnished with barberries. Maybe also with slivered pistachios if available. Because: why not!
Tahchin is pretty yummy. One of my favorite Persian rice dishes. It used to be the treat I asked for on my birthdays.
Laya made tahchin for me when I was in Los Angeles. (Recipe: All the way at the end!)
This is my lovely friend Laya. In her kitchen. In the City of Angels. (Vicinity of Tehrangeles.) California. United States of America. Planet Earth. Universe. (What comes after the Universe?)
NOTE: The tahchin inverted in the serving dish.
NOTE: The plate of sabzi khordan – an eclectic mixture of radishes and herbs which is the ever faithful sidekick of all Persian meals.
NOTE: The green sticky tape over the camera on ye ol’ faithful laptop of mine. (Yup, still there!)
This is a closer look at the tahchin, and the aforementioned sabzi khordan (aka plate of fresh herbs and radishes.)
You know how you always find bottles of ketchup and mustard in a diner in the U.S.? Well, you would be hard pressed to find a mealtime Persian table without sabzi khordan. My father, for example, would not even conceive of such a travesty!
THIS: Is an up close and personal shot of my plate of tahchin in action.
THIS: Makes my mouth drool every time I look at it.
THIS: Is torture! TORTURE!
Note the pool of yogurt to the side. As is the wont of most Iranians (and certainly the wont of yours truly) yogurt is nearly always served and enjoyed alongside with most types of Persian food. Like a sauce. It brightens and crackle pops all the flavors & textures.
In this post about the Persian winter fete of Yalda, I thought it’d be fun to share some behind-the-scenes photos of the very recent time when I cooked up a batch of khoresh ‘eh fesenjan (using my mom’s awesome recipe) for a Shab-e-Yalda Persian celebration recipe that was featured in the article Diverse Holiday Feasts from Five New York Families in the New York Times.) Sometimes a blog is just a journal. A keepsake. And this event is certainly one that I want to keep for the sake of not just an amazing milestone for Fig & Quince, but the pleasure and fun of having shared it with an awesome family I am privileged to know and call friends. So I hope you’ll indulge me sharing some photos and tidbits and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
What is Yalda?
The long (there’s a pun here but you won’t know it till later, ha!) and the short of it is that the ancient Persians loved (and modern Iranians continue to love) to take any opportunity to make a ‘sofreh’ — an elaborate spread laden with edible yummies and symbolic objects that I like to dub by a highfalutin moniker of “tableau vivants” and also a less pompous nickname of “still lifes” — and to make a big festive whoop out of greeting seasons with joyous celebrations.
There is Norooz: hello sweet young thing Spring! Mehregan: hello moody enigmatic Fall! And Yalda: why howdy dominatrix Winter! (Come on, don’t act shocked. You know that Winter whoops your you know what. And some of you like it.) What about summer, you ask? Well, Summer, bouncy lass as she might be, seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to ancient Persian celebrations. Which is fine. Summer is widely worshiped across the world (and it does a popular kid good to see what it feels like being excluded) while winter always gets the short shift and the cold shoulder.
But not in Iran! On the eve of the longest night of the year (winter solstice or shab ‘e Yalda in Farsi), Iranian families gather together and stay up long after dinner — munching on ajeel & seeded pomegranates sprinkled with golpar (ground angelica) and whiling the time away by catching up with each other, telling stories, and consulting the poetry of the Persian lyric poet Hafez for glimpses into the future – a type of bibliomancy that is called fal-e-Hafez. Knowing Iranians, if it’s possible to have music; there will also be music, and if there’s even the slightest chance to get up and shake one’s groove thing, there will also be dancing. (Providing ample opportunities for beshkan zadan.)
This ancient Persian tradition of greeting winter not with gritted teeth but by spreading a festive spread of pomegranates, ajeel, candles, flowers, sacred texts and books of poetry and engaging in story telling, dancing and poetic divination is the celebration called Yalda and after Norooz, it is the most widely observed national, secular festival in Iran.
Hi everyone! This post is not related to food except insofar as it relates to what I do to put the bread (and sometimes the yummy polo khoresh) on the table. Have I ever told you? No? Well, don’t be mad, it’s not like you ever asked! Some other time I’ll tell you all about “Azita version 1.0” and what (shenanigans) she was up to but as far as the current model “Azita version 2.0” goes, what I do is: I write, design and illustrate.
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!
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.
If you’re very lucky, you have quince trees growing in your garden. If you’re not that lucky but still occasionally caressed and fondled by lady luck, there is a boy who volunteers to send you all the quinces from his quince tree. (Now, isn’t that a charming gesture of woo!) If you’re somewhat lucky, you can either find quinces in one of your local markets or else you can surreptitiously forage some from here and yonder. And if none of these apply, well, let’s face it, you’re entirely out of luck! At least when it comes to quinces. And that is a fate I would not wish for you, because I love quinces and I’m equally fond of you.
A decade ago, pomegranates were obscure objects of desire but by now everyone is appraised of their charm and eager to heap praise on the ruby-red-jeweled fruit. Quince — an ugly fruit with a heavenly scent and a multitude of hidden charm — is for certain destined for an equal if less glittery future of popular recognition. If you have not yet jumped on the quince bandwagon, do it! Do it now! Do it before it is commonplace and mundane.
Now, as befits a Persian food blog bearing the monicker of Fig & Quince, we have covered recipes for: stuffed quince (dolme ‘ye beh); quince kookoo (kookoo ‘ye beh); quince tas kabob (a finger licking slow-cooked fusion of many delicious things that has to be tried and marvelled at) and we were also graced by Maria’s Dulce de Mebrillo Sweet Quince guest post. By and by, delicious plans are afoot to bring you the recipes for the Persian quince stew (khoresht ‘e beh) and also for quince sharbat (sharbat ‘e beh) as well. But right now, that is at this very moment in time, when our beautiful silvery moon in the sky is in its waxing gibbous phase, it’s time to share with you the recipe for quince jam (moraba ‘ye beh.) A toothsome affair that goes mighty nicely with tea and buttered bread.
A little aside: I regret a few things about my trip to Iran. Regrets not too few to mention. Like: why did I not go up hiking on the mountains in Tehran more often ? Why did I not motivate and go visit my friend at her mother’s house that one time? (I really should have.) Why didn’t I make the time to go visit Joobin at Khoosh Nevissan cafe? Why didn’t I spend at least one whole day sitting in a cross town bus traversing this side to that side of Tehran? Why didn’t I take a Persian shirini making class? And why oh why oh why oh why did I not indulge in the traditional Persian breakfast?
For while I did allow myself to take great and even at times greedy pleasure in the plentiful goodness of the delicious Persian food (homemade and otherwise) widely available to me when in Iran, I stuck to my old boring albeit healthy breakfast throughout the trip. Yes! I do so confess! So even as my sundry Persian guest hosts broke their fast with excruciatingly soft and recklessly sweet smelling Persian bread freshly delivered or bought from the local noonvayee — lovely bread like nooneh sangak or barbari or lavash — that they wantonly buttered and then jam’d with spoonfuls of moraba (jam) and took big bites in between sips of hot tea, I in turn had my plain bowl of yogurt with sliced banana and some chopped walnuts and their quizzical looks of concern and pity! Yes, I was virtuous, but at what price! What folly was this! Tssk tssk!
It’s not possible to turn back the clock, alas, nor as of yet is it possible to replicate the amazing freshly baked bread of Iran outside of the borders of “the most charming country in the world,” but at least the moraba (jam) is one that can be remade to redress and remedy regretful neglects, and it’s specially nice when it is made with quince and I urge you to consider making it as well.
The quince moraba comes out a little soft, a little chewy, and a lot tasty.
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A group selfie at the Caspian Sea, iran | Found on Instagram
For many years, I yearned for glimpses of the life and people of Iran aside from its myopic presentation on mass media. After my epic trip to Iran, I now have my own first hand experience and pictures and stories that I’ve been excited to share with you, and I am eager to continue to share. Albeit, at the slow pace the series is unfolding, it may take me 3 years to recount a 3 month journey! (Which, an aside, a query: Why can’t I clone myself and put my clones to work? Do you think it would be alright if I crowdfund a cloning project? The clones would have to work feverishly from sunrise to sunset, it’s true, but they would get to listen to a Googoosh and Abjeez sound track and get plenty of tea and noon ‘o panir, as well as the occasional polo khoresh on festive holidays. So I wouldn’t hear of any complaints from them. Oh no! No sir! They should just be thankful and count their blessings to be so gainfully employed. Ungrateful wretches! … And yes, please do ignore me, I’m just being ultra silly.)