Tomorrow, at precisely 3:45 pm PST (6:45 pm EST) winter ends (bye bye Winter dear, don’t let the door hit you on the way out) and spring begins. Oh joy!
Spring Equinox marks the beginning of Norooz, the Iranian New Year. I wish I could wax poetic about it with you! But these past month has been a relentless whirlwind of activity (hope to share details with you by and by) and I’ve written a few posts about the pretty customs of Norooz already anyhow (the meaning of haftseen, Norooz in Tehran, the sweets of Norooz, coloring eggs, sprouting sabzeh, Norooz ‘a Palooza!)
So for now, as I laze around in my friend’s house in Los Angeles (I’m in LA because of this and to see this in person and of course while here I’m also delighted to enjoy the goodness of Norooz in Tehrangeles!) I just want to catch my breath, listen to the birds singing prettily, and just gaze at this beautiful yard – a corner of paradise – with a dreamy view of trees and flowers and hills.
BUT, I do also want to chirp in to say:
Norooz ‘etoon Mobarak and Pirooz (for all y’all celebrating Norooz)
& Happy Spring! Also Happy Fall to our friends in the land under!
& May all of you have a ‘shirin’, pretty and rocking season ahead.
Let’s fire up that samovar and brew some fragrant tea (or chayee as we say in Farsi) for this second installment of “Drinking in Iran” — a photo-essay series that documents some of the tasty drinks aka nooshidani yours truly had to sip, gulp, swig, imbibe, devour, knock back, taste, or merely gaze at covetously during my sentimental, epic trip to Iran; and that in the bargain, attempts to explore the people and culture of Iran and share some travel stories with you as well!
So grab some habe ‘ye ghand (sugar cubes) or something equally sweet, kick back, and let’s enjoy some good old fashioned chayee, Persian style!
Tea is the most common, ubiquitous drink in Iran. Whether in someone’s home, in a stall in the bazaar, or in the kitchen of the House of the Artists (aka khaneh ye Honarmandan), there’s always a kettle or samovar gently boiling and bubbling and dreamily humming; and there’s always a pot of tea either being made or a cup of tea being sipped. That’s just the way it goes.
This samavar and tea service are on display at what used to be the kitchen compound of the Pahlavi Dynasty’s summer palace (Sa’ad Abad Palace – in the northern part of Tehran) which has now been turned into a museum. Note the special type of glass tea cups – which we call ‘estekan’ — and the pair of sugar cubes next to the estekan.
Tea may be a global beverage – entirely commonplace – but drinking tea in Iran is made less ordinary because of the nicety of the associated rituals – such as the touches of sweets served alongside with this familiar beverage.
Sugar cubes are the most common and traditional way to sweeten tea. The old-fashioned way (but not chic, darling!) of having sugar cubes with tea is not to stir and dissolve it but to bite and suck the sugar cube between one’s teeth while taking sips of tea. It’s kind of fun to do but the sound effects and required facial mannerisms make it clear why the practice is frowned-upon-in-elegant-society. I like my tea with milk and no sugar (blashphemy, I know) but if I did like my tea sweet, I wouldn’t have minded occasionally practicing this method on the sly in private to my heart’s content. Elegance be damned!
As a guest in someone’s home, there are many dainty ways to sweeten the tea. Like this tea served with sparkly homemade ‘tut’ (Persian marzipaln mulberries) that I got to enjoy during a Persian new year ‘did va bazdid‘ visit with my lovely friend’s elegant family. (Note the beautiful antique silver spoon!)
Better grab that estekan ‘eh chayee while it’s nice and hot!
In a trendy café, chayee may be served on a cute tray with nabat and almond cookies.
In Shiraz, a festive meal in a garden with live music (while seating and eating cross-legged family style on a kilim-covered wooden platform) culminated – to my heart’s delight – with a tray laden with assorted sweets and an adorable ersatz tea pot adorned with the portrait of a grumpy mustachioed Qajar royal gent.
A typical sweet served with tea is nabat, aka rock candy. These days, nabat is served on a stick (much like a lollipop) that one dunks in the tea (a modern iteration of an old-fashioned idea) and stirs until it dissolves. A charming way to sweeten one’s tea.
This was at the lake front cafeteria of the very scenic Park ‘e Melat (formerly Park ‘e Shah ‘anshahee.)
Sometimes it was not the nabat (rock candy) but the charming sweetness of the company that made the tea special. Like meeting (for the first time in real life!) the lovely Simi, fellow Iranian food blogger and now dear friend in a trendy Tehrani café at (Bagh ‘eh Ferdows) Ferdows Garden. [The Full account of meeting Simi and another lovely Persian food blogger friend in Tehran coming up one of these days!]
While I’m at it, may as well add this photo of yours truly (in the middle) sandwiched between gorgeous family friends. This was also at Bagh ‘eh Ferdows, but in the front garden.
Sometimes it was the company, the kooloocheh and the scenery that made even a weak tea-bag-brew an unforgettable cuppa’ for the books!
This was on the way back to Tehran after a road trip to shomal – the beautiful Caspian sea region.
Sometimes, tea with lemon was just a utilitarian workhorse.
The only way to chase a rich breakfast of kaleh pacheh! (I may have mentioned this already, but kaleh pacheh was the very first thing I had to eat when I arrived in Iran. At the crack of dawn! It was awesome! )
And sometimes tea with lemon with a friend in a garden blooming with fragrant honeysuckles in the ancient city of Yazd was nothing short of magical … a tangible ode to the dizzying perfection of a moment in life. Sip, sip, sip! I’ll drink to that!
Until we next meet, wishing you the perfectly brewed perfect-temperature tea with the au juste sweet pairing.
For now, khoda hafez!
In honor of Valentines day, I have a Persianized Valentine’s Day ditty for you:
(That means YOU!)
As my lovely friend Lena K says: “Celebrate love while you can, always.”
As the revered Persian poet Hafiz put it so eloquently: “Go through this world giving love. Giving love.”
Happy Valentine’s Day !!!
Love, love, love!
It is a truth universally established by now that Persian food is yummy! No doubt! But what about Persian drinks?
I can tell you this: as much as I drooled over the bounty of yummy food during my epic trip to Iran, it was the discovery (and re-discovery) of alluring Persian beverages that constantly knocked me over. In a good way!
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised since Iran is after all the birthplace of sharbat (enchanting syrup-based drinks) and the Persian word for beverage — nooshidani — has its roots in the word ‘noosh’ which means ‘pleasure’ in Farsi. Believe it or not, pleasure aplenty is afoot when it comes to Iranian beverages. Drinking alcohol in Iran is now prohibited of course but a decadently pleasing time can be had by imbibing on a bevy of non-alcoholic drinks that make up for their sobriety with an intoxicating punch of taste, color, and at times charming novelty. Some of them even kick in demonstrable health benefits into the bargain as well!
In a back-to-back series of short and sweet posts I want to take you on a photo-essay journey of my odyssey of drinking in Iran – taking a look at some of the tasty drinks yours truly had to sip, gulp, swig, imbibe, taste, devour, knock back, taste, or merely gaze at covetously during my sentimental voyage. Wouldn’t that be fun? I promise you it will be! It’ll also be a chance to share some stories with you and offer a glimpse of real life Iranian people in action! (Look at them smiling!)
To kick-off the series, let’s start with the nooshidani (beverage) that gave me unadulterated brimming with antioxidants noosh (joy!) Pure JOY I tell you! And that was:
Not surprisingly pomegranates are a shorthand icon of Persian identity and a prevalent and revered motif and symbol in Iranian folklore, art and architecture.
The bee who has been hauling his gold all day finds a hexagon in which to rest. And the past and the future? Nothing but an only child with two different masks.”
This was a post I meant to write 5 weeks ago – in time to reflect on 2014 and resolve on how to start 2015 on the right foot and here we are in February! Huh – so much for that!
There’s an American saying that it’s the thought that counts, but on the other hand, there’s is another saying that goes: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. A phrase that took me some mulling over to comprehend and not just because English is my second language but because I just could not wrap my mind around how good intentions could ever possibly lead to hell. But now that I’m older and wiser, I get it. It’s not just the intentions, it’s the action. Like when Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) tells Bruce Wayne (aka Batman): “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” The gall of that gal!
Hi everyone! Happy New Year!!! Can I tell you something? I had grand plans for a couple of very special posts to say fare well to 2014 and properly greet 2015. But I confess that I zonked out good and well for nearly a week and indulged in some luxurious and sorely needed off-the-grid time off and oh so sweet slumber instead and now I’m off to a family reunion in La La Land (aka the city of angels = Los Angeles) with no time to cobble together a meaningful post. What is a blogger to do? Luckily, I have a glorious ace up my sleeves. A fluffy and decadent guest blog post about a layered cake that is the stuff of dreams. The cake has rosewater, cardamom, pistachio and saffron, which more than qualifies it for the Persianizing round of things and it also has white chocolate mousse and butter cream. Pinch me please! A great way to kick start a food blog’s new year, wouldn’t you say? The recipe and photographs are the handiwork of the impressive culinary talent that is Helen, aka @caramelflahn, whose foodgasmic interview was featured earlier you may recall and whose Instagram account I recommend you all to follow if you’re even a little bit interested in culinary matters of tummy and heart and art. And now without further ado, let’s go read Helen’s delightful ruminations and superb directions on creating a flawless cake.
One of my absolute favorite flavor combinations is rosewater paired with cardamom and pistachio. It’s impossible for me to pass up anything that has those ingredients together. The delicate yet redolent floral rosewater with the mysterious, almost sultry cardamom is absolutely intoxicating. Throw in the sweet, buttery flavor of pistachios, and you’ve basically described a dream come true to me.
Something else I absolutely love is cake. Baking it, filling it, frosting it, eating it, imagining different flavors and textures of it. Everything. So why not combine cake with rosewater, cardamom, and pistachio? I actually dreamt up this cake in my head years ago and filed it away in my list of “Things That I Think Would Be Good To Make,” but I never got around to creating it until now. Why? I have no idea. Because this is obnoxiously good.
It’s a cottony soft yellow butter cake that I decided to gild the lily with saffron. Because, hey, why not, this is my dream cake, after all. It’s based off of cake guru Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “All-Occasion Yellow Butter Cake”, found in her cookbook classic, The Cake Bible. It has a wonderfully tender, moist crumb that’s delicate, yet holds up well to stacking, filling, and frosting. The yolks make it rich and moist, which is often lacking in white cake, and the butter gives it a delicious flavor. The saffron is steeped in the milk, which is heated ever so slightly to break down the threads. The result is a subtle yet pervasive saffron flavor and lovely golden hue.
The cake layers are split and filled with alternating layers of a creamy rosewater-cardamom white chocolate mousse and a silky pistachio Swiss meringue buttercream, then it’s frosted on the outside with the pistachio buttercream. Seriously? Seriously? Yeah, seriously. Cake is supposed to taste good, so let’s make this taste good! I think white chocolate partners beautifully with rosewater, cardamom, pistachio, and saffron; it’s the element that ties everything together. Since the white chocolate is so rich and rosewater is delicate, I decided to pair them together in a light-textured mousse. The buttercream is a classic Swiss meringue buttercream: super silky with some texture punctuated throughout from the ground pistachios, and not too sweet. I despise the cloyingly sweet and gritty American “buttercream” made with powdered sugar and almost never ever make it. Real buttercream, on the other hand, is an absolute treat to prepare and eat. If you’ve never made it before, it might look a little intimidating, but I guarantee you it’s a snap to make and absolutely worth it.
I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I did!
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.