Exploring Persian Food in “Together Tea”

I recently finished the novel “Together Tea” by Marjan Khamali. There were lots of delicious food terms I wanted to know more about.

These are some of the food terms in the book which may not be familiar to the American food palate. From what I am reading, if you like Greek and Indian, you will like Persian dishes, too. There are lots of delicious options that have plenty going on if you prefer meatless meals:

Balal: means “corn”. Specifically, it means grilled corn sold on the streets of Iran. It is seared in flame to release natural sugars, then immersed in salted water.

Barbari bread:  A yeast flatbread sprinkled in wheat bran and nigella seeds. Thinner than lavash, sold in long flattened sheets. I enjoyed the demos I watched on Youtube.

Dolmah: In Turkish, it means a vegetable stuffed with a mixture. For Persians, its grape leaves stuffed with rice and spices, then rolled with the ends tucked in.

Esfand: African rue seed, a plant successfully grown in the Southwest United States. Esfand seeds are burned to ward off the evil eye.

Fesejoon: A sweet and sour chicken, ground pomegranate, and walnut stew cooked slowly so all the flavors meld beautifully. Served with rice.

Ghormeh Sabzi Koresh: A green herb stew with spinach, spring onions, kidney beans, and cubed lamb or beef. Herbs include turmeric, parsley, coriander, garlic, and fenugreek.

Khoresh: It means stew. the fig&quince blog indicates this stew is more refined. So I think they’re saying its like elegant Spanish, Portuguese or Brazilian dishes served over rice. Not Dinty Moore, Anglo-Saxon meat n taters you find in a can and are eaten out of a bowl stews.

Kotelet: Spices, mashed potato, and ground beef formed into a ball, then a flattened almond shape, then breaded and pan-fried. Spices include turmeric, salt, pepper, and a blend called advieh: a teaspoon of cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground rose petals,cardamom, cumin

Lavash (lah-vahshh): A whole grain yeast bread flavored with honey and brown sugar. Served with kabobs.

Noon vayi: Noon is bread like Indian naan.

Olivieh: A cold dish with a creamy base. TurmericSaffron’s uses a sour cream and mayo base, but probably greek yogurt would work as well. This salad contains shredded carrots, potatoes, frozen peas, olives, boiled eggs, chopped dill pickle, chicken breast cubed, lemon juice and olive oil. During blazing hot southern summers, this sounds like a great idea for lunch or a work buffet contribution. I would suggest it for a cookout, but only if its kept on a fresh bed of ice the whole time.

Sangak:  Baked on small hot stones, it has a rippled, moon-like texture once baked, its shape has an arrow point at one end and rectangular at the other. It is put in the oven with a paddle.

Sabzi: Means “herbs”

Taftoon: Super-thin bread baked into oval sheets with rows of holes.

Tahdeeg: Means “bottom of the pot”, referring to crisy rice grains or sometimes vegetables that crisped while cooking. Usually served to guests since it is so delicious.

If you’d like to learn more about Persian cuisine, check out these blogs for recipes and videos:

 

 

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What is….Fool?

This year, Mardi Gras and Carnivale culminated February 12, Fat Tuesday. Holiday celebrations in New Orleans feature the fleur de lis symbol, and lots of gold, green and purple. There’s king cakes and hurricane cocktails to be savored alongside Big Easy staples like gumbo and beignets.

But wouldn’t fool be a great, not to mention aptly named, addition?

Fool is a dessert from the Elizabethan era. The ingredients listed in the linked recipe are whipped cream, nutmeg, sugar and egg yolks. I have to wonder if they meant egg whites, which with a dash of cream of tartar, make meringue.

Anyway, fool as a dessert dates back to 1590-1600; it’s derived from the French “fouler”–to mash, crush up, pulverize. In the original dish, native gooseberries were used. Here in the US, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are the most popular alternatives.

Since they are a rich plum purple color with deep purple juice, I chose blackberries for my first foray into a Fool.

It’s some effort, but I wouldn’t say it’s ‘a fool’s errand’.

Here are some photos:

Puree

Puree and 1 tablespoon sugar, sauteed. Once it’s a little syrupy, it is removed from the stove. The juice and berries are poured into a strainer so only juice and mashed fruit gets through. The seeds and thicker pulp are discarded. To add more edge to a fool dessert, you can use berry liqueurs of your choosing in the berry sauté.

Cream for Fool

In a separate bowl, mix heavy cream, whipped with a dash of cream of tartar, clear imitation vanilla, and a tablespoon of sugar. Put the bowl in the freezer for about 30 minutes so the cream thickens up.

Fool 3

This is the finished product, layered into a goblet to be refrigerated overnight.

To incorporate New Orleans’ colors, I used kiwi fruit and golden raisins to go with the blackberries’ purple.

Glass, crystal, or acrylic drinkware really show off this dessert’s contrasting colors. If you don’t have fancy stemware or ice cream sundae glasses, small bowls or even beer steins would work.

Fool 1

Laissez le bon temps rouler!

What is….a Bolillo?

image

A bolillo (boh-LEE-yoh) is a Mexican white bread roll. It’s dough is molded into an almond, or American football-like shapes. Two straight lines are cut into the top middle, paralleling the longer sides of the roll, then they are baked.

Like it’s French cousin the baguette (bag-ehtt), or American hoagie (hoh-ghee) rolls, the bolillo is a delicious and much firmer alternative to mass-produced American brand name sliced breads. American brand name sliced breads are too thin, too soft and get too soggy to hold wet contents, like seasoned meat, deli meat, vegetables, lots of condiments, or all of the above. The bolillo also has a firm crust that toasts nicely.

Another great Mexican bread for sandwiches or tortas, is the telera (tell-ehr-ah). It is round, and you could liken it to German kaiser (k-eye-zerr) roll, but much less expensive. The kaiser is distinguished by the whirlpool shape molded into the top of the bun, and a sprinkling of grain crumbs.

What is…strata?

If you’ve ever wished for a near-effortless breakfast on a weekend morning, strata fits the bill. You do the bulk of the work the night before, refrigerate it. The next morning, get that early cup of coffee and pop it in the oven for a little over an hour. Once the late risers come into the kitchen, it’s typically ready for serving.

Strata is a tasty dish made of layers of egg, bread, and heavy cream. It is combined in a porcelain casserole dish, left to marinate overnight in the refrigerator, then baked for about an hour. For added flavor, the strata can also include vegetable and meat layers.

These are the recipe steps:

  1. Mix together eggs and cream and set aside.
  2. Omnivore option: Cook ham or bacon and set aside, save its drippings in a jar or bowl. Once the drippings have cooled, add them to the egg mixture, or cook the vegetables in step 3 in the drippings.
  3. Saute onions and set aside. Any other desired vegetables are sauteed and set aside.
  4. Cut day old bread into cubes.
  5. Spray or grease a casserole dish, then add a layer of bread cubes at the bottom.
  6. Add a layer of shredded cheese, then meat, then vegetables. Repeat with another layer of bread, then cheese, then meat, then vegetables. Repeat again if needed.
  7. Once the layers have stacked 3/4 of the way up the insides of the dish, the egg and cream liquid is poured over the entire thing.
  8. Place clear plastic wrap or aluminum foil over the dish, and refrigerate it overnight. The next morning the oven is heated to 350 degrees F, and the dish is baked for about 65-80 minutes.
  9. Leave the dish to cool for 15 minutes, then serve immediately.

The term strata means “layers” in Latin; it is sometimes spelled “stratta”.

The earliest recorded strata recipe was for cheese strata, and it’s hard to imagine now, but it was egg-free. When it does contain eggs, strata is much like fritatta or quiche, without eggs, it more closely resembles bread pudding.

Strata was re-popularized by a 1984 cookbook entitled The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook.

Why is….white asparagus white? How does it get that way?

White_asparagus
“White asparagus is white because it was always denied light.”

A process called etiolation (ee-tee-uh-lay-shun) is why white asparagus is white. Etiolation means concealing a plant with dirt or other matter during its entire growth process. As you probably remember from middle school science class, plants need light to create chlorophyll, the fluid that  makes them green. As you may have guessed at this point, white asparagus has no chlorophyll.

White asparagus has a different–some say milder–taste than green asparagus. Both have high vitamin and mineral content, but the green has slightly more nutritional value. The white has higher sugar content and consequently, higher calories.

What are some excellent ways to prepare asaparagus, whether it’s white or green?

Here are some ideas:

  • Steam it in a steel colander for about five minutes
  • Roast it on a cookie sheet for 20-minutes at 400 degrees F, then top with butter and lemon juice, sea salt, or grated parmesan cheese
  • Grill with olive oil and lemon juice
  • Boil it in a pot where the spears can stand vertically, with the tips just over the water surface, with some sugar and salt
  • Fry it in oil

NOTE: You may wish to peel your asparagus before cooking and eating it. Peeling is recommended for the white variety, but with the green, it is optional.

To peel an asparagus spear, hold the spear by its floret (tip) with one hand while guiding the vegetable peeler down the stalk with your other hand. For a visual demonstration, see this LookandTaste.com video on Youtube.

Be sure to trim or snap off the very bottom of the asparagus before cooking–it is tough and inedible.

What is….colcannon?

Colcannon (pronounced “kawl-can-ohn”) is an Irish specialty that mixes 2 food staples together: mashed potatoes and kale or cabbage. Other ingredients can include leeks, onions, spring onions (aka green onions, scallions, and once they’re chopped–chives), milk, cream, butter, salt, and pepper. Colcannon is a side dish in Irish style pubs in the USA. In its native territories, it is served with Irish bacon or boiled ham.

Colcannon even has its own song, also called “Colcannon”. Irish folk artist Mary Black has a version on her 1999 “Song for Ireland” album.

Irish bacon, like Canadian bacon, is from the back rather than the belly of a pig. I will have to feature in a future post.

We Americans probably don’t think how close we get to colcannon when we order “smashed potatoes” at a restaurant with our steak or burgers. For those that don’t know, American restaurant style “smashed” potatoes are baked potatoes all mashed together with their typical toppings like cheddar cheese, yellow onions or chives, butter, bacon, salt, pepper, and sour cream. Mmm, delectable. The Pioneer Woman Cooks! blog did a demo here. Her cookbook arrives March 13, BTW.

What do vegans put on their potatoes? It’s another question, for another time.

St. David’s Day: Red dragons, Daffodils and Welsh Rarebit

Would you know what today’s (3/1/12) UK Google doodle was about, without looking up the answer? Most Americans probably wouldn’t, even though quite a few of us have Welsh ancestry over here. Today is St. David’s Day, it is the National Day for Wales and Welsh people.

This blogpost aims to give St. David’s Day its due by discussing its history, food and festivities.

March 1st is the anniversary of David’s death. In his lifetime, this humble monk provided a crucial tip to Welsh soldiers fighting off the Saxons. During battle, it was hard to tell who was the enemy and who was not; both sides were dressed in the same clothes. David advised his fellow Welsh to put a leek on their hat or uniform for differentiation. His suggestion changed the course of the battle, and the Welsh won. This is why the leek is a symbol of Wales.

Running a close second for national symbols is the yellow daffodil flower. “Daffodil” and “leek” are very close words in the Welsh language–leek is “Cenhinen”, while daffodil is Peter’s leek, or “Cenhinen Pedr”. Just looking at the two plants, they both grow from bulbs and have veiny stiff stalks for greenery. They also flourish in colder Northern climates. In the daffodil’s defense, though, it is more attractive, better-smelling, easier to find, and easier to make a corsage/boutonniere out of than a leek!

In addition to daffodils, food, costumes, concerts and parades are a big part of St. David’s Day celebrations in Wales. If you search Youtube for “St. David’s Day”, parades in Cardiff show children and women in red and black plaid, a multitude of Welsh flags featuring the red dragon, people dressed as red dragons, and women and children wearing the native costume.

Some of the foods eaten all week, which was February 25th through March 1 this year, include:

  • Cawl ( pronounced “cowl”, rhymes with “howl”) is a red meat-based broth soup featuring leeks, rutabagas (aka “swedes”), parsnips, carrots, cabbage, celery, and parsley.
  • Laver Cake is a seaweed and oatmeal cake cooked with bacon lard; it is served at breakfast.
  •  Welsh Rarebit is a fondue-like cheese topping poured over crispy toast. It consists of melted Welsh cheddar, dry mustard, worcestershire sauce, paprika, cayenne, eggs, butter, flour and beer.
  •  Welsh Cake is a pan-cooked spice cookie with currants or raisins in it.

I am eager to try making Welsh Rarebit myself this year.

Whatever you end up doing today, have a Happy St. David’s Day (**and all that jazz**)!

TRIVIA: ‘*It’s not unusual* to have Welsh ancestry in the US. As of 2008, the US Census Community Survey reported an estimated 3.8 million Americans had a Welsh surname, and .6% had some Welsh ancestry. ‘Even if you didn’t have recent stats to reference, I think we can all agree that names like Jones and Davis are pretty common.                                                  ‘Being part Welsh myself, I have a dream of visiting Wales in the near future. To quote a film about a famous daredevil, **if you don’t follow your dreams, you might as well be a vegetable**.

PS-You might be wondering what all the asterisks were for in this post. Each one is a riddle about a famous Welsh actor or singer. Can you guess who it is? If not, the link takes you to something they’re famous for–a song, a movie performance, or both.