Thursday, October 09, 2014

Jeweled Carrot Salad: The First International Mehregan Cyber-feast

You guys, I'm pretty excited today.  I feel like I've quietly made something happen, and this post marks it.  You see, I'm very proud of my little blog, but sometimes when I post here, I feel like a tiny mouse yelling out in a huge hall.  I might be saying something good, but who can hear?  



I've wanted to explore writing about Persian food more, and with cookbook dreams having lately re-emerged from deep hibernation (!!), I knew I need to establish expertise, and to find people who cared about it.  After my Thrillist post in July on LA's best Persian food, I started noticing that out in the world, there exists a network of Persian food bloggers. They're out there. I decided I wanted to be part of this world, but how could I do it with the little mouse voice?



Over the last few months, I made a couple one-on-one inroads: I started commenting back and forth with a grad student in Minneapolis named Sara with a blog called Sabzi (she'd found me through Bon Appétempt, bless her heart), and I had a few tentative Twitter interactions with Azita of Fig and Quince, an artist in Brooklyn whose comprehensive and sweetly rendered Norouz posts had caught my eye back in March.  Mouse voice rising.



So you can imagine my delight when recently, I was brought into a Persian Food Bloggers' group.  To learn that there are women and men (well, one man) all over the world who like me, coo over their mothers' old-school cooking practices, get teary-eyed over a whiff of onions sizzling away with saffron, or squeeze in time in an incredibly hectic schedule for preparing elaborate rice dishes just because -- well, these are pretty exciting revelations.  And for these nostalgic diaspora cooks, some of whom even listen to Jason Bentley while they're at it, to bring me into their fold feels pretty awesome.  I decided I wanted something, wasn't sure how to get it, I kept at it, and it found me.

So, I'm beyond proud that today, I'm taking part in a very special event organized by this group: The First International Mehregan Cyber-feast. Mehregan is an ancient Persian festival that marks the fall harvest and honors friendship, affection, and love.  Admittedly, my family never celebrated it, so I don't know what exactly what it involves.  Here at All Kinds of Yum, though, we're big fans of friendship, affection, and love.  And I will always take an opportunity to feast on Persian food (or even just digitally pretend to).  Today, nearly 30 Persian food bloggers all over the world are posting dishes marking this festive day (and I've linked to all of them below!).  They even have a hashtag.  See, here it is:  #mehregan2014. They're very organized, these Persian food bloggers.

For my contribution to this lavish cyber-banquet, I'm riffing off a particularly opulent Persian dish called jeweled rice ("morassa polo"), stealing some of its flavors for a carrot salad.  Pomegranate adds its translucent charm, each seed seeming to be glowing from within.  I was lucky to get my hands on some fresh pistachios, picked right from the tree on a farm in Bakersfield, and added those as well as roasted pistachios and threads of orange zest.  The salad's dressing features orange juice, saffron, and honey, making it lightly sweet and super fragrant.  Overall, the dish feels like fall in Los Angeles: vaguely autumnal, but mostly just bright and sunny.


So, happy Mehregan to you all, and here's to friendship, affection, and love.  This little mouse is roaring with pride, and also very, very hungry.



[Note: Be sure to scroll all the way down and check out some of the tasty treats that Persian food bloggers all over the world have prepared for this day!]

Jeweled Carrot Salad
Makes 4 servings.

Vinaigrette:
Zest of one orange (see note)
Juice of one orange, about 1/4 cup, pulp strained
3 teaspoons champagne vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon pistachio oil (or olive oil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Tiny pinch saffron (see note)
Salt and pepper to taste

Salad:
1-2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch discs
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup pistachio nutmeats, shelled and roasted (I used purchased roasted and salted pistachio nutmeats)
seeds from 1 pomegranate, about 3/4 cup
1/2 cup fresh shelled pistachios (optional)

Prepare vinaigrette: In a bowl, whisk together orange juice, orange zest (if grated), honey, oils, saffron, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.  You'll end up with more than you need, but you can keep it refrigerated and use it for other salads.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add carrots and cook until they are just barely tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain carrots and allow them to cool.

Combine carrots, orange zest, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and about half of vinaigrette in a bowl.  Adjust seasoning.


A note on orange zest: You can zest your orange 3 ways:
 - With a potato peeler, strip off thin pieces, avoiding the bitter white pith, then cut them into tiny strips with a sharp knife.  Most labor-intensive, but no fancy gadgets necessary.
 - With a zester with 4-5 circular holes, create long skinny strips of zest.
 - With a microplane grater, create a fine mince of zest.

With the first two ways, add the zest directly to the carrots.  With the last, add it to the vinaigrette.

A note on saffron: You can pulverize the strands in a mortar and pestle with a bit of sugar for added abrasion, or in a clean coffee grinder.  Not worth it if you’re just using a bit, though:  just put the strands directly into the honey, rubbing them first between your fingers a bit.

--
Here are all the participants in the Mehregan Cyber-Feast.

Ahu Eats: Badoom Sookhte Torsh
All Kinds of Yum: Jeweled Carrot Salad
Bottom of the Pot: Broccoli Koo Koo
Cafe Leilee: Northern Iranian Pomegranate Garlic and Chicken Stew
Coco in the Kitchen: Zeytoon Parvardeh
Della Cucina Povera: Ghormeh Sabzi
Family Spice: Khoreshteh Kadoo | Butternut Squash Stew
Fig & Quince: Festive Persian Noodle Rice & Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Yummies for Mehregan
Honest and Tasty: Loobia Polo | Beef and Green Bean Rice
Lab Noon: Adas Polo Risotto Style
Lucid Food: Sambuseh
Marjan Kamali: Persian Ice Cream with Rosewater and Saffron
My Caldron: Anaar-Daneh Mosamma | Pomegranate Stew
My Persian Kitchen: Keshmesh Polow | Persian Raisin Rice
Noghlemey: Parsi Dal
Parisa's Kitchen: Morasa Polow | Jeweled Rice
Sabzi: Yogurt Soup with Meatballs
The Saffron Tales: Khorosht-e Gheimeh
Simi's Kitchen: Lita Turshisi | Torshi-e Liteh | Tangy Aubergine Pickle
Spice Spoon: Khoresht-e-Bademjaan | Saffron-scented Aubergine Stew
Turmeric & Saffron: Ash-a Haft Daneh | Seven Bean Soup
The Unmanly Chef: Baghali Polow ba Mahicheh
ZoZoBaking: Masghati


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Second Annual Stone Fruit Feastival and Tournament

[Before we begin, a wildly exciting announcement: this post contains an animated gif!  That I made!  You'll have to get to the bottom of the post to get your treat, by ohhh boy will it be worth it.  Now then.]

Though the temperature in LA is going to peak at over 90 degrees this week, I can finally feel a bit of autumn chill in the air, and I'm excited about it.  Last night I wore long pants to bed for the first time in months, and after this year's unprecedented heat wave, it felt pretty amazing.

I'll always be a summer girl though, and I can proudly say that I did summer right this year.  So many meals were had outside -- under twinkly lights, preceding concerts at the Bowl, at Echo Park lake, on the roof of the Ace (ok, by 'meal' I mean piña colada on that one). I witnessed two gorgeous weddings and sang in one of them (!!), had amazing beach days, just sucked out every juicy bit of summeriness I could.

Fortunately, I have friends who are equally as crazy about summer as I am, specifically about summer fruit.  Last year, some of the same awesome characters who brought us Club Sandwich decided that summer stone fruit is so monumentally important that it deems its own celebration, and thus the Stone Fruit Feastival and Tournament came to be. The grounds are simple: we get together in a shady spot in Griffith Park, people bring food that features stone fruit, we eat and eat, then vote for our favorite savory and sweet dish.



Rachel and I show up early in the morning (she spares me the early shift) to stake out a spot.  It's nice to spend a few quiet minutes in the park setting up, surrounded by trees, as sparse sets of hikers walk by.



Eventually the friends start rolling in.  One of the fun things about the Feastival is that it's an opportunity to mix old friends with new, meet friends of friends I've only heard about, and take some time away from cars and buildings and laptops to slow things down, listen to some stone-fruit themed tunes (oh yes), and enjoy some simple good times.  A lot of these friends happen to be toddlers, and several, like this heartbreaker, have only come to exist since last year's tournament.


People take the competition quite seriously, and this year's offerings were a true feast(ival) of diverse and creative stone fruit dishes.  They included peach pulled pork sliders, a roasted peach and tomatillo salsa and a plum one, a ricotta apricot pie, a nectarine slab pie, two different kinds of paletas, two different chilled stone fruit soups, fudgy cherry brownies (the sweet winner), a Syrian dish of orzo and chicken with apricot sauce (the savory winner), and tons more.  







Oh, and there was a three-legged race.



For my part, I made a sandwich.  I have been dreaming of making Martha Stewart's pressed picnic sandwich for at least 7 years.  I finally realized it'd only happen if I doctor it (like I do every recipe), and fit it to this rare picnic opportunity.  I started by layering some sandwich ingredients inside a ciabatta, veering Italian -- creamy goat cheese, salty prosciutto, peppery salami, and some bright arugula.  But, I added complexity in two stone fruit ways.  First, thin slices of white nectarine added crisp texture and some subtle sweetness.  Then a plum mostarda upped the ante: this tangy-sweet condiment really elevated the sandwich's flavor.

Images 7-11: Michelle Stark


I didn't win this year, but I'm telling you now that third annual is all mine.  For that, I'd appreciate your stone fruit suggestions.  Competition is steep, and I can use all the help I can get.

Pressed Picnic Sandwich with Plum Mostarda
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 10 servings

Mostarda:
4 plums
1-3 tsp sugar
2-4 Tbs red wine vinegar
1-3 Tbs whole grain mustard
salt, to taste

Sandwich:
1 ciabatta loaf
6 oz goat cheese
3 oz arugula (about half a typical supermarket bag)
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 white nectarine, thinly sliced
6 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced
1/4 lb peppered salami


To make mostarda, peel plums and cut into chunks (to make peeling easier, you can cut a small 'x' into the end of the plum and put it in boiling water for about 20 seconds).  Place plums in a small saucepan over medium heat with 1/4 cup water, 1 tsp sugar, 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, and 1 Tbs mustard.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until plums have fallen apart.  Taste, and adjust sugar, vinegar, and mustard as necessary to create a balanced, tangy, and not-too-sweet condiment.  Add salt to taste.

To construct sandwich, slice ciabatta horizontally in half.  Remove soft crumb.  Place bottom crust in the center of a piece of plastic wrap large enough to wrap around entire sandwich.  Spread half of mostarda on bottom crust.  Dot with goat cheese.  In a bowl, toss arugula with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and layer over goat cheese.  Add a layer of nectarine slices, then prosciutto, then salami.  Spread top crust with remaining mostarda and place on top of sandwich.

Wrap sandwich tightly with plastic wrap and press by placing under a stack of plates or heavy skillet, or at the bottom of a full picnic basket, for at least an hour.  Cut into ten slices to serve.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wexler's Deli at Grand Central Market

A lot has happened since we last checked in at Grand Central Market.  Let's take a peek, shall we?



The Market as a whole was named one of Bon Appetit's ten best new restaurants and New York Times coffee authority Oliver Strand deigned to name G&B's iced latte, made not with dairy but with house-made almond-macadamia milk, the best in the country.  The market has gotten a butcher shop, a juice bar, a kombucha bar (did I just say that?), and outposts of Silver Lake's Berlin Currywurst, West Third's Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria, and Santa Barbara's McConnell's Ice Cream.  The long lines multiply and grow, as does the buzz.



And tucked among the shiny new eateries and GCM stalwarts is Wexler's Deli.  LA was a little slow to pick up the trend of nouveau Jewish delis that pay homage to their predecessors, but Wexler's has come to fill that gap.  By necessity, the menu is small, and thanks to chef Micah Wexler's formal training, as much of it as possible is made in that tiny kitchen.  There are a few sandwiches (corned beef, egg salad, tuna salad), house smoked salmon and sturgeon on bagels from Brooklyn Bagels, and occasional black and white cookies and chocolate babka.













But what everyone wants to know is, how's the pastrami?  And more to the point, is it better than Langer's?  Let's talk it out.

Langer's is a civic institution, and with good reason: their delectable pastrami is arguably the best not just in LA, but in the entire country.  I'm glad to report that there's no sense of competitive one-upmanship at Wexler's.  Instead, Wexler, an LA native, has imbued his deli with a respectful reverence for Langer's -- evidenced by the MacArthur Park sandwich, an edible homage to the #19, with its cole slaw, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing -- coupled with a soft-spoken confidence rooted in his own high-quality product.


The pastrami at Wexler's is very, very good.  They make it right there in the tiny kitchen, unlike Langer's, who parses out the work to an off-site facility (and purportedly uses liquid smoke in their recipe.  Shudder). Its peppery seasoning is properly biting; its smokiness is just right.  The meat is sliced thick, and balances fat and lean well.  The coleslaw on the Macarthur Park is excellent: its fresh brightness not dimmed by too much tangy dressing.  The rye bread isn't perfect -- it's a little dry, and doesn't have the toasty crust of they rye at Langer's -- but it's still perfectly serviceable.



In any city without a pastrami titan looming over it, Wexler's would be a star.  But, and I'm a little relieved to say this, the sum of the parts of the Langer's sandwich still  somehow come together more harmoniously.  Maybe it's the softer bread, which seems to hold the sandwich's ingredients together in a gentle hug, or maybe it's just the alchemy of a recipe that's stood the test of decades.  But my Wexler's sandwich didn't lead to the tears-in-my-eyes ecstasy that the Langer's sandwich reliably delivers.

But, let's not miss the point here: this rookie player in the LA deli game is no slouch.  We've got a solid contender here.

--
Wexler's Deli is in the Grand Central Market, at 317 S. Broadway.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Washed Walnuts: A Healthy Perfect Summer Snack

This is how we ate.



Long before Michael Pollan implored us to cook more, my mom spent hours in the kitchen, preparing us dinner from scratch every night.  Before Eric Schlosser told us there is shit in the meat, my mom forbade us from eating fast food hamburgers, simply because of a vague sense that "you don't know what's in them."  Often she'd go back to recipes she learned from her own mom and mother-in-law, conjuring up their memory in the way she chopped onions, or their tips for gauging the temperature of a pot of boiling rice (Stick your finger on the inside wall of the the pot.  If it sizzles, it's done).  She would send us to school with a whole tomato in our lunch bag as a snack.  She was always trying to get us to eat fruit, more fruit, more fruit.  And we would roll our eyes, shoot her some attitude, and eat tortilla chips.



My mom is an Iranian woman, and as such, has an innate sense about food.  I think that people from a lot of countries have this, but it's kind of lost its way in the US.  She never ever wastes, she balances flavor with wholesomeness.  She's impermeable to commercial food conglomerates who insist their packaged products will enhance her life.  She cooks with real ingredients.

She tried with every ounce of effort she had to imbue my sister and I with this intuition, but the pull of packaged foods, school lunches, friends with cabinets full of candy bars, were all too much.  And now, as an adult in Los Angeles, with its overabundance of strange and wonderful foods everywhere, it'd be positively dismissive of me to reign it in.  At late night Ktown haunts, I've eaten things that literally slithered off the plate, I can't not try bone marrow waffles, I've enhanced my world through dumplings that burst with soupy broth as you bite into their delicate skin, I pile vinegary curtido on my greasy, heavy pupusas like a pro, and get a little choked up when I think about my first encounter with birria.  When confronted with such an embarrassment of culinary riches as this city is, it's hard to maintain the unwavering dietary compass that my mom tried so hard to instill.

So this recipe is a Violet Sassooni classic, in that it covers all the bases, without ever trying:  it's a totally delicious ethnic snack and a summer refresher, but it also happens to be low-carb, gluten-free, dairy-free, high in protein, raw, and vegan.  Plus it's only got two ingredients, and one is water.

Walnuts, pre-soak

Soaking walnuts in the refrigerator for a day or more does a few things.  As they soak, they give off much of their brown color, and with it goes their bitter edge.  You end up with a beautifully pale rendition of the nut with a much lighter, almost porous crispness, which, served over ice cubes, satisfies and refreshes on a hot day.  They're a great snack on their own with a little salt to dip each piece in, and you can even add them to a salad, but they are best as part of a breakfast meal of fresh flatbread, feta cheese, and sweet cantaloupe.

with flaky salt





Washed Walnuts

Note:  This recipe is extremely simple, but it uses a lot of water.  At least in California, we're in a historically severe drought.  You can definitely use the water you use to soak the walnuts to water plants.

Also note: The water that comes off the walnuts gives a dingy brown stain to everything it comes into contact with, especially porcelain sinks.  You can scrub or bleach it out, but just be aware.  Your best bet is to drain the liquid into a pitcher, and then directly use it to water plants.

One more note:  Use the best walnuts you can here, as they're the star of the show. Your best bets for highest quality/cost ratio are Middle Eastern stores, Trader Joe's, or bulk bins.

Raw walnut halves
Water

Place walnut halves in a bowl, and top with water to cover.  Chill in refrigerator. The first day, change the water every few hours, up to three or four times.  Let them continue to soak overnight.  At this point, they are ready to eat.

For a single serving, grab a handful, shake off any excess water, and place on a plate with a small mound of salt.  Dip each walnut in salt before eating.

For a crowd, drain off liquid and place walnuts in a serving bowl with several ice cubes.

Any remaining walnuts should be stored in water in the fridge.  Change the water every day or so.  Walnuts will stay fresh and good this way for a week or more.


after overnight soak

sometimes the water freezes in the fridge into cool crystalline formations




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Iranstagram: 3 to Follow

When Thrillist published my post on LA's best Persian food, something interesting happened.  People started talking about it on Twitter, and a new world opened up to me.  I had no idea there were so many Iranian food people (bloggers, MasterChef contestants, restaurateurs, cookbook writers) all over the world, and my Twitter-illiteracy once again bit me.  I've since remedied this, jumping into the conversation to reminisce about Persian foods, share LA restaurant recommendations, and coo over all manner of photos.  And it's the photos that are the most evocative.

Iran's definitely one of those countries that, when experienced at street-level, is so much different than what you hear on the news.  So, I wanted to share a few Instagram accounts that I've recently discovered, reporting from within the country and offering a human view of the menacing Islamic Republic.

everydayiran:  This account features a rotating collection of Iranian photographers, and gives a bright, dynamic image of life on the streets, out in nature, and all over Iran.  My favorites tend to include hip Tehrani women who constantly put together incredibly chic outfits -- veil, manteau, and all.


f64s125: Photographer Ako Salemi's black and whites capture solitary moments in corners shrouded in shadow within a bustling city, and feature the clean lines of Iran's architecture.



solmazdaryani:  Solmaz's photos offer intimate peeks into the home life of non-city Iranians, sometimes very old, sometimes sharing a meal on the floor of a modest home.  I don't know much about the photographer here, but a quick google search leads me to understand she's an amateur photographer in Tabriz.  She only has a few photos up, but I hope she posts more and more.





Some other web-related notes:
 - Brandon Stanton of Humans Of New York (in my opinion, the best thing on the internet) spent some time in Iran a few years back.  His photos from that trip, with his signature human treatment, are terrific.

 - As I've been consuming more Iranian media, I've been wanting to create my own little collection of the things I like: less frippery and ornateness, more modern imagery, contemporary arts, cleaner food styling.  I've created a Pinterest page that does all that.  Follow it for your daily dose.

- And as always, I'm on twitter, instagram, and facebook myself.  The All Kinds of Yum Facebook page will keep you up to date on the very best that LA has to offer in food, fun, and general civic awesomeness, with some relevant side trips along the way.  And here's Twitter, and here's Instagram.  Go crazy.










Monday, August 04, 2014

Lemon Vanilla Buckwheat Waffles


I have a weird soft spot for other people's dietary restrictions.  I'm sure it'd get old after a while, but now and then, I enjoy the creative challenge of feeding people with "special needs".  Whether you're a lactard, a vegan, or kosher, I want to work around all your issues and feed you.

So, when I saw a recipe for buckwheat waffles, my thoughts immediately went to my gluten-sensitive friend Stephanie (of coconut caipirinha fame).  I needed to make this for her.


A note on the gluten business:  I am aware that recent research showed that non-celiac gluten sensitivity actually does not exist.  I also know that Steph feels sick when she eats wheat products, and that no one knows her body as well as she does.  So, in this particular instance, I'd say that science that is telling her she's not feeling what she is very clearly feeling is about as useful as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's gorilla detector.  


Anyway, we got together at the home of our dear friend Rachel, a landscape architect who's also worn the hat of spice seller, Silver Lake Farms microgreen grower, at-home vegetable garden tender, and all-around person you want to cook and eat with.  
Oh Lucy!
While her fiance served us cold brew and played jazz, and new pup Lucy laid around and made the place extra-cozy, we put the Belgian Waffler to work.

We tweaked the recipe a bit, adding lemon zest and juice and vanilla extract, and the results were wonderful.  Our waffles had gorgeous color, crisp texture on the outside, steamy and doughy inside, with a grassy, nutty flavor that planted them squarely in the realm of grown-up tastes.


They made a perfect breakfast with some figs, blueberries, and sweetjuicyflavorful melon from the CSA.


Lemon Vanilla Buckwheat Waffles
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Makes 5 waffles, plus one baby waffle

You can use lower fat milk and yogurt here, but remember that fat is flavor.  We used 2% for both, and it worked out great.

1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinammon
2 eggs, separated, plus 2 egg whites
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
juice of half a lemon
zest of 1 lemon
Nonstick cooking spray
Extra butter for serving
Heated maple syrup for serving

Set waffle maker to medium.  In a large bowl, whisk together buckwheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  In a medium bowl, beat all 4 egg whites, sprinkling brown sugar over them as you go, until soft peaks form.

In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, melted butter, yogurt, milk, water, vanilla extract, and lemon juice and zest.

Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the batter until completely incorporated. Fold the remaining beaten egg whites into the batter until just combined.

To make waffles, spray top and bottom of waffle maker with cooking spray.  Pour or spoon batter into the wells (a ladle works well here) until it almost fills the edges.  Close the waffle maker, and check on the waffle after about five minutes: it's ready when the batter's dark grey color starts to show golden brown.  Carefully remove the waffle (a fork or tongs may help here), and repeat the process for the next, starting with cooking spray, until you've used all the batter.

Serve with butter and warm maple syrup, and if you have blueberries and vanilla tangelo marmalade to go along with it, consider yourself very, very lucky.