Thursday, May 21, 2015


In February, I spent two weeks in Vietnam.  As much as I love to travel, I'd never made it to Southeast Asia, and none of my past adventures prepared me for this world.  I frequently felt unequipped.  I loved it.

With the explosion of life on the sidewalks of Hanoi, markets of fresh produce laid out every

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Scenes from an Iranian-American Passover Seder

I failed to take my good camera with me to my parents' house last night, but I had to share some quick phone snaps.  It occurs to me how unfamiliar a lot of people are with the Passover dinner that I know.  Nary a brisket, matzoh ball, or jellied, goopy ball of gefilte fish in sight.

Important distinction, in extremely broad strokes: there are two ethnic/geographic groupings of Jews: Ashkenazi and Sephardic.  The former originate in Eastern Europe, the latter from the Middle East and the Mediterranean.  Quick and dirty rule of thumb: Ashkenazi = white Jew, Sephardic = brown Jew. (Obviously, there are also Jews in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, and pretty much everywhere else.  But for the purpose of this post, Ashkenazi is the mainstream, and Sephardic is how I'm distinguishing myself from it.)

Jewish food as its known in most of the United States has nothing to do with what I grew up with.  Bagels and lox, pastrami on rye, knishes and the like all come from the Ashkenazi tradition. As a Sephardic Jew, and specifically an Iranian one, my cuisine matches where I come from: more spices and fresh herbs and vegetables, lots of sweet and sour flavors from using fruit in our savory dishes, and at this time of the year, the best distinction of all: unlike Ashkenazis, Sephardic Jews eat rice during Passover. Because we might starve otherwise.

Here are a few shots from my parents' house last night.

Fresh almonds to greet guests.  Green and fuzzy, crunchy and tart.
Each year for Passover, my mom buys the best nuts she can find, and washes, salts, sun-dries, and roasts them herself.  I've never had a better hazelnut (or forty) and I'm not above cherry-picking for them, especially if my sister is looming over my shoulder.  Last night, my mom served a mix of pistachios, hazelnuts, and almonds in this gorgeous silver bowl from Iran, inherited from my paternal grandparents.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, my mom's oldest sister prepared nargesi -- an eggy casserole of fresh herbs and tiny meatballs* -- as her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandson looked on.

Three kuku sabzis, on deck.  Among Iranian Jews, you use kuku sabzi -- a bright herby frittata with crisped edges -- for a memorial blessing.  Passover corresponds with the anniversary of the death of my maternal grandmother, so we remember her each year with kuku sabzi.

Whereas Ashkenazi Jews use horseradish as their bitter herb, we have a bitter lettuce (though admittedly this year's romaine was not the most bitter choice).  Where Ashkenazi Jews dip parsley in saltwater, we dip the pale inner stalks of celery into vinegar.  Our haroset recipe, long ago handwritten by my paternal grandfather for each of his kids, is a balanced blend of several nuts, fruits, spices, and wine.  Though we no longer grind meat at home, my dad pulls out the hand-crank meat grinder every year to give the haroset its perfect texture. And yes, Maxwell House hagaddah.  I mean, come on, we're still Americans.

Oh, we also run around the table whipping each other with scallions.

The full dinner spread -- almost.  You'll note that we're not even done setting the table, and there is already tahdig -- the crispy saffron rice from the bottom of the pot -- in people's plates. We really are polite people; it's just that hot of a commodity.

However you're celebrating, and whether you're celebrating, here's to expanding our worldview and eating well -- and at best, both at the same time.

* Note that Iranian Jewish nargesi, for whatever reason, is totally different dish rom the Muslim dish of the same name, though the latter looks delicious as well. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Orange Almond Cake with Candied Kumquats

I've talked before here about the fact that I celebrate New Years three times each year: on January 1, on Rosh Hashana, and on Norouz, the Persian new year. This year, there's a fourth.

I spent the second half of February in Vietnam (more on that soon), and was lucky enough to be there for the preparations and celebration of Tet, the Lunar New Year.  So, this year, I've got a glut of opportunities to reflect and start fresh.

With Norouz fast approaching, as I sat thinking about what I could make for the holiday, my mind kept drifting back to Vietnam. Lunar New Year is all-encompassing there: in bustling Hanoi, blocks-long flower markets were set up in the streets just for the two weeks before New Year.  In Hoi An's ancient city -- a charming area where balconied restaurants line a romantic river boardwalk -- glowing lanterns hung across every street and all of the city's teens came out to play carnival games on a midway built just for one night, then they tightly crowded the banks of the river to watch as an over-the-top fireworks display marked midnight.

And everywhere you went, you saw kumquat trees. The golden fruits represent prosperity and good luck, so every home, museum, and shop seemed to have at least one on display.  One of our favorite sights from the trip was motorbike after motorbike with an entire tree (or ten) propped teeteringly on the back as it revved through Vietnam's teeming traffic.

Spring seems to have come early to the east side of Los Angeles.  At night, it smells like jasmine outside, and everywhere, loquat and citrus trees are already heavy with fruit and fragrant flowers. And thousands of miles from southeast Asia, kumquats are in season in Echo Park. I know this because at a dinner party a few weeks back, not one but two guests from Echo Park brought dishes made with kumquats from their own backyards.  So I asked one of those very people if I could ransack their tree for some, and decided to pile little sunshiney pinwheel slices on top of a cake scented with orange blossom water, bringing a little of the Lunar New Year into my Persian New Year celebration this year.

And although the fruit that's most prominent in the haftsinn is apple, preparing a sweet citrus cake for Norouz is not entirely farfetched.  The mahi, or fish, in the traditional Norouz meal of sabzi polo mahi is often prepared with Seville oranges or other citrus.  And the orange blossoms that scent the cake are known by the lovely name of bahar narenj in Persian: "spring orange".  So what better way to mark the first day of spring than with a cake redolent of the fragrance of spring citrus?

I didn't have orange blossom water on hand, but I jotted a quick text to my Tunisian next door neighbor, and before I knew it, a bottle was waiting for me on my balcony chair.  (I have the best next-door neighbor ever, and this balcony chair delivery system has been the source of many delicious drop-offs.  Today, I returned her bottle via balcony-chair-delivery, along with a fat slice of this very cake it helped make.)

I pulled my orange cake recipe from my very favorite cookbook, Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food.  So, (ready?), this Judeo-Spanish Passover cake with a French name and a Vietnamese-inspired topping from a Chinese holiday, prepared for a Persian holiday (phew!) is classic American mashup.  The recipe has you boil two whole oranges -- peel and all! -- until they're soft. You pull out the seeds and puree the whole thing, then add it to an almond-meal-based batter.  I respectfully took some liberties with Ms. Roden's recipe: dialing down the sugar, throwing some kumquats in the mix, whipping the egg yolks and whites separately for a lighter cake, and adding a bit of salt.  Then I topped the whole thing with kumquats candied quickly to maintain their cheery form and color.  And to boost that color, I threw in another Persian ingredient: the tiniest touch of saffron.

The result was just what I was hoping for: a bright, fragrant cake with a moist, almost pudding-like texture.  The bracing tartness of the kumquats balanced the cake's sweetness perfectly, and the cake actually brought the beguiling scents of spring into the kitchen.

This blog has been around for many years, and we've celebrated quite a few Norouzes here.  We've covered the basics now: the haftsinn, beautiful fragrant sabzi polo, even jumping over fire in the days leading up.  So, I hope you'll indulge me as I go rogue this year.  Sure, it's not traditional to pull from Vietnamese culture for a Persian holiday, but when non-traditional looks and tastes like this, who's to object?

Fortunately, the rest of the Persian food blogging community has my back.  Once again, they've gotten together to create a veritable feast of sweets and savories, from traditional to experimental, all with stories, photos, and much wisdom to impart about this beautiful holiday.  Links are at the bottom of the post: please do browse around!  Wishing you both Norouz Mobarak and Chúc Mừng Năm Mới: whichever way you say it, Happy New Year!

Excited to report: This recipe was featured on one of my favorite sites, The Mash-Up Americans. Check it out here.

Orange Almond Cake with Candied Kumquats
Adapted from Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food and The Kitchn
Makes one 9-inch diameter cake

After the initial long boil of the oranges, this cake comes together quite quickly.  It also happens to be gluten-free, as well as dairy-free, which makes it a natural choice for Passover, which is just a few weeks away.  Be sure to slice your kumquats fairly thick, so they maintain their shape and don't get floppy.  I went with store-bought almond meal, but you can make this with blanched almonds that you grind yourself.

the cake:
2 oranges (I used one blood orange, one navel)
6-10 kumquats (optional)
5 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
2 Tbs orange blossom water
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups almond meal

the candied kumquats:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Pinch ground saffron
2 cups kumquats, sliced into thick rounds, seeds removed

Wash the oranges and kumquats, and boil them whole in a pot of water for about 1 1/2 hours, or until they are very soft.  Once they're cool enough to touch, cut them open and remove seeds, and puree in a food processor.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, whip egg whites until they form soft peaks.

In another large bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, orange mixture, orange blossom water, baking powder, and salt.  Add almond meal, and stir to combine.  Gently fold egg whites into batter.

Oil bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, and dust with more almond meal.  Pour batter into pan, and bake for 45 minutes.

While the cake bakes, prepare the kumquats:  In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and saffron and bring to a boil.  Add kumquats, bring back to a boil, then lower heat to medium.  Simmer until kumquats are barely translucent, about 7 minutes.

To serve, use a slotted spoon to pour kumquats over cake, then a non-slotted spoon to pour the remaining glaze over cake and kumquats.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Black Eyed Peas at Sabzi

As Sara over at the beautiful blog Sabzi is swamped with grad-schooly things right now, she asked me to write a guest post, requesting something Iranian Jewish and wintry.  This black eyed pea recipe resembles what Iranian Jews eat on Rosh Hashana, but also calls back to the tradition of black eyed peas for the New Year in the US south.  And a big pot of beans simmering away is imminently wintry.  Head over and check it out; hope it helps keep you warm.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Real Talk 3: Accountability

Part 3 in a series.  I've employed some practices, and have had some things on my mind, that I'm really excited about, and I'd like to share them here.  Not all directly food- nor LA-related, though food certainly weaves through these stories.  I'm calling it Real Talk, though in a less lofty moment, I could just as well have called it Better Living Through Google Docs.

Real Talk 1: Gratitude
Real Talk 2: Mindfulness

Guys, it's mid-January.  That greyish time when already, we start feeling the wearing of the newness. We use all the tools we have: denial, active resistance, sheer force of will, to try to get it back. Now, I come into 2015 with optimism. I have some lofty goals for the year (more on that later.  maybe.), and one actually reasonable one, involving friluftsliv (who's in?), but as much as I love that fresh, invincible resolve of the first days of January, resolutions themselves have always felt a little flimsy to me.

Fortunately, I have a secret weapon.  At the start of 2012, feeling a little boxed in by the strict declarativeness of resolutions, I figured out an alternative that works for me.  I'd like to talk to you today about a little something I call the Hour of Power.

My issues with the old way of dealing with resolutions stem not just from their lack of fluidity, but from the lack of accountability.  I am notorious for not finishing what I start, and it frustrates me endlessly.  I'm more interested in a way to keep tabs on things I want to achieve as they arise throughout the year, rather than coming up with a few simple resolutions in one day.

So, I've come up with a system with two simple components.  First, I decided to schedule a weekly meeting with myself.  I schedule in an distraction-free hour, every Wednesday from 8:30-9:30, which is devoted completely to the second item, The List.

The List. Ah, the list. The list is everything. The list, as they say, is life.*  The core of this practice is a list, contained in the cloud, accessible at all times, with everything in it. This includes grand plans and visions, as well as mundane to-dos. The key to the List is to update it the moment you remember something.  No need, at that time, to go into detail, but jot down the item.  I started my list in Google Docs, but last year moved it to a site called Workflowy,  which I love.  It's just a few seemingly simple tweaks away from a text file, but perfect ones.  I recommend it.

The Hour of Power. My meeting with myself.  These are the grounds. Each is crucial:

 - Use a different chair.  I do most of my computering on the couch.  A messy morass of Facebook, Sporcle, IM, all the distractions, every night.  The Hour is special, and requires a shift in environment. I spend it on an armchair that's slightly less comfortable.  Play music if you want; pour yourself a cup of hot tea.  Remove yourself from children and other distracting people, and shut the door**.
 - Open a new browser window.  It's impossible to plan life, for me anyway, without the internet.  But for the Hour, I minimize all the nagging tabs, log out of IM, and start clean.  This window will have just a few tabs: The List, my calendar, email, and maybe a couple others as necessary.  I'm mindful to not get sucked into a wormhole though.  Discipline.
 - Go through the list.  Address each item.  If something needs fleshing out, add subtasks.  Go into as crazily minute detail as you need.  If you're not sure where to start, come up with a baby step.  Consider talking to someone.  (And then of course, add talking to that someone to the list, and schedule it in.)
 - Get shit done.  If a task is to send an email, look up the hours for a business, find someone's mailing address, this is your time to do it.  Sometimes, in the time it would take to add an item to the list, you can just knock it out.
 - Schedule in first steps.  If a task can't be done immediately, schedule it. Need to make a phone call during business hours?  Put it in your calendar for 10am the next day.  Set an alarm.
 - Reward small victories.  Strike through things as you complete them. Bask for a moment.  Doesn't that feel great?
 - Reward large victories.  Maintain the list of complete tasks. With Workflowy, you can toggle hiding completed tasks.  With a regular doc, shift them to the bottom. But don't delete them. Look at them every once in a while.  You've accomplished so much.
 - Keep at it.  Keep. At. It.  And don't get discouraged.  Even the Great Wall of China is nothing but bricks.

I don't consider myself an organized person -- I was tagged a slacker early in life -- and it takes major effort for me to keep things from falling through the cracks on a regular basis.  But my little Hour of Power has been such an effective thing for me.  I can't say that I accomplished every single thing I set out to do when I started this practice, because honestly that'd be impossible.  But I have accomplished a lot (so many strikethroughs!), I'm pinned to a path, and with every hour, every item, I'm making progress.

* I recognize the white-girl-problems nature of using a line from a Holocaust movie to describe my self-organization method.  But after years of saying it to, and hearing it from, a friend for whom The List is the closest thing to religion, the phrase has had its original meaning hollowed out, and it's an important piece of our shorthand.
** Yeah, right, parents of small children are gonna be able to get an hour of uninterrupted time to themselves.  I know, super challenging. But I feel like parents are superheroes of efficiency and could actually knock this out in 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cardamom Almond Hot Chocolate

It's a strange concept, longing for something you've never known.  But that's how I feel about korsi.

Sunday night marks the winter solstice, the first night of winter, the longest night of the year.  It's a night that, among Persians, is celebrated, and is known as Yalda. As is pretty much always the case, you celebrate with food: on the night Yalda, you stay up late and eat bright, juicy, sweet things like pomegranate and watermelon, tightly holding on to the last bits of summer into the final moments before winter takes over.

We've had pretty much an entire year of summer here in Los Angeles, though, so I'm beyond ready to welcome winter.  So, as I read about Yalda, all those bright colors fade into the background, and only one word pops out, pulling my eyes to it:  korsi.

Korsi is to me the purest embodiment of coziness.  Imagine a small table, draped with a big, heavy blanket that fall long over the sides.  Underneath the table, a coal heater burns.  Everyone crowds around the table, sitting on the floor and tucking themselves under the blanket.  And then, all together, the korsi sitters, held together by the draw of warm, toasty feet, might share snacks, tell stories, smoke hookah, or play cards.  And on the night of Yalda, as if this vignette weren't charming enough, you stay up until the wee hours of the chilly night, choosing a page at random from a page of Hafez's poetry to take as your fortune for the days to come.

Korsi is something I've never experienced, but based on the stories I've heard from my parents, it's one of the things from Iran I have the most longing for -- I know I'd love it.  How could you not?

So, Yalda, you can keep your raging against the dying of the light, you can have your tight, needy grip on the summer's brightness.  As winter begins (and yes, winter in Los Angeles will probably be mostly sunny anyway), I embrace the coziness of Yalda.  And while I have no korsi to gather around, I can have that other thing that springs to mind when the nights turn cold and I'm seeking peak coziness: hot chocolate.

In addition to fruit, you'd typically find a bowl of ajeel, or mixed nuts, on the Yalda table, and as a nod to that, I'm flavoring my cocoa with almond extract.  I'm also adding a bit of cardamom to give it a distinctive Persian fragrance.

So, as the days grow longer, but the nights grow colder, in the absence of korsi, I'll find my warmth and coziness, and a bit of sweetness, elsewhere.  And I'll offer you this bit of wisdom from Hafez to get you through your own long Yalda night, with confidence that it's absolutely true for each of you, lovely readers: "I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being."

[Note: I didn't go the traditional route with my Yalda posts, but fortunately, a lovely group of Persian food bloggers have also participated in this Yalda feast with delicious dishes, history, and memories of their own (including a photo of a korsi in action in Coco's post).  Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the post for the full roundup.]

Cardamom Almond Hot Chocolate
Makes 2 servings

If you want to go a boozy route, you can replace the almond extract with 2 oz of almond liqueur. You can also replace some or all of the milk with almond milk to really drive the almond point home.

3 cardamom pods
2 1/4 C milk (2% fat or more)
2 heaping Tbs. cocoa powder
2 oz good-quality chocolate (I like 70%), broken into small pieces
1/2 - 1 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
1/8 tsp almond extract
marshmallows for serving

Bash up cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle until the skin opens up and black seeds inside are exposed.  In a small saucepan, bring milk and cardamom to a boil over medium high heat.  Watch the pot, as it will quickly boil over.

Lower heat to low, and cocoa powder, sugar, chocolate, sugar, and salt.  Whisk vigorously to combine thoroughly, making sure to scrape from the bottom to fully incorporate chocolate as it melts.

Increase heat to medium, and bring back to a boil for about a minute.  Remove from heat and add almond extract.  Serve with a marshmallow in each mug.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Coconut Ginger Granola

I've been meaning to make granola for months.  Today I reached granola critical mass.

It's a four-day weekend and everyone's out of town.  After a seeming eleven months of summer, it's grey and raining outside.  A few weeks ago, when I made fesenjoon and had friends over to watch Bourdain in Iran (Did you watch it?  Did you also discover that it in fact was possible to love him more than you already did?  Did you watch Vice's even-more-awesome 3-part Munchies Guide to Tehran?), a friend brought me some homemade granola, and it reminded how satisfying homemade granola is.  Then, over at Sabzi, Sara wrote this evocative post, with those photos in that cozy cold-weather light.

You guys, I ate so much in the last week.  It wasn't just Thanksgiving (though, my goodness was it Thanksgiving), it was amazing slices at Jim and Jason's newest Fairfax spot, Prime Pizza (followed by Scoops at Golden State, natch), it was three servings of truffle mac and cheese at work, it was In-n-Out for dinner, Grandma Nanny's apple pie for breakfast...just a bad scene.  An extremely delicious bad scene.

And in my case, this kind of marathon gorging leads to sore throat and Harvey Fierstein voice.  Really sexy.  Everything I read about what to eat to combat a sour stomach led me to two places: ginger and oatmeal.  And that's been guiding my diet the last few days:  ginger-miso soup with leftover turkey, chai-spiced oatmeal with fennel seed, ginger, and cardamom, and lots and lots of ginger tea.

And this.  Finally, today, I made granola.  I started with the Early Bird / Orangette recipe, the same one I was gifted, the same one Sara used, the same one I always make, because it's empirically the best.  But, I went a little "island" with it:  in addition to adding both fresh and powdered ginger, I replaced the olive oil with coconut oil, the brown sugar with coconut sugar. And I sprinkled the finished product with fresh lime zest.  A little "lime in the coconut" action.  And as usual, I left it in the oven as long as possible.  Admittedly, this technique leads to some casualties, but a couple pecan burn victims are well worth the deep flavor you get as the granola really browns.

The result was great.  It had all the familiar toastiness of the original recipe, with brighter pops throughout from the lime and ginger.  And the lime and ginger go really well with the coconut.  The best part of the process was adding the lime zest: it audibly sizzles and hisses (!!!) as it hits the hot granola.  I think the original recipe remains my go-to for every day, but when you need something special to brighten a grey day, throwing some ginger and lime flavors into a coconutty granola is a good way to go.

Coconut Ginger Granola
Makes about 7 cups.
Adapted from Orangette.

The coconut oil will solidify at room temperature, so once you've added it, keep the mixture moving, and get it to the baking sheet quickly.

3 C old-fashioned oats
1 C pumpkin seeds
1 C sunflower seeds
1 1/4 C unsweetened coconut flakes
1 1/4 C pecans, halved or chopped (I used a combination, as that's what I had on hand)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2 Tbs ground flax meal (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C maple syrup
1/3 C coconut sugar
1/2 C coconut oil, melted
zest of one lime

Preheat oven to 300F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix first ten ingredients (oats through vanilla) to combine evenly.  Add maple syrup and coconut oil, and stir to thoroughly combine.

Spread mixture evenly on prepared baking sheet.  Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the granola is deep brown, about 45 minutes.  Remove from heat, and add lime zest.  Allow granola to cool before stirring lime zest through.  Store in an airtight container.

A note on gluten: I've added the gluten-free label to this post.  If you avoid gluten, you'll know better than I do to read labels to be extra sure. But, if you make this with gluten-free oatmeal, then the recipe is gluten-free.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Maple Apple Yogurt Cake

I think I'm gonna write a manifesto.  Mein Cake, maybe.

Hear me out. I feel like there are constantly people who are trying to tell you that you can muck around with recipes when you're cooking on the stove, but when you're baking, God help you if stray a hair from the recipe: your cake will explode, your friends will turn on you, and you'll have bad sex for seven years.

Enough of this dogma. There's a better way, people. I don't think I've ever followed a recipe verbatim, and I have a lot of reasons for this. For one, I feel like the pursuit of perfect recipe replication is flawed: your apples might be bigger, your salt might be saltier, and if your'e cooking in my kitchen, your oven will definitely be hotter than the recipe developer's.

The writer of the recipe likely doesn't know that I don't have scallions right now, but that a frizzy mess of chives is growing on my balcony. She doesn't know about the leftover brown rice wearing out its welcome in my fridge, and she'll never know when I replace her spinach with the gorgeous chard I found at the farmers market on Saturday.

She also didn't have my tastes in mind when she developed the recipe. I sneak in extra vegetables. I like more vanilla. I'll pull back heat. And when it comes to desserts, I like them knobby, dark with ingredients like brown sugar and whole wheat flour, and ugly: I'm not one for fussy pastry perfectionism (thought I'll gladly consume it if you make it for me).  I like my baked goods less sweet and more substantial.  Wholesome and haimish.

But most importantly, if I'm just going to clone something that already existed, I really don't see the point.  Tinkering in the kitchen is what makes cooking a creative process for me.  The point is to express a bit of myself in a dish.

So, when I ended up with some apples, some yogurt, and a couple hours free a few Saturdays ago, I decided I needed to make an apple cake, recipe or no.  I wanted as much of the good stuff -- big chunks of apple and walnuts -- as possible, barely held together by a whole wheat batter sweetened with maple syrup and some coconut sugar I'd purchased for Corinne's recipe.

The end result totally hit the spot.  Moist, substantially apple-y, and just as good for breakfast as it was for a snack.  Baking tyrants, get out of the way.  The revolution is coming, and it smells a lot like cake.

First, an apology: This post was originally written as I was baking, straight from impulse, totally unforced, seemingly perfect, nearly ready to publish.  Then, an unfortunate keystroke in the blogger interface led to that perfect post being deleted forever in an instant, taking a little of my heart with it.  I was paralyzed with indignance, and the blog suffered for it.  I'm back.

Maple Apple Yogurt Cake
Loosely adapted from Bakeaholic Mama
Makes 8 servings

1 Tbs ground flax seeds
3 Tbs water
1/2 - 2/3 C walnut pieces
1/2 C applesauce OR 1/2 medium apple + 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 C yogurt
1/3 C olive oil
1/4 C coconut sugar, or other sugar of your choice
1/4 C maple syrup
1 egg
1 C whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 C diced apple (I prefer Granny Smith or other tart, crisp variety)
butter or oil to grease pan

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix flax meal with water in a small bowl, set aside for at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast walnuts in a pan over medium heat, shaking or tossing frequently, until just fragrant.

If you are making applesauce, peel 1/2 apple and process in food processor with cinnamon to applesauce texture.

In a large bowl, mix applesauce, flax mixture, yogurt, sugar, maple syrup, olive oil, and egg to combine.  Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Stir to just combine.  Add walnuts and diced apples and incorporate evenly through batter.

Grease a standard loaf pan and pour batter into it.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Harissa Cauliflower Sloppy Joe: Cooking with Corinne Rice

Have I got a treat for you today.

One of my favorite things to do through this blog is cook with others.  It's always a learning experience, it's a lovely way to socialize, and is the perfect antidote to screaming mouse syndrome.

I recently became part of a particularly awesome Facebook group called inspired women of los angeles.  It's a place where a photographer might seek a make-up artist for a shoot, an artist might ask if anyone knows of a space to show her work, where someone going through a rough patch might seek a little help, or someone feeling especially moved might offer some words of inspiration. The spirit of collaboration is strong with this group. So, when a member posted a few photos from her dabblings in food styling, and they were totally amazing and professional and gorgeous, I had to reach out.

I suggested a collaboration, and a few emails later, I was standing outside an apartment in Venice, groceries in hand, no idea who or what to expect.  I shouldn't have worried.  The door opened, and there was Corinne Rice -- line drawings tattooed on her arms, a mop of black curls, and a sparkly smile -- greeting me with a hug.

Corinne Rice does a lot of things. She is a mostly-vegan chef, with a deep emphasis on nutrition. She hosts pop-up dinners around Venice (with one coming up this Sunday.  Details at the end of the post), she does private health coaching, and is working on healthy living workshops and classes for busy moms to learn to make baby food and 10-minute meals (she's mom to a flirty one-year-old named Atlas herself). She's also self-publishing a cookbook, which will feature her plant-based recipes and will be filled with her gorgeous photos.  Look out for it in early 2015.

The recipe she chose for us to cook together was one from the upcoming cookbook.  We made a cauliflower-based sloppy joe, the foundation of its flavor being a fiery harissa.  As she described the recipe, as well as others she was developing, I at first had trouble wrapping my head around the flavors. Her cooking doesn't really sit in one cuisine or other: Middle Eastern flavors might share the plate with say, southeast Asian ones.  She uses a heavy hand with spice, and her unusual flavor combinations straddle sweet and savory.  By the end of the afternoon, though, I trusted that even her strangest-sounding ideas would taste great.

As we cooked, we talked, and it was such a treat to be able to go deep on things I've always wondered about.  Corinne turned to nutrition as a way out of dark times, and since tackling addiction, she's immersed herself in that world.  Her knowledge of how what we consume affects our bodies is encyclopedic and thorough.  I asked about different ethnic diets purported to be the key to long life (real commonalities between high life-expectancy groups:  sweet potatoes, wine, self-love). I expressed how overwhelmed I can get with conflicting information about what to eat (her sage advice: every body is different, be mindful and intuitive and find what works for you).

Corinne moves easily in her narrow kitchen, jotting down every measurement as she develops a recipe, adjusting her notes as she tastes and polishes measurements. She's made great use of her space, adding shelves below the counter where she stores every spice imaginable in blue mason jars.

I'm no stranger to cauliflower as a meat substitute in recipes, as the delicious Buffalo cauliflower at Mohawk Bend has made me a believer.  Of course, beyond some nominal resemblances to traditional sloppy joe, there wasn't much similarity.  But, it didn't matter.  The dish had a complex flavor, with heat and brightness  from the harissa (her recipe included preserved lemon and fresh mint), and a rich, slightly sweet base of tomatoes and red bell pepper.  With beautiful millet bread from Culver City's Rising Hearts Bakery, it made a filling and satisfying meal.

Her styling is meticulous.  She places an old wood table in the light of a corner window in her bedroom, and fills it with beautiful things picked up from here and there:  vintage plates, an artfully placed cheesecloth, an air plant pulled from a hanging in the house.  With just the natural light and a tall tripod bought used, Corinne creates moody, lush images.

Aside from our main course, she was excited to share a green curry coconut latte with basil whip.  The  drink was at once familiar and strange, warm and comforting.  Corinne has a professional whipped cream dispenser bottle, and got downright giggly dispensing pale green basil-scented whipped coconut cream directly into our hands.  And rightly so: it was delicious.  Here's her photo of the lattes; recipe will be in the book.

First and last photo by Corinne Rice.

After cooking, we took baby Atlas up to the roof and dined, the sun warming us, and a wholesome hand-made meal nourishing us.

Here are some ways to keep up with Corinne:
 - Catch her pop-up supper club this Sunday. The menu is pretty mindblowing (fennel gelato, what?)
 - Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
 - Or just start at her website.

Harissa Cauliflower Sloppy Joe
Recipe by Corinne Rice
Makes 5-6 servings

3 oz dried chilis of your choice (chipotle works great; we used cascabel, and the skins were a little hard to break down)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons preserved lemon
3 Tablespoons mint
1/2 teaspoon salt

Soak the chilis for 3-4 hours. Strain and then remove the stems and seeds.

Toast the caraway, coriander and cumin seeds on a dry skillet over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, swirling the pan constantly.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or high powered blender until it forms a creamy paste.

Sloppy Joe
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
3 cups tomato sauce (with no added sugar)
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 head cauliflower, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup coconut sugar
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons steak seasoning
1/4-3/4 cups harissa paste (see note)
salt to taste
basil to garnish

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut oil, garlic, and onion. Sautee until onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and cook for about 30 minutes or until the cauliflower has become very soft, resembling a similar texture to ground beef.

Serve the sloppy joes over your favorite gluten free bread. Garnish with basil.

A note on harissa: Depending on how spicy your harissa paste is and how hot you want the sloppy joes, you may want to add more or less.

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.

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

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