Sunday, July 10, 2011

All I Need is Bread and Cheese

 The concept of naan-va-paneer-va*... was a beloved one in our kitchen growing up, and when the weather is as sunny as it's been lately, the simplicity of this kind of meal is especially appealing.  You might recognize those foreign words from your local curry shop's menu, but they are the same in Persian as they are in Hindi:  naan is bread, and paneer is cheese.  Take those two -- typically it was lavash, sangak, or some other Persian flatbread, and salty feta cheese -- and add some things:  some sliced tomatoes, a few pistachios or walnuts, some cold cantaloupe, or maybe just some fruit preserves.  Something about this combination is deeply satisfying.

Today, recovering from maid of honor duties at an absolutely beautiful but extremely culinarily indulgent wedding last night (6 courses, catered by animal.  Need i say more?), I couldn't possibly stomach a lunch more substantial than naan-va-paneer.  Today's rendition included some special treats: for one, this insanely good goat's milk feta with sun-dried tomatoes purchased from at the Silver Lake Farmer's Market from the burnished old Greek man who once sang a song about my beauty while selling me cheese (I love the Greek).

Another was zaatar, a Middle Eastern blend of dried thyme and other herbs with toasted sesame seeds. You'll find zaatar in  Israeli and Lebanese food for sure; I've also had it in Jordan.  It's not a Persian ingredient.  I have a giant bag sitting in my fridge that I carried with me the last time I was in Israel (let's not talk about how long ago that was), but you can find it in Middle Eastern markets and spice shops here.

This doesn't really warrant a recipe, but here's the breakdown of today's naan-o-paneer lunch:

 - whole-wheat pita, perfectly toasted and spread with strained nonfat Greek yogurt, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with flaky salt and zaatar
 - a few slices from a really good tomato, sprinkled with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt
 - a few slices of cool, crisp Asian pear
 - marinated feta with sun-dried tomatoes

The perfect beverage to go along?  Sharbat-e-golab, sweet icy rosewater ade.  I'm going to go make some right now!

* That spelling is actually based on the 'formal' way of pronouncing those words, but in conversation you'd hear something more like noon-o-paneer-o....  And spoken conversationally, these phrases roll off the tongue in a particularly pleasant way:  noon-o-paneer-o-pesteh for pistachios, noon-o-paneer-o-talebi for cantaloupe.  If you've got an Iranian friend handy, ask her to say it so you can hear how it goes.


  1. Oh, Yumm. This does sound like a tasty combination. I've been addicted to Greek yogurt and eating it this way sounds awesome.

  2. Sara Bee, I *love* Greek yogurt! It's also great with honey or a little jam. If you're gonna spread it on bread this way, it's best to strain out some of the water. As a simple trick, you can stick the end of a strip of paper towel into the yogurt and let the other end hang in a bowl. Or even easier, just scoop out a narrow 'crater' from the yogurt container, and the water will collect in there.