Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Zoulbia Recipe

I got a request in the comments on the previous post to reprint my zoulbia recipe here for those who hate to link. I happen to hate opening pdf's myself, so I'm happy to oblige. Again, easy and really satisfying. Do it!


This is a yeast-based batter, so allow time for it to rise. If you are working with children, take great care in the frying step, as the hot oil may spatter. You can buy plastic squeeze bottles from restaurant supply stores, or even from stores like Target, but in a pinch, an empty plastic shampoo, dish soap, or ketchup bottle with a narrow opening, thoroughly cleaned, works fine. Leave out the yogurt for a non-dairy version of this dessert.

The batter is very tangy – from the combination of yogurt and baking powder, the latter of which also imparts a distinct saltiness. All of this balances the sweetness of the syrup.

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1 Tbs baking powder
2 Tbs yogurt (optional)
1 package active dry yeast

1 cup water
2 cup sugar
1 Tbs honey
dash cardamom
1/4 C rosewater

Vegetable, corn, or canola oil to fry

Mix together batter ingredients. Let sit for 1 hour.

To make syrup, combine first four ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in rosewater.

Fill squeeze bottle with batter.

Fill a large pan with a 1-inch layer of oil. Heat over medium-high heat until a drop of water dropped into the oil sizzles. Squeeze out batter into hot oil, creating spirals and free-form designs, but maintaining a generally circular shape. The end result should be lacy and not too heavy, so try to squeeze out enough batter to maintain the zoulbia's structure, but not too much to make a solid mass. Fry for a few minutes, flipping or submerging to fry both sides, until deep golden brown. Using tongs or two forks, carefully remove zoulbia from pan and shake off excess oil. Lower gently into syrup, quickly submerge and remove. Continue making zoulbia with remaining batter, adding oil as necessary. Cool on a rack in a single layer.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pretend You're Persian This Hanukkah

Actually, if you were trying to do that, you wouldn't really make these; you'd only just wear lots of black and kiss on both cheeks. But see, I've decided that zoulbia, a crisp lacy fritter that bursts with rosewater cardamom syrup when you bite into it, is going to be the traditional Iranian Hanukkah food from now on. It makes sense: throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Jews eat various fried sweets to celebrate the oil-related miracle that Hanukkah commemorates (and yes, latkes weave this same theme through Eastern Europe). These little bits of deliciousness really should be our contribution to the grease-fest.

I really recommend trying zoulbia. They're pretty easy to make -- the batter comes together pretty simply, and it's actually really fun to squeeze out amorphous squiggles of the stuff into hot oil, then watch it bubble and expand as it fries to a golden brown. And the end result is indulgent: sticky and gooey with sweet glaze, the scent is vaguely exotic, and the crunch is really satisfying.

So, I wrote an article for the Shofar, an Iranian Jewish quarterly magazine, declaring this new tradition and offering my mom's recipe. You can check it out on page 67 of this pdf version of the issue, in addition to two other stories I wrote for the magazine: an opinion piece on Barack Obama being elected president (that's right, I wrote about politics. Crazy, no?) on page 51, and an article about the shameful scandal surrounding Agriprocessors, the nation's largest producer of kosher meat on page 58.

UPDATE: Here's the recipe right on the blog, for those too lazy to click the pdf link. What can I say, I'm a giver!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Menu for Hope V

Guys, Menu for Hope is in full swing. It's a pretty fantastic fundraising drive where food bloggers all around the world band together to make the world a little brighter. The way it works is this: bloggers put up some awesome raffle prizes, then gracious readers like yourself donate money and by doing so enter the raffle for the prizes. Last year's Menu for Hope raised over $90,000 for the United Nations World Food Programme, and they hope to beat it this year.

The prizes are varied and fabulous, but include all manner of fancy chocolates, plenty of free dinner packages at very enticing restaurants (including, for you New Yorkers, dinner for 8 at Momofuku Ssäm Bar -- amazing, right?!), lots of cookbooks and books on food, a weirdly large number of bento-related prizes, a wine vacation in Napa, all sorts of hands-on food-related seminars, tours, and workshops, a Cuisinart ice cream maker, fancy olive oils, fancy cheeses, homemade sweets, care packages ranging from Ferry Building favorites to artisanal Italian ingredients. And even a set of lingerie cookie cutters!

The holiday season is upon us and now's the time for giving. I encourage you to check out Menu for Hope. The full selection of prizes, as well as instructions for donating (at the very bottom of the post), are here at the site of its founder, Pim, and the prizes for the west coast sector are listed here at MattBites. Go to it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ladies And Robots

The other night my circles merged in ways that were blowing my mind. Thanks to another Jason Bernstein "what are you doing right this second phone call," I found myself at the opening of Darren Le Gallo's Ladies and Robots show at Ghetto Gloss gallery in Silver Lake. Which apparently is where it all comes together. I walk in and see the guy from work with the ironic handlebar mustache who smokes a pipe in the afternoon, who apparently is friends with the supermodelesque ex-girlfriend of my film school cousin. Snapping pics is the woman whose Glögg party I'd been invited to despite having never met her before. Tending the bar was our friend Jackie's ex-roommate. Then, of course Oki walks in. Six degrees of hipsteration.

And the art was awesome. Why don't I do this more often?

A note: We stopped afterwards for a Let's Be Frank hotdog at the cart parked outside Silver Lake Wine. It was definitely delicious, but once it's past midnight, there's something deflating about forking down 5 bucks for a hot dog and not even getting any seediness or bacon-wrap. I know, sustainable, pasture-raised, biodynamic. But, who wants to shell out 5 bucks for virtue at 2 am? Ghetto-unfabulous.

Ghetto Gloss is at 2380 Glendale Boulevard South of Silver Lake Blvd. (you know, over by the Red Lion)

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Work in Progress

Last Sunday, Jason Bernstein called with the classic Jason opener.

"Tannaz Sassooni, what are you doing right now?"

I was in my PJ's, still in bed, IMing with a friend, but quickly threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera, and walked over to the restaurant -- I know what's good for me. Jason and our friend Jim Starr are opening The Golden State -- a new restaurant in the old Nova Express space on Fairfax -- and they were in the middle of some serious building.

When I got there, someone was replastering the storefront -- it was still half black, half white, while someone else was up on the roof, installing something really big. Jason and Jim are still haranguing with contractors, but the place is coming together.

If you use your imagination a bit, you can see how the aesthetic -- a clean white space marked by one brick wall, exposed roof beams, and a few geometric asymmetries -- will complement their simple but not dumbed-down menu (designed by chef Samir Mohajer) that includes sausage sandwiches, a burger you will not believe, Scoops (!!) ice cream (the Golden State will be the only place you can get Scoops outside Tai's original store in East Hollywood), and an awesome beer and wine list -- just the kind of spot our neighborhood needs.

I don't ask when the place is going to open anymore, because if there's anything I've learned from Jason and Jim, it's how close to impossible it is to go through the hoops necessary to open a restaurant in this town, but it's coming together in the next few months. Start getting excited now.

a little angel on the concrete wall out back, compliments of neighboring artist (and owner of the property), Harry Blitzstein

[more here at Eater LA]
[and more photos here]

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Food TV, Persian Style

Watch as charming young Tian and Babak prepare kaleh pacheh, a beloved Iranian soup with some -- ahem -- interesting ingredients. It may be in Persian, but the international language of sheep's head, complete with eyes and tongue and teeth, crosses all international boundaries. Hilarious or disgusting? You make the call.

[from ParsArts]

Thursday, December 04, 2008

West Third Street Holiday Party Tonight

West Third is doing it up for the holidays! For one, there's the holiday party tonight, which you should go to because these things are always fun. It's from 6 to 9 pm, and will feature refreshments (usually this means you'll be walking down the sidewalk sipping wine, which I love), music, special sales, and more. Here's the kicker: Free Universal Valet Parking: drop your car off at any valet station between Fairfax and La Cienega, and pick it up at any station. Kind of amazing.

Some other details:
- lots of stores will be participating, but I know that specifically, Kiss My Bundt will have specials on hot chocolate, coffee drinks, and small bundts, a drawing for free bundts, and will be launching two new holiday flavors: egg nog and mint chocolate. Yum!
- Stores will be staying open until 9 pm the next two Thursdays as well.
- West Third will be offering free universal valet parking from 10 am to 6 pm every Saturday and Sunday between now and December 25th. And they're considering making this a permanent thing! Hello, holiday spirit!

Monday, December 01, 2008

On Air Raid Sirens and Apple Pie

A funny thing happens at Thanksgiving. Maybe it's something in the turkey, maybe it's just a by-product of dusting off old food traditions, cooking and eating with family, but something about Thanksgiving makes people tell stories. This year, two stories were particularly striking to me. Sure, both were interesting in their own right, but the real story was the fact that the people telling these two very different tales, from opposite sides of the world, were sharing the same Thanksgiving table.

I spent Wednesday night my sister's house. I've decided that I'm totally over baking pie by myself in my tiny apartment kitchen; the aftermath, exhausted me alone with a sink full of dirty dishes, is just depressing. Thanksgiving would be a giant feast at my cousin Sisi’s house. She was having about fifty people over: her own aunts and cousins, plus a slew of relatives on her husband's side. Sisi depends on us young'uns to provide the "exotic American" dishes (you know, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes) for her Thanksgiving table, so staying at my sister's was the best idea ever: three spazzy kids running around, a dishwasher and a KitchenAid, plus cooking a ton of food with my sister -- what more could I ask for?

Well, Grandma Nanny's apple pie, of course. When it comes to Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law Ray is the best thing that ever happened to my family. We're immigrants, after all, so our Thanksgiving table can be a little unorthodox (gruel, anyone?). If it weren't for him, we'd never know the glory of stuffing or cranberry sauce. And every year, he makes apple pie. By the time I got to their house on Wednesday, two pies were already cooling on the counter (at some point he got wise to making two: one to take to Thanksgiving, one to tear into at home).

Later that night, with sweet potatoes all mashed and streuseled and stuffing ready for the oven, we sat down for the first round of pie and stories. Grandma Nanny, Ray's dad's mom, was known for her pies, he told us, and in her home in Maryland, she'd make at least 8 pies every Thanksgiving, and several different varieties at that. Since she passed away in 1993, Ray has been making her apple pie recipe -- well, minus the homemade crust -- every Thanksgiving. As his daughter listened intently to his story, we could see how much fondness he had for his grandmother, and how much it meant to him to share this delicious bit of her legacy with his family.

It's been a rough year for my sister's family. Then again, it seems like every year has a hefty share of both minor annoyances and significant ordeals raising three kids. Don't get me wrong -- they have plenty to be thankful for, and they know it, but there's always something. Did they really need the electric company to shut off their power one night last week at 9 o'clock? On Sisi's couch, she was telling us about this latest injustice, when Mahzad, one of the in-law cousins, interjected.

"That was my life for two or three years. Maybe ten times a day."

You wouldn't guess it seeing her today, always graceful as she walks in with her husband and two gorgeous daughters, but Mahzad has been through some things. She and her family came to the United States a few years after we did -- she was a teenager at the time -- so they were in Iran through the revolution, and into the war with Iraq. Air raid sirens became commonplace, she told us, but one night stuck in her head. They didn't have a phone in their apartment, so her parents had stepped out to the local phone booth to make a call. She was alone with her two-month-old brother when the sirens started going off. A child herself, she swooped up baby brother and started the trek downstairs to the bomb shelter. She kept her pace as people rushed past her. By the time the sirens ended, they hadn't even made it to the underground shelter, so they just turned back around. But this chilling night was the last straw for her, and one that stays in her head.

"My nightmare is thunder. And fireworks. I become that child again," she told us, as her baby brother, now in his second year of pharmacy school, sat beside her.

I have a feeling that 15 years ago, when Ray first thought of sharing Grandma Nanny's pie with his future family, he didn't have his wife's cousin's husband's niece in mind. And visions of stuffing and pecan pie in a California home surely weren't filling young Mahzad's mind when she was growing up in war-torn Tehran. But there they were, post-turkey lounging as their daughters played together in the next room. Here, it's all just family.

Grandma Nanny's Apple Pie

1 pckg. deep dish pie crust (Ritz or Pillsbury is good)
3 lbs. granny smith apples
1 stick butter (somehow Ray always ends up using more)

Preheat oven to 400F. Line pie pan with one pie crust. Peel and slice apples. Mix cinnamon and sugar. Layer apples and cinnamon sugar in pie crust. Dot with butter. Be generous and pile high. Cover with second pie crust and crimp corners together. Cut a few slits into top crust. Dot with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 50 minutes.