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.