March 19, 2011

Adventures in Persian Cooking!

I don't know a lot about Persian cooking- but I think the flavors and ingredients are so delicious and inviting! When I think of Persian food, I think of grilled lamb, aromatic spices like cardamom, turmeric and saffron, distinctly unique flavor combinations including pomegranate, pistachios and rose petals- it's a veritable feast for the senses! My Mom is partial to chicken cooked with walnuts and pomegranates and I myself am very fond of sour cherry rice.

I'd like to tell you, though, how my interest in Persian cooking came about. A while back, this is probably more than 15 years ago, my Dad met a couple that were from Iran. We were invited over to their house for a dinner party. Prior to this, I had eaten a lot of Greek and Mediterranean food growing up- the foods that my parents made for us growing up were predominantly French and Greek- a product of my Mom's cooking classes when we were small (French, with James Beard) and multiple previous cruises in Greece (these had also yielded some cool family jewelry). I am certainly not complaining- it was a delicious upbringing, my father taught me at a young age how to stuff and fold grape leaves. I still remember the odd looks I received at school when I brought them for lunch (not that I cared, grape leaves are delicious- enjoy your Salisbury steak while I eat these...). Anyhow, from my exposure to flavors of Greek and Mediterranean food, I think I thought I knew what to expect from a Persian dinner party. Well, I could not have been more wrong!

The wife of this couple, who is named Marjon, is one of those women that you immediately admire and then continue to do so for the rest of your life. She's one of those women that you aspire to be- beautiful, effortlessly stylish, incredibly kind, and unfairly talented in the cooking and entertaining department! Not only had she made an entire multi course meal from scratch, she'd laid an impeccable table, and then had time to get dressed in the most elegant dress, with flawless hair and unbelievably stunning jewelry. Here was a woman who made it look really, really easy! While I can't remember exactly what was served that night, I remember vividly the impression it made on me. I remember thinking that I'd like to host dinner parties like this and that the food was delicious, I think either on that occasion or a subsequent one I had asked if I could borrow a cookbook. Sadly for me, she said all her cookbooks were in Farsi (that's the Persian language).

I would be remiss if I didn't say a little about the after dinner tradition of their dinner parties- after dinner we'd retire to their gorgeous living room- I remember thinking that I'd never, ever in my life seen such a beautiful carpet, it was so detailed and fine, and in light creamy colors. This was also new to me- we have always had a lot of oriental carpets in my family, it's actually one of my Dad's hobbies. But, his tastes have always focused on bold, deep colors and larger scale geometric patterns. These carpets had organic, twisting patterns and I am not sure I could even comprehend the knot count, the designs were so tight and well executed. In this beautiful room, we would have coffee and we would dance, it was wonderful!

Now, while this was a long time ago, we are still close friends with this family. And, if you can believe it, the wife just seems to get more beautiful and glamorous, it's just not fair, is it!? Anyhow, she is such a sweetheart, that she didn't forget me asking about cookbooks probably more than a decade ago and earlier this month, I received an unexpected box. In it, to my incredible delight, was New Food of Life, a beautiful and comprehensive cookbook on Persian food and ceremonies (in English!!!). Naturally, I was delighted and could not wait to give the recipes a try. I've made saffron rice, ground lamb kebabs cooked on long, sword like skewers (we bought them in Los Angeles), infused with turmeric, finely ground onion and basted with lime butter, and a cucumber and yogurt side dish topped with rose petals. Delicious!

I feel I should also tell you that when my little baby boy met Marjon for the first time, he just kept kissing her on the face! He knows a good thing when he sees it. I find that I am really inspired by the friends I meet, there are a handful of women (and men) that have always stood out in my mind as role models of cooking and hospitality. Marjon is certainly a powerful one- but there are others that with different talents have made deep and lasting impressions on me. There's an uncle that was into gourmet food in the 70s and 80s to an astonishing degree- there's a lady that can plan elegant alfresco dinner parties in her sleep and then provide the most stimulating conversational topics, all at the same time articulating the irrefutable rationale for assigned seating and place cards, and to recall something more recent, there's a dear new friend that brainstormed having a demitasse cup of 'pot likker' to begin an elegant Southern dinner party would be incredible (pot likker is the liquid left behind after boiling collards, usually either seasoned with bacon or even starting out as smoked pork stock). I was just recently told at a cocktail party about a woman who has since passed away- but it was obvious she had made a similar lasting impression on the friend relating the story. She had had a very grand home in town and unfortunately, it caught fire and burned to the ground. A little while later, he related that she'd held a black tie dinner party in the rubble and everything she served was on fire- baked alaska, bananas foster- you just marvel at the inventiveness and sense of humor that some hosts and hostesses have embedded in them! I think these people inform what you're inspired to create in your kitchen and home. I'm sure you have many people like these in your life also!


Anonymous said...

A beautiful tribute to a truly beautiful woman and human being. I am ordering this cookbook right away. Aloha, Pam

MARJON said...

Hi darling --


Please accept my apologies for replying so late! I would like to thank you for your lovely compliment! Coming from someone like you "INCREDIBLY GORGEOUS, TALENTED, GRACIOUS & SIMPLY SHEER PERFECTION!" Indeed means a lot! I am beyond overjoyed to see your kind and flattering remark! You certainly have a unique way of making people feel so special and honored!

I am so glad you are enjoying the book. My highest compliments to you, your lamb kabab looks so delicious and amazing! Thanks for sharing your blog, I am delighted to have the pleasure of reading it and I really enjoy it tremendously. You have a great talent!

I truly admire your stamina and ambition. You are accomplishing your goal while maintaining a home and raising your handsome son is a wonderful achievement. You are a good role model! I'm sure your entire family must be very proud of you. Your blog most certainly indicates a promising future.

I love you sweetheart and I wish you the very best. Hope to see you again in the near future! XOXO

Lots of love always,
Marjon --