|April 11, 2005|
As you may have noticed from the great yawning chasms between posts, I haven't been in the Food Mood lately. I mean, I've been writing about it over at KQED's Bay Area Bites, but I haven't been doing much in my own kitchen. Put it down to overworking and utter exhaustion. However, that's all changing. Remember back when I had that Brussels sprouts contest and I picked my favorite? Well, I now make that dish at least once a week (oftener, if we're fully stocked with Beano), but
Friday night, as I was preparing some of the little stink bombs (and adding a new touch of topping them with walnuts in the last five minutes of roasting), I realized I didn't have quite enough to make a meal for two. So what did I do? I added pasta! Did I just blow your mind? Probably not -- pasta is a fairly common way to bulk up or stretch a meal. The thing of it was, as delicious as those balsamic-roasted Brussels sprouts were already, tossing them in with about 6 oz. of spaghetti made them even better. The thickened balsamic vinegar sort
of bonded with the starch in the cooked spaghetti and resulted in a rich, almost silky sauce. I finished the dish with a thin drizzle of Stonehouse Extra Virgin Olive Oil . . .
(which is the bomb, by the way. Not only do you get 750 ml for $15.00, but if you bring your bottle back to their store for a refill, they knock $2.00 off! Now, look, I understand that $15.00 for olive oil might seem like an awful lot for those of you who never thought of buying anything other than Colavita or Carapelli or other grocery store brands, but I don't think I can fully express to you how much better food can be simply because you used good olive oil. It makes all the difference. See, when I use Good Olive Oil or my Really Good Olive Oil to make a vinaigrette, it emulsifies almost instantly, turning beautifully opaque. It's like buttah. No, seriously. No. Seriously.)
. . . and it was lovely, fresh, and filling and we ate it all. So, that was Friday night, and you already know what happened on Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, I was wrist deep in tzatziki. Alton Brown, God love him, recently did a show on gyros ("My Big Fat Greek Sandwich"), which I watched, subsequently got hungry over, and then cursed our lack of a grill. I consoled myself that, while I couldn't spit-roast ground lamb, I could make tzatziki. And it would be good tzaziki. Do you know why it would be good tzatziki? Because after three years of searching, I finally found LebnÚ yogurt.
Back when I wanted to recreate Osama Bin Lasagne in my kitchen in Boston, Dr. Mathra called around to all the ethnic stores within our reach and asked for Greek LebnÚ yogurt. It was not to be had. Out here? It flows down the streets like white wine. It grows heavy on trees like white fruit. It falls from the sky like white manna from heaven. Okay, not really, but I'm getting a lot of "Girl, you crazy" looks when I go into raptures over the fact that I finally, FINALLY found LebnÚ yogurt and that I found it down at our little corner organic store! I guess the crazy looks stem from the fact that this is California and you can find everything good and foodie in California.
Fine, but I'm still going to have my raptures. LebnÚ yogurt is full-fat Greek yogurt so thick and rich you don't need to drain off excess water before making tzatziki. It's the consistency of mascarpone and I want to swim in it. Following Alton's instructions (I hardly make a move in the kitchen without first checking to see how he does things), I seeded, diced, and salted one large cucumber before wrapping the crisp chunks in a thin towel and leaving it over a bowl to drain a bit. 30 minutes later, after Dr. Mathra strangled the excess water out of the cucumber, I dumped it in a bowl with 16 oz. of the LebnÚ yogurt, 4 minced garlic cloves, 6 chiffonaded mint leaves, a pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon Good Olive Oil (Stonehouse, of thee I sing!), and 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar.
Since pretty much any cold mixture of things can stand to be left alone for a few hours before you can hope to judge their true, melded flavors, I covered the bowl and stuck it in the fridge. Oh, god, was it perfect a few hours later or what? I mean, I'd kill for some spiced lamb to accompany it, but scooping it up with pita alone made me damn happy.
If Friday was Italy, and Saturday was Mexico and Greece, then Sunday was Iran. Back East there's a piece of heaven in Beacon Hill. And it's not found in the stately homes with ancient purple glass squatting around Louisberg Square, it's found in Lala Rokh and it's the food thing I most miss about living in Boston. I could go on for days about their house yogurt sauce with mysterious Persian shallots, or their tamarind chutney, or how I still spend hours trying to figure out how they transformed potatoes into saffron-tinged pockets of sublime rapture. But then I'll start to crave. And craving leads to yearning. And yearning leads to getting on an airplane and not looking back until my face is stuffed with the smokey love that is Khashk-e-Bademjan.
Not long ago, Azita Bina-Seibel, the head chef and co-ownder of Lala Rokh, went on a WGBH show called "Cooking Around Town" and shared a few of her recipes. Dr. Mathra and I couldn't believe our luck -- not only did she reveal some of the divine secrets of the Khashk-e-Bademjan, but she also showed how to make another favorite dish: Zaitun-e Parwadeh. This pÔtÚ of walnuts and olive is from another world. Another time. When we first had it, we couldn't believe it was only walnuts and olives as the menu would have us believe. Mouthful after mouthful, we tried to analyze what could be giving it that cloak of nectar that flowed up our noses and perfumed our tongues. I finally concluded it was rose water. That is, until Chef Bina-Seibel divulged the secret ingredient on TV: pomegranate. Not just juice, either, pomegranate molasses.
Pomegranate molasses was another thing I searched high and low for all over Boston and never found. Through internet searches, I did find ways of making my own pomegranate molasses by reducing pomegranate juice to a dense syrup, but I never got around to actually doing it. Saturday, the same day we found the rose water and LebnÚ yogurt in our corner store, we also found pomegranate molasses.
It was time.
I had faked Zaitun-e Parwadeh on many occasions, and I got away the best I could with only using pomgranate juice, but while Dr. Mathra thoroughly enjoyed my attempts, he agreed that there was still something missing. I now had that something.
I started by roughly chopping 1 lb of olives, and 1 lb. of walnuts on my cutting board, but I kept twonking a dozing Hunca Munca on the butt with walnuts that shot across the room from the force of my blade, so I dumped everything in the Cuisinart and pulsed for a bit. Next, I added 4 cloves of minced garlic, 1/4 cup Good Olive Oil, and 3/4 cup pomegranate juice. Chef Bina-Seibel's recipe calls for 2 oz. of pomegranate molasses but I found that after just 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) of the thick, luscious stuff, the pÔtÚ was plenty pomegranated. I pulsed until the mixture "came together" or, in other words, everthing was combined and saturated. Then we tasted.
What a difference a morning's shop at the corner store makes. Now I'm having Zaitun-e Parwadeh spread on wholewheat sourdough bread every day for lunch. Now all my co-workers want the recipe.