saffron cauliflower, chard omelettes, & fried lima beans
I am in awe, folks. Complete awe. I came here with a story in mind – something I’ve wanted to share in this space for a while. I pictured words streaming from my fingertips as I reminisced about an enjoyed meal, a Persian New Year feast. But I can’t do it. Not today. That meal deserves to be the only thing that is shared today.
I said I would report back on the food I ate on the thirteenth day of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. I promised it would be delicious, as I’ve made some of the dishes before. I didn’t, however, think it would be enough to leave me, quite literally, speechless. Long story short, Persian families traditionally celebrate and picnic on that day to squelch all evil that is associated with the number thirteen. Since there would not be any literal picnicking going on, I thought I would serve some mezze plates that used Persian flavors with some fluffy and buttery basmati rice and the requisite Shirazi salad.
The surprise was in the dishes’ combined symphony – the fresh flavors added the notes to the most beautiful work of art I think I’ve eaten at home. On their own, these plates are gorgeous; together, they are otherworldly. They taste clean, they make me feel nourished, they make me feel whole. They make me feel so grateful for what I have — for the ability to use heat and fresh ingredients to create plates that sing. They also make me want to marry Yotam Ottolenghi.
Ok, before you brand me a stalker, let me rephrase that. They make me want to hop the first plane to London and grovel at the feet of Yotam himself (who, interestingly, started as a pastry chef. Pastry will always be my first love), begging him to let me work in one of the Ottolenghi kitchens, putting hand to beautiful produce and making the meals that sustain hungry Londoners. His food speaks to me. His flavors are my flavors. I know I’m not the first to say that. I am usually wary of hype, but I’ve cooked enough from Plenty to know that it is certainly worthy of it.
The jewel tones in this dish are reminiscent of the most beautiful of Persian rugs. Brewed saffron threads disguise cauliflower’s bland pallor. Along with bay leaf, they perfume a covered mélange of melting red onions, plumped and intensely sweet golden raisins, and salty green olives. The cauliflower-olive-dried fruit combination is classic, but this dish seems so new. The shocking color eludes to its beautiful taste before a single bite is taken.
Chard and Saffron Omelettes
Made like omelettes, cooked like crêpes, these folded egg triangles are just bursting with green to the point that each omelette is more herb than egg. It works and is an updated take on Kookoo Sabzi, a thick, frittata-like Persian herb omelette. The omelettes are stuffed with a lemony mix of saffron braised potatoes and hearty swiss chard and a generous schmear of crème fraîche. The richness is needed given how verdant the dish is, and the punch of citrus enhances the grassy herbage. This will be a new go-to for morning, noon, or night. While it goes so beautifully with rice, a side of warm pita and feta cheese would make for the ultimate brunch.
Fried Beans with Sorrel, Feta and Sumac
Think bean salad is boring? Think again. Big, plush lima beans almost taste like crispy fried potatoes here, as they’re pan-fried in oil and butter to char their outsides after boiling. The complex myriad of flavors here is exquisite. The beans and greens — including the refreshing green onion strips — get to know each other through a quick sautée, and the whole thing is tossed with lemon, big crumbles of feta, and bright sumac and dill. I swapped spinach for sorell and doubled the lemon as directed.
We finished the evening with a recipe for Bastani Akbar Mashti (Persian Ice Cream) that I developed, and it brought my father back (recipe to follow). My hands are still stained from saffron; they still smell of fresh dill, an herb I always need reminding to use more often – it’s so fresh and soft. While this meal was made to commemorate a day, it is surely one I will go back to when I want to be stunned yet again by the beauty of food.
Note: The recipes for these dishes that I linked to, originally printed in Ottolenghi’s column, have been tweaked and changed in Plenty, a book I highly recommend. Also, the measurement conversions should be simple. If you want to know more about a hard-to-find ingredient, strange measurement, or recipe revision, please feel free to comment or email me.