Will Trade Cookies for Spring

Persian Chickpea Cookies (Nan-e Nokhodchi)

nokhodchi
Today, at 12:57 pm, the sun will do something too earth science-y for me to explain eloquently, and it will be spring.

This is my fourth post that mentions the Persian new year, Nowruz, which coincides with the first day of spring. A fourth post is probably excessive considering that only a few people (if any) who read this blog, besides my father (Hi, dad!), probably celebrate the holiday.

But this year, I need this holiday. I need the feeling and the brightness and the newness that it represents, at least, as my soul, body, and mind—mostly my mind—struggle to feel signs of life and to see green instead of grey.

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Magic Powder

an ice cream education

bastani akbar mashti

The first day of Spring, as I mentioned, is the first day of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Though it has come and gone along with the important thirteenth day, nothing has changed since last year. I still make it a point to go visit my moonstruck friend and master baker, Mohammad (aka Agha Tabrizi) to pick up the plumpest, juiciest dates; some sumac-spiced mixed nuts, legumes, and seeds; and the famous cookies and sweets.

Before making the annual trip, I had decided that this was the year I was going to take the word “Americanized” out of the title of my version of an Iranian ice cream called Bastani Akbar Mashti. This saffron-flavored ice cream makes up for what it lacks in French-style creaminess in its uniquely Middle Eastern texture. The ice cream is chewy. Not chewy like the densest of premium ice creams in the US, but chewy like a melting taffy. It is traditionally served between two thin wafer cookies. When you bite into the ice cream sandwich of sorts, the ice cream shows a bit of resistance, gently teasing you until it finally touches your tongue. It’s the sweetest of battles and isn’t nearly as grueling as the one between mouth and Turkish dondurma (an even chewier, stretchier ice cream that can be cut with a knife – check it out!)

Chewy
The unique chew comes from an equally unique ingredient: salaab (or salep or sahlab or salepi depending on the language). Salaab is a special polysaccharide from the tubers of a species of wild orchid. Because it has thickening powers, it’s compared to cornstarch. But cornstarch it is not. It’s the steroidal version of cornstarch. And after it has thickened something, it leaves a fragrant something-something in its wake. Sweet and floral it doesn’t shout its presence and provides a sexy aroma not a starchy blandness. Without salaab—even with cornstarch as a substitute—Bastani Akbar Mashti is just saffron, pistachio, and rose ice cream, which is still very good, of course. But not as unique.

But with salaab, the stretchy treat is borderline illegal. You see, white, powdery, fragrant salaab is a hallucinogenic substance.

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A Feast of Plenty

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.

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