Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Middle Eastern Feast

I'm becoming a regular at Q Market & Produce in Van Nuys (or Lake Balboa, as the locals would have you call it). It's a bit shabby (in stark contrast to the hideously shimmering paean to all that is New - Gelson's in Encino) and the lady at the cash register is missing a couple of teeth, but it is filled with elegant Persian ladies who bustle about purposefully, picking up fat red tomatoes and smelling them, or digging through mounds of purslane to find the perfect bunch. There is an order and a tradition to the place which appeals to me. Yesterday, Minks and I brought home sour cherries to make Persian rice, tomatoes for baking, small black figs, some cracked Greek olives and numerous bunches of herbs, not all of which I can identify.

Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food is open on my kitchen table and I couldn't resist trying her Rice with Sour Cherries (which is a modification of the Lebanese pilaf, without pine nuts, and adding the boiled down, syrupy cherries at the end, along with some slivered & toasted almonds). I marinated some boned leg of lamb with a whizzed up whole onion, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and great handfuls of mint, lemon basil, purslane, fenugreek. J grilled it and then coated it with some of the saved and unused marinade at the end (a fabulous glossy green). We sliced up big red and yellow and brown heirloom tomatoes and sprinkled them with feta, savory and Israeli dressing (salt, lemon juice, olive oil), and baked halved red tomatoes in the oven on a low heat, with a little sugar and salt, until they were beginning to shrivel and caramelize. I should say that although these recipes don't come directly from Claudia Roden's book, they are in part inspired by her, as well as a long-remembered menu from Shamshiri in Westwood, arguably the best Persian restaurant in Los Angeles, another book New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij. I am, it has to be said, a culinary dilettante. I make stuff up, borrow liberally and usually don't know what I'm making until about two hours before dinner, when it all, quite magically, begins to come together in my head, usually when I'm showering.

The lovely and talented MissHaphazard (a trained pastry chef who came armed with a dark pink geranium, to remind me of Nantucket) brought a delicious crumble with a salty biscuit top, encasing caramelized apples and walnuts. Minks whipped cream in a jar with a cappucino whisk to go with it. The recipe clearly went straight over my head. She writes:

Down and Out In Paris and London Pie -- Reading Orwell......he sold apples on the street, the
meringue is the Paris, the biscuit was a Brit cream biscuit, the honey
is "off the land" but with the upper class mix of truffles....the
scorching on the apples is war--he was a war correspondent,and
soldier... It's the snoot intellectual's pud, loaded with hidden refs.

A book I'd like to find is The Wild Rue - A Study of Muhammadan Magic and Folklore in Iran by Bess Allen Donaldson (1938). Donaldson was a Christian missionary who failed to convert anyone to Christianity and became a follower of Islam. She is quoted frequently in Roden's book.

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