Celebrating Nowruz: Persian New Year

It is spring in California, but the weather hasn’t much resembled spring at all.  The only reason that I felt spring last week was the celebration of Nowruz or Persian New Year.  Nowruz is celebrated on the first day of spring every year and last Sunday I attended a Nowruz dinner.

As a guest observing the traditions, a few themes were similar to new year celebrations by other ethnic groups.  Preparations start days in advance, friends and family together, and you sit down and have a meal of traditional foods.

My friend and his family prepared much in advance, including having a smoked white fish shipped from the East Coast.  By the time I had arrived, much of the preparation had been complete.  I did get to observe a few things including the making of the koo koo sabzi or vegetable pancake.  This dish is made up of various vegetables and herbs and it is the eggs that help this dish form its shape.  The most complicated part of this appeared to be the washing and chopping of the herbs and vegetables.

I also got to witness the making of two rice dishes, one is the traditional saffron rice and the other is the sabzi polo.  I’ve had Persian saffron rice before and I remember it well because of how much I like basmati rice.  This rice is prepared with some saffon mixed on the top which gives it a beautiful orange color.  The second rice dish was the sabzi polo which has lima beans and dill mixed into it.  Heat, temperature, and timing are really important in order to get this into the shape of the pot which also gives it a crust called “tadig.”  Many languages have a name for that, in Chinese, we call that “nung.”

Other dishes we enjoyed included ghormeh sabzi (green herb stew), mahi doodi (smoked white fish), and saffron chicken.

I would be remiss not to mention the ceremonial table of Nowruz.  On this table, seven items beginning with the letter “S” are represented.  This year, the seven included the following:

  • Sabzeh, wheat or lentil sprouts represents rebirth
  • Seeb, apple symbolizes health and beauty
  • Senjid, the dried fruit of a lotus tree represents love
  • Sir, garlic which represents health
  • Somagh, sumac berries represents the color of the sun and the victory of good over evil
  • Serkeh, vinegar represents old age and patience
  • And finally a Surfer representing a year of good surf!

Nowruz is a special time and I am very honored to have been able to partake in the celebration.  Happy Nowruz!  Happy Spring!

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Corned Beef Hash: The Gourmet Way

I always look forward to St.Patrick’s Day because I enjoy eating corned beef and cabbage.  But I look forward to the day after St. Patrick’s Day even more because I love corned beef hash.  It’s like making turkey pot pie or turkey porridge after Thanksgiving, but better.  If you remember reading my blog last year, I made Guiness corned beef and vowed that this year I would get a traditional corned beef by the Prather Ranch Meat Company who raises grass fed cattle.  Although two trips to Oakland farmers markets were unsuccessful, I trekked out to the San Francisco ferry building to pick up my meat last Sunday.  Thursday’s dinner came out very well, but as I said I’ve been using leftovers to make corned beef hash.  It’s easy to make, takes less than 30 minutes, and tastes great.  Here’s my recipe for one nice big serving or two small servings:

Ingredients:
3 Organic red new potatoes, cut into small pieces
1/4 of an organic yellow onion, minced
3 slices of leftover corned beef, chopped into small pieces
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil
Vegetable oil
2 cage free brown eggs

Instructions:
Heat a medium sized non stick pan over medium heat.  When warm, heat one tablespoon of olive oil.  When oil has heated, sauté minced onion in pan until translucent and golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and sauté.  The potatoes need to be stirred every now and then as well as covered in order to cook thoroughly.  It will take about ten minutes.  Add some freshly ground salt and pepper.  When your potatoes are very close to the consistency you like, add the corned beef.  Continue to stir, mixing all ingredients thoroughly.  Plate the hash.  If the pan comes out clean, you can use the same pan for the eggs otherwise use a new non stick pan.  When pan is heated to medium high heat, add one tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Wait until oil gets hot, turning to make sure oil is covering entire pan.  Crack your eggs onto the oil.  Make sure the oil stays under eggs.  When it bubbles up on the side, it should be easy to flip over.  Flip and cook for about 30 seconds.  Remove the eggs and place directly on the plated hash.  This dish is enjoyed best when you break the runny eggs and mix it into the hash.  With the grass fed meat, cage free eggs, and organic vegetables, this traditionally cheap dish that became popular during and after WWII, becomes gourmet.

Nashville Highlights: Part III

While in Nashville, my BFF and I took a road trip to Lynchburg, Tennessee to take a tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery.  She’s a Scotch drinker and had wanted to go.  I had read some reviews of the tour ahead of time and was looking forward to it.  The drive was a bit over an hour from Nashville. 

We started at the visitor’s center where we were given a card with our tour group number.  We lucked out and had a pretty small tour group of ten.  Apparently, they can go as large as 25.  Before the walking tour began, we were led into a room to watch a short video that provided a great overview.  It was interesting to learn about the process and hear what goes into producing Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey (JDTW). 

I enjoyed the tour very much.  I thought it was well organized and I learned a great deal including the following:

  • JDTW is made from corn, barley, and rye.  They take pride in using the best of these grains.  These grains are cooked with natural cave water to create a mash. 
  • One of the reasons that the distillery made its home at their current location was the fact that there was cave water which is used to make JDTW. 
  • The area known as the Rickyard is where they make their own charcoal.  JDTW is seeped in charcoal which is one of the elements that give their whiskey a smooth taste. 
  • They make their own barrels at the Jack Daniels distillery.  This is used to store and age the JDTW.  These barrels are only used once.  The barrels are then sold to Scotch producers to use for their own aging processes.
  • Lynchburg, Tennessee is a “Dry County” meaning that no alcohol can be sold in the entire County.  At the Jack Daniel’s distillery, they sell collector’s bottles.  (I bought a $50 bottle of JDTW and brought it back in my suitcase.)

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend this free tour.  JDTW takes great pride in their products and it really shows.

Nashville Highlights: Part II

Memphis is known to have some of the best bbq in the world. Being that I was three hours away from Memphis, it didn’t look likely I would get any Memphis style bbq on this trip.  Lucky for me, I found that one of the three bbq joints opened by Pat and Gina Neely was located in Nashville.  The Neelys are Food Network celebrities with a show called “Down Home With the Neelys.”  You may remember in a previous blog post, I made fried green tomatoes using their recipe and it was delish.

Three of us were on our way to find Neely’s Barbecue.  It was a rainy evening and surprisingly empty when we arrived.  The restaurant is very casual with writing all over the walls.  You order and pay for your food at the counter and the wait staff delivers the food to you.  Described as “Only for the Hungry,” I decided to share the sampler platter with a friend.  It had pulled pork, pork ribs, sliced beef, and sliced turkey.  Each of these meats were smoked with dry rub and topped with bbq sauce.  The sides that came with these meats were cole slaw and bbq baked beans.  I tried everything except for the beef and enjoyed them.  My favorite was definitely the pulled pork.  It was nice to share the sampler so that I could try a variety of food and at the same time not be overwhelmed.  This platter was the perfect amount of food for two.  My BFF had ordered the bbq spaghetti.  This is a mixture of bbq and spaghetti sauce poured over pasta and pork. The flavor was good, but I thought the noodles were too soft for my taste.  The best thing of the evening however was the dessert that she ordered which was the “Sock it to Me” cake.  This was a pleasant surprise.  It was an incredibly light and tasty cake and was not too sweet.  The great news is that the recipe is available online.  (Future blog?)  Overall, I thought the Neely’s was pretty good, but definitely not the best barbecue in the world. I will however, without a shadow of a doubt recommend the pulled pork and the “Sock it to Me” cake!

Stay tuned for Nashville Part III: Whiskey

Nashville Highlights: Part I

I just got back from Tennessee late last night and spent most of my time in Nashville.  Southern comfort food was on my radar while I was in Nashville.  My very first meal was dinner at Monnell’s.  This restaurant is located in a beautiful Victorian building located in historic Germantown.  There are three dining rooms at Monell’s each one having one large dining table holding about 15 people each.  “Pass the peas, please!” is their motto because this is a family style restaurant where you are seated at a table with strangers. The wait staff brings out platters and bowls and you pass them along to the person sitting next to you.  The abundance of food felt like Thanksgiving.  The main courses the night my BFF and I were there were pork chops and baked chicken.  In addition, every night they serve their famous skillet fried chicken and a variety of southern side dishes such as macaroni and cheese, fried apples, and corn pudding.  Being that this was a completely new experience with strangers close by and food being passed very quickly, I didn’t take photos.  I enjoyed all the food, but the skillet fried chicken was the clear standout.  It was also a fun experience dining with strangers and getting to know a little bit about them.  There is at least one thing we have in common – the love of food.  Our table included a group of visitors who worked in country radio.  I was excited to tell them that we were going to see Carrie Underwood at the Grand Ole Opry.  Some of them had dinner at Monell’s the night before and were returning tonight with more of their friends.  We were also committed to returning again but the next visit would be for their weekend country breakfast.  No longer a newbie, the camera would come along.

Offered only on weekends, we enjoyed smoked sausage, bacon, country ham, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese grits, fried apple, corn pudding, and skillet fried chicken. I enjoyed the country breakfast even more than the other night’s dinner.  This time we sat with several parties and our neighbors were sisters from Knoxville that frequently leave their husbands to take care of their families so they can come to Nashville to watch the Tennessee Volunteers, the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team.  My neighbor asked me if I liked the country ham.  This is something she doesn’t like and neither did my BFF.  I like salt so I wasn’t bothered too much by the salty flavor.  It was the smokey flavor that I enjoyed.  I admit that I probably couldn’t eat too much of it.  My favorites were the fluffy biscuits, the corn pudding (my first time), and of course the skillet fried chicken. 

Monell’s is a great overall experience and I recommend it to anyone visiting Nashville.  Not only is the food good and plentiful, the communal dining experience is fun and enjoyable. 

I was also hoping for some good barbecue while I was in Tennessee.  Stay tuned for Part II.