Sholeh Zard

January 20, 2015



Sunny Buttery Saffron Rice Pudding

Rice pudding is the chicken soup of desserts. Ultimate comfort food, it's an international dish that changes its style as it travels the world.

Once again perusing my stack of Time-Life books I came upon another recipe I couldn’t resist: sholeh-zard, or Persian saffron rice pudding. A goldenrod smear on the page suggests I once made this, but I have no memory of it.

Intrigued by the saffron – and the fact that this rice pudding contains no milk – I decided to try it. Unlike the two previous recipes I’ve written about here, this one was so sweet and so strongly redolent of rose water that I made a few serious modifications. Trolling around on the internet I found that sholeh-zard is traditionally incredibly sweet; one recipe I found called for three cups of sugar to one cup of rice. And the classic version is so strongly perfumed with rosewater that some recipes call for as much as a cup. But I've made this to my own taste, so it's less sweet and less perfumed.

It is also, in my opinion, very delicious.


Serves 12 

2 quarts water

1 cup basmati or Iranian rice, rinsed and soaked

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons saffron threads, pulverized with a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon, and dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1-3 tablespoons rose water

6 tablespoons slivered blanched almonds

4 tablespoons slivered or finely chopped unsalted pistachios

1 teaspoon cinnamon (garnish)

In a heavy 4-5 quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Pour in the rice and salt and stir. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. The rice will still be quite watery. Stir in the sugar, then add the butter and the saffron mixture and continue stirring over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, the butter has melted, and the rice is bright yellow. Stir in the slivered almonds, and 1 tablespoon of the pistachios and, stirring occasionally, cook for 30 minutes longer until the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape almost solidly in the spoon. 

Stir in the rose water according to taste. Ladle into a bowl or several small ramekins. Let cool at room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least two hours. Traditionally, this pudding is decorated with lines of cinnamon and nuts laid out in your own personal design.

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January 17, 2015

A Great New Site You Want to Know About

As you probably know, I'm very partial to Cherry Bombe, the beautiful food magazine that celebrates women and food. It's the counterpoint to Lucky Peach, the gonzo food magazine whose every issue teems with kooky art, pages-long recipes for classic delicacies (stag pizzle soup anyone?), and a long meaty read or two. 

In the seventies, both of these would have been niche magazines, fiendishly passed around NY's fine dining kitchens. But in today’s food-obsessed universe they’re the troubadours for a generation of savvy, irreverent gourmands. And now Lucky Peach has just launched a real-deal website. Lucky us. 

The site is as intelligently done as the rest of the magazine. Take a look at the Atlas section, where contributors like David Chang recommend their favorite restaurants around the world. The list is small, but if our luck holds this will evolve into an enlightened alternative to Yelp. 

In the features section I'm very partial to Brette Warshaw’s NYC Ramen survey, Slurp & the City; this is a voice to be reckoned with.  There’s also enough of the magazine’s archives up there to steal your afternoon.  Another favorite: Peter Meehan on Claudia Fleming.


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Another One from the Time-Life Series

January 15, 2015

Curried Cauliflower

Flipping through my Time-Life cookbooks is like stepping into a temperamental time machine. Some food-splotched recipes ring no bells, while others summon memories so vivid I can literally smell them.  How many times did I make that manicotti, and for how many people?  Suddenly I’m lugging it up the rickety steps of an abandoned building on Stanton Street that a friend once called home, still warm from my oven. There was only one fork for every two people that night – which made the manicotti taste even better. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve made the ghobi sabzi (curried cauliflower) below. As I was cooking, I tried to predict what I would think of the flavor. Would it seem blandly familiar, like a robust curry that had been flattened to suit a mainstream American palette from the sixties?

Just the opposite. This dish may not be entirely authentic, but it really sings. With the exception of the black mustard seeds, you probably have the ingredients in your cupboard right now. It's easy to make and utterly delicious–comforting, richly spiced, perfectly balanced. I moved onto a second bowl almost immediately after finishing the first.

Gobhi Sabzi (Adapted from The Cooking of India )

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon scraped, finely chopped fresh ginger

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 head cauliflower, washed, trimmed, divided into small flowerets, and dried thoroughly 

1 small ripe tomato, washed, cored and finely chopped

1 fresh jalapeño or serrano, washed, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon ghee, melted (clarified butter)

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Stir in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger and onions. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, add the salt and turmeric, and continue stirring for 3 or 4 minutes. 

Drop in the cauliflower and turn the flowerets about with a spoon until they are evenly coated with the onion mixture. Then stir in the tomato, chili, ground cumin, sugar. Reduce the heat to medium low, and stirring occasionally, cook over moderate heat until the cauliflower is tender but still intact, 10-15 minutes. 

To serve, transfer to a bowl, and sprinkle with cilantro and ghee. 


What I Discovered at the Good Food Marketplace

January 13, 2015


That's me,  Alice (Waters) and Nell (Newman), at the end of the Good Food Awards in San Francisco. We hand out the medals every year, to a slew of impressive artisans who are making outstanding charcuterie, cheese, honey, chocolate, oils, pickles, preserves, coffee, beer and booze. Afterward there's a Marketplace at the Ferry Building where you can taste the country's best sustainable food products under one roof. 

I always discover a few new foods to fall in love with. This year, to my surprise, it was chocolates. Two chocolatiers really had me hooked: Black Dinah Chocolatiers from Maine and Askinosie Chocolate from Missouri. 

Black Dinah Chocolatiers produce their delicious products on Isle Au Haut, Maine, an island 45 minutes from the coast (by mailboat). Isle Au Haut has so few inhabitants that almost all of them serve as chocolate tasters to the company. The center of the operation is an enchanted-seeming chocolate cafe. Getting there isn't easy, so it's nice to know they sell their chocolates online. Smooth, mellow, balanced… their Cassis de Resistance won a medal this year. No surprise. 

An even more exciting operation: Askinosie Chocolate, the brainchild of former criminal defense lawyer Shawn Askinosie. He's an impressive person who does much more than merely buy chocolate from good farmers. He pays them well – and also shares the profits. Among the many programs Askinoise has engineered is one that feeds 800 schoolchildren free lunch at Milagros School in Davao, Philippines. He does it by selling hot chocolate from the community on the Askinsowe website and returning 100 percent of the profits. There's also a chocolate university – and so much more. If you have any interest in chocolate, this is a man to follow: he makes you proud to be a chocolate eater. As for the chocolate itself – it's fantastic. 

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Meatballs for a New Year

January 10, 2015


A Taste of the Past

I love revisiting the cookbooks I used growing up.  They shaped me as much as any novel, and flipping through the sauce-splotched pages takes me back, makes me remember long-forgotten dishes.

But dusting off the Time-Life Foods of the World books is an entirely different experience. These 27 books, with their accompanying spiral-bound recipe books, opened up whole words to me. They were beautifully produced and written by some of the greats: Julia Child, James Beard, MFK Fisher, Richard Olney….. Today, as I was looking at the recipes in Middle Eastern Cooking I was struck by how radically things have changed. So many of these once-exotic foods are now available in your average supermarket. Hummus, dolmas, tabouli…..

Then I came upon this recipe for keftedakia.  When I first got the book I was enchanted by the idea of meatballs laced with ouzo and mint, and I immediately gathered the ingredients.  My friends were equally excited.  Making them again, after all this time, I was struck by one anachronism in the recipe. After you mix your ground raw beef, you're supposed to taste it for seasoning. In this age of e-coli and ground beef recalls, no mainstream publication would dare make that suggestion. On the other hand, if you buy your meat from a whole animal butcher, or grind your beef yourself …. 

Keftedakia (Adapted from Time-Life Middle Eastern Cooking)

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or first course (about 40 meatballs)  

2 slices white bread, trimmed of crusts and torn into little pieces

1/4 cup ouzo

olive oil

vegetable oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

1 pound ground beef

1 egg

1 tablespoon finely-cut fresh mint leaves

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt (or less)

black pepper

1/2 cup flour

Soak the bread in the ouzo for five minutes. Meanwhile, sauté onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil until wilted, about five minutes. Be careful not to brown them. Set aside in a large bowl.

Squeeze the bread dry and discard the ouzo. Add the bread, ground beef, egg, mint, garlic, oregano, salt and a few grindings of pepper to the onions. Knead vigorously with both hands, then beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. (Taste for seasoning.)

Moistening your hands periodically with cold water, shape the beef mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Then roll the balls in flour to coat them lightly. Refrigerate balls for one hour. 

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Add 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the skillet and bring to medium-high heat. Drop 10 or so meatballs into the pan at a time, shaking the pan from time to time to brown them evenly. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until cooked through. Transfer the meatballs to the oven to keep warm. Serve with fresh mint as garnish. 

It's not in the Time-Life recipe, but I like a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top.