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Author: nmalekan@gmail.com

Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

“Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance,” said Epicurus.
 
After celebrating a tradition-rich Nowouz which is the Persian New Year marked by the first day of spring, my family celebrated Passover. Over the same weekend some celebrated Easter, some seezdah-bedar, some weekly Sunday suppers- and many other traditions continued around the word. Though the observers and rituals may have been different, the common denominator was a festive meal.
 

At Basil & Roses we call it “Breaking Bread together In Style.” But no matter what your style, customs or origin story- when we gather to enjoy a meal, we are unified in engaging in a tradition as old as humanity—one which transcends national borders and cultural divides.  I wrote about the magic of gathering around the fire, and how we gather around the hearth and our tables to pay homage to the gift of generosity we’ve received in our lifetime. Today, I am wondering, how to expand that circle further.

As I reflect on my own experiences, I realize what a privilege it was to grow up in a home with many gatherings. My parents were extraordinary hosts who believed in the art of bringing people together and creating memories.  Indeed much bread has been broken under the roof of their loving home.

Today, the long dining table in my family home has a magical aura about it. It is as if, the collective energy of the all the people who have shared a meal around this table has penetrated the wooden top, permeates the room and gives back a little bit of that joy to every newcomer. That energy gives the dining room the fragrance of light happiness, gently perfumed by the memory of the scent of the 68,000 estimated onions chopped in its adjacent kitchen over the past twenty two years.

It is that magic which I want to spread with this essay and with my cooking. It is undoubtedly special to share a meal with those dear to us. Wouldn’t be nice if we extended that offer to others we have the opportunity to get to know better? I’m not suggesting inviting strangers off the street into our homes, but maybe we can expand our reach and open our tables to those we don’t know as well. To those with different political points of view, different religious beliefs, different lifestyles. Though not an easy task, perhaps while we’re breaking bread together, we can learn to listen to each other, break barriers and build bridges to ultimately learn from one another.

Our society seems more segmented than ever today. But when we break bread together, somehow we are equal. Through the ingredients of the meal, we share a common connection to the the earth and sun which worked to create sustenance for us. There are organizations all over the US doing great work with their own “breaking bread, breaking barriers” projects supporting refugee communities. Community meals are sponsored by Churches, Mosques and Synagogues everywhere. Community restaurants like Soul Kitchen in NJ, are offering locally sourced ingredients along with dignity for those in need.

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” says Michael Pollan.

Eating delicious food is an indulgence. But there can also be great satisfaction with sharing your food with others.  Whether you break bread with two people or your entire community, try reaching out. You may be surprised how many people are interested in your traditions. Consider the potential of the connections you can create with this small effort. We live in a world in which there are 7,000 estimated languages spoken, but there is one that is universal and that is food! Let’s start the dialogue… or simply, invite those neighbors which we never got to know, over for dinner one night next week.

“In the shade of the lemon grove I break off a hunch of bread, sprinkle it with the delicious fruity olive oil, empty my glass of sour white Capri wine; and remember that Norman Douglas once wrote that whoever has helped us to a larger understanding is entitled to our gratitude for all time.” A beautiful quote from Elizabeth David- a soulful food visionary of the 1950’s.

What is the moral of the story here?

Eat simply and eat together.

Below I share with you photos of the gorgeous dishes our generous hosts prepared for us this past Passover. Once again, I was grateful for meeting new faces at these tables, and the indulgences inspired but family, tradition and love.

Hope to see you at a table soon and break break together in style!

 

 

 

Will you be my Valentine?

Will you be my Valentine?

Happy Valentines Day, Friends!

Weather you celebrate this holiday, tonight is a good night to cook for someone you care about. Below are a few of our favorite recipes which are romantic or just perfect for enjoying with loves ones.

Today, as I walked in the streets of NYC, I was amazed by the overwhelming presences of roses and flower bouquets everywhere! At 3 times the usual price of course. Every street corner was filled with massive amounts of flowers and folks were fervently purchasing their favorites. It was as if the signs said “Love on sale here, get it before it’s gone!” I am no cynic, I am utterly obsessed with Roses as you know and nothing makes me happier than receiving flowers as gifts.

But I believe in showing the people we care about that we love them all the time. On a random Monday, just because, and for no reason other than expressing kindness, gratitude and love. If we can’t do that the other 364 days of the year, overpriced roses from the corner bodega nor the most luxe florist in town will make up for our shortfall.

And of course what better gift than to take the time to prepare a delicious meal for someone? Most of us have treasured memories of people who have cooked for us- Parents, Grandparents, romantic partners or Friends… We cherish these memories because they are a special reminder of the love and generosity we’ve received in our lifetime. So give your valentine flowers today, and make them a lovely dinner- but also do it next Thursday, and the following Friday perhaps, and then again not too far from then…

“And still, after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.”

~ Hafez

 

For your vegetarian Valentine

Chickpea & Cauliflower Coconut Curry

Green Garden Herb Basmati Rice

Cauliflower Parmesan

 

For your Meat Lovin’ Valentine

The Best Steak of Their Life with a side of Rosemary & Sea Salt Baked Potato Chips or Parmesan Smashed Potatoes. 

Hot and Spicy Thai Basil Beef Stir Fry

 

For Sensational Seafood with your Valentine

Elegant Panko Crusted Dijon Cod with a lovely Mediterranean chopped salad.

Feisty Tequila Lime Fish Tacos with a Colorful Mango Salsa, a side of Guac and a Fresh Lime Margarita.

 

Cauliflower “Parmesan”

Cauliflower “Parmesan”

Oh glorious cauliflower, how we love you so. A blank canvas which you can do so much with- from roasting, to sauteing, to ricing and beyond. Because of the relatively mild flavor, cauliflower works nicely with vibrant flavors like lemon, caper and herbs, as in our favorite Chimichurri sauce or our golden roasted recipe with a tangy tahini sauce.

On any given week, roasted cauliflower is on the dinner menu as a side dish in our home. But this humble vegetable can be the star, especially all dressed up in spicy tomato sauce and bubbly, melty cheese.

One of my personal favorite recipes, I present to you the Basil & Roses Beautiful Cauliflower Parmesan! It’s our healthy take on an eggplant or chicken Parm. Flavorful and satisfying with a lovely presentation for a feast for your eyes.

The presentation of this dish is simple but stunningly beautiful. Pair with a lovely Italian red wine like a Chianti Classico or Montepulciano and enjoy with someone special- or just make it for your own fabulous self and relish in the simple elegance of perfectly paired ingredients.

Ingredients:
1 whole head cauliflower
1 1/2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce ( I like Dave’s Gourmet Spicy Heirloom)
2-3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried garlic powder
1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
Kosher salt + pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425°.
Carefully cut cauliflower into 3 thick pieces, holding carefully so florets don’t crumble.
Lay flat on cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano and garlic powder.
Roast for 25-30 minutes or until slightly golden.
Remove from oven.
Sprinkle a thin layer of Mozzarella cheese.
Generously cover with Marinara sauce.
Sprinkle with a pinch more dried oregano.
Sprinkle remaining shredded Mozzarella cheese on top of sauce.
Place back in the over until cheese melts and is nice and bubbly.
Remove from oven, serve with grated Parmesan cheese and freshly gated black pepper.

Skillet Chicken Thighs With Shallot, Lemon & Herbs

Skillet Chicken Thighs With Shallot, Lemon & Herbs

A sophisticated yet humble approach to cooking is all you need for this recipe. It is about technique. A simple one which delivers results fabulous enough for a gathering, yet quick enough for a weeknight dinner.

I have always enjoyed the down-to-earth-ness of cooking with cast iron skillets. But in the past few months, I’ve learned it is more than a look or a feel. This tool delivers fantastic results- mainly because it retains heat within the metal, cooking food uniformly at hot temperatures, and leading to superior flavors.

They are heavy in weight and require small maintenance (mainly to avoid rust), but the minor care is well worth the end results. I became a believer after making our “Best Steak of Your Life” recipe in a cast iron skillet. I’ve made many fantastic recipes since and my favorite go-to dish is Skillet Chicken Thighs! Regardless of what aromatics you use, the technique of cooking the chicken skin side down to render the natural fats, make the skin crispy and draws out phenomenal flavor!

In this rendition I use shallots, rosemary, thyme and caramelize lemons. But this recipe is infinitely customizeable. Swap the rosemary for oregano, add mushrooms or sweet tender peas. Zucchini and squash take well to this rustic recipe as well. Get creative with your favorite veggies and herbs, you can’t mess this up!

Note- My favorite skillet is the Lodge Seasoned 12″ pan found here. The supplier Quiverr provides excellent customer service on how to best care for your cast iron.

Ingredients:
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (approximately 2.5 pounds)
1 large or 2 small lemons, sliced
1-2 small shallots, sliced
1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes (adjust to taste)
4-5 sprigs fresh rosemary and thyme (if you don’t have fresh herbs, dried oregano works well too)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 425°.
Pat dry chicken with a paper towel (any water will cause messy splatter).
Season chicken generously with salt + pepper on both sides.
Slice the lemon, reserving some juice for later.

Heat skillet to medium after coating with 1 teaspoon of grape seed oil or any vegetable oil with a high smoke point. You can use olive oil, it only means you’ll have more smoke while cooking.

Add chicken skin side down and listen to the sizzle as the skin browns while the natural fat is rendered.
Cook chicken this way for 8-10 minutes or until halfway cooked through.
Transfer chicken from skillet to platter.

Layer 1/2 the lemon slices on bottom of skillet, add chicken back on top of lemons (skin side up), and add remaining lemon slices among chicken thighs.
Lemons on the bottom will beautifully caramelize while top lemons soften.
Transfer skillet to oven, allowing chicken to cook through (approximately 8 minutes).
Remove skillet from oven and move caramelized lemons and chicken to a plate.

On medium heat, add shallots, garlic, herbs and red chili flakes to the soft lemons in the skillet.
Stir frequently for 1-2 minutes. The aromas will we wonderful at this point.
Add the wine to skillet to de-glaze the plan, scraping flavor-packed brown bits from bottom of pan.
Squeeze remaining lemon into sauce and season with salt + pepper.
Return chicken to skillet and nestle in the delicious sauce you just created.
Make sure thighs are not submerged in sauce to maintain crispiness.
Top with caramelized lemons and serve!

 

Gather

Gather

Hanukkah, Christmas, Festiuvs, Yaldaa or surviving 2017: No matter what we  just celebrated, we sent off last year with a bang and welcomed 2018.

New beginnings are a good time to press the wellness reset button, but healthy living can be a year-long lifestyle and need not be limited to new year resolutions. As we begin the year, I remind myself to set achievable goals, eat nutritious but delicious food, learn as much as possible, be kind to myself and others, let old wounds heal, practice gratitude, and make life as colorful as possible.

Last year was certainly colorful. 2017 tested me. But as I reflect on the last twelve months, I realize the positives outweighed the challenges and there was much to be grateful for. Mostly, the incredible people I have in my life and the extraordinary experiences we shared. Not surprisingly, many of those occurred around the table as we broke bread together, told our stories, laughed at our fortunes, waxed poetic about the future and perhaps even learned a bit about ourselves along the way. “Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind,” Einstein wrote, “life would have seemed to me empty.” Indeed.

I have written about gathering around the fire. Today, on a cold snowy day in NYC, I sip hot chai and reflect on the warm memories of last year. I smile remembering the gorgeous tables we gathered around, the delightful food we ate, and the marvelous people who’s company I had the pleasure to keep. Michael Polan says “the shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending.” It is also a place where our fondest memories live. Where we receive the gift of love by those who prepared those meals for us. It is where we are reminded of the power of coming together.

My memories of this gift begin in Naz year zero. My parents have always been extraordinary and generous hosts. Bringing people together and creating countless memories is an art form they have mastered a thousand times over. The loving energy created around their tables, is my eternal source of inspiration. I wrote more about that here.

In the meantime, I want to point out the only difference between the first two photos in this post are 37 years and geography. Otherwise, in both photos you see my beautiful Mother at the head of the table of her loving home, and me really excited about what we’re about to eat! Just a bit of role reversal in who’s serving whom.

Happy new year from Basil and Roses! Below are a few of our favorite “gatherings” of 2017 and the recipes they inspired.

Wishing you a colorful and meaning year!

Naz

“Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” Epicurus

Pretty Pickled Onions

Roasted Cauliflower with The Evergreen Chimichurri Sauce

Beer & Basil Braised Brisket

Nani’s Classic Tomato, Onion & Feta Omelette (recipe coming in 2018)

Mama’s Mexican Fiesta (Fish Taco, Guacamole, Mango Salsa, Cabbage Slaw, Pico, Fresh Margaritas)

Tuscan Inspired Lemon-Rosemary Chicken with Cannelini Beans

Persian Stuffed Peppers

Shirazi Salad (or Israeli Salad or Mediterranean chopped salad)

Sesame Crusted Baked Salmon

Cindy’s Fabulous Holiday Rib Roast (Recipe coming in 2018!)

Green Goddess Basmati Rice with Basil, Mint, Chive and an Unexpected Trip Home

Smoked Salmon & Creme Fraiche Canapes with Fresh Dill

Chickpea & Cauliflower Coconut Curry

 

Other Top 2017 Recipes to try:

Nani’s Healthy But Decadent Butternut Squash Soup

Spicy Thai Basil Beef

Citrusy Chicken Skewers with Mint-Basil Sauce

Panko-Crusted Dijon Cod

The Best Steak Of Your Life

Roasted Veggie Quinoa Medly

Mint & Cannelini Bean Tuna Salad

Roasted Cauliflower with Tangy Tahini Sauce

Baklava

Nani’s Decadent But Healthy Butternut Squash Soup

Nani’s Decadent But Healthy Butternut Squash Soup

Pumpkins are in season now and there is no fall flavor I like more than butternut squash. In Farsi they are called lazy pumpkin (kadoo tanbal), which I think is hilarious. Butternut is the perfect name for this tender, sweet and nutty flavor. I simply roast it in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. That’s it and it’s divine! With this recipe, I take the indulgence one step further to make a rich and savory soup.

The key to the amazing flavor is roasting the squash with garlic, onion and a red bell pepper, then blending all together for a smooth and creamy texture. The result is a complex, rich and silky soup with substance. I made it for Thanksgiving last year and it was a huge hit. It is naturally back on the menu again this year. Try it for your Thanksgiving celebration or all winter long- I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Note- I serve the soup with homemade crostini and a garnish of fresh thyme.
For the corstini, simply sprinkle the bread of your choice with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and toast in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.

Recipes serves around 6-8 people, double or triple ingredients for a crowd pleaser- I sure will be this upcoming holiday.

The first harvest of butternut squash in Malekan Gardens!
Chickpea & Cauliflower Coconut Curry

Chickpea & Cauliflower Coconut Curry

My latest curry craving almost had me ordering take out, but why do that when you can make fabulous vegetable curry in a snap at home? It is a great go-to dish when you want to impress someone, feed a crowd or just craving curry goodness.

Warning, this is a crazy addictive coconut curry! You can substitute vegetables and  proteins to your liking, but this combo is literally awesome sauce.

What is the magic ingredient? Store-bought curry paste. Most varieties have ingredients which you can only find at Asian Markets. Since most of us don’t have lemongrass, kaffir lime, and galangal laying around, this is a great way to achieve authentic flavors.

This recipe is healthy with the added indulgence of a creamy coconut sauce. The miracle of this decadence is that it is vegan and dairy free, despite its richness. It is one of my absolute favorite dishes to eat and just one of those perfect recipes that satisfies many a taste buds and preferences. 

It keeps well, so make a pot of it and you’ll have fabulous leftovers for a couple of lunches during the week.

 

 

Muffin Tin Egg Frittatas

Muffin Tin Egg Frittatas

These flavorful muffin tin frittatas are fun, easy to make and a good solution for quick make ahead breakfast. Make your weekdays easier by making a batch over the weekend. It’s also a great way to prepare eggs for a group.

There are countless filling options. I used tomato, basil, spinach & cheddar but you can incorporate your favorites. Note- this also a good way to utilize leftover salads and veggies. Get inspired by your favorite omelettes. Either way, the end result is simple & delicious!

Other combo ideas:
-Mushrooms, peppers, onions, cheddar
-Spinach, tomato, feta
-Asparagus and cheese
-Goat cheese, spinach and tomatoes
-Spinach and ricotta
-Chive, tomato and goat cheese
-Smoked mozzarella, sun-dried tomato, basil pesto
-Onion and mushroom
-Mushroom and sausage



 

Of course, you can never have enough egg recipes. For further inspiration check out our Scallion & Turmeric Mushroom Omelette , Elegant Egg Salad or Exquisite Hard Boiled Eggs

Spicy Thai Basil Beef

Spicy Thai Basil Beef

For the one year anniversary of the blog, I wanted to create a new recipe which was festive, simple, colorful and fun. It was a celebration after all. Earlier that week, I had discovered the amazing flavor combination of Serrano chili and garlic while cooking dinner with my friend Anjali in Brooklyn. We made a classic Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Grapow) and I learned about the garlic/Serrano punch there.

That wonderful dinner in BK organically became the inspiration for the Basil & Roses anniversary recipe. We had lots of Basil and Rosé, toasted to a fun year of fabulous recipes and enjoyed a spicy meal followed by dancing and laughter. It was a good night.

This recipe uses Beef but you can use any protein you like- chicken or tofu work well. You can also adjust the heat level by either reducing the amount of chilies or removing seeds and veins from the peppers.

Pretty Pickled Onions

Pretty Pickled Onions

I experimented with quick pickling last memorial day and they were a hit!

Back in May, I made them as a condiment for the Ultimate Naz Burger. Since then, they’ve become a family staple. We use them on everything for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They work with countless dishes. They can be a nice addition to simple eggs, add a bright zing to any salad or sandwich, and their tangy goodness offers a balanced compliment to anything rich or sweet (i.e. roasted butternut squash or a creamy soup).

Besides, it takes about 10 minutes to make and the beautiful crimson jewel-toned color is gorgeous!

Full instructions are below, but you basically slice the onions and submerge in a bath of vinegar, sugar and salt. After some experimentation, I’ve come up with the perfect ratio of those elements. You don’t want the end result to be too sour, sweet or salty.

After you put everything together, refrigerate for 3-4 hours. But honestly, it starts tasting pretty darn good in about an hour. You can add aromatics like garlic, thyme and peppercorns if that tickles your fancy. But this simple 4 ingredient version will be hit without the extras.

 

 

Like the recipe? Feel free to share with us your rendition on our Basil and Roses Facebook page or @basilandroses on Instagram using the hashtag #PrettyPickledOnions 

Enjoy ya’all!