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Nowruz! The Beginning of Spring & The Persian New Year

Nowruz! The Beginning of Spring & The Persian New Year

My favorite time of year has arrived! The first day of Spring marks the Persian New year, celebrated for over 3,000 years. It translates to “new day” and represents a fresh new beginning. Scientifically called the vernal equinox, it occurs the exact moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and spring begins in the Northern hemisphere. The duration of the day and night are equal, on so begins a new cycle of life.

As a child growing up in Iran and for the last 27 years in my Iranian-American diaspora community, Nowruz not only evokes fresh beginnings, but it also connects me to  my family’s traditions and an ancient heritage left in the distant places where my ancestors once used to live out their hopes and aspirations.

The notion of hope and a fresh chapter in the story is life, is universal. Nowruz is celebrated by an estimated 190-250 million people around the world and has been kept alive through a series of beautiful and meaningful symbolic traditions. Growing up the scents of memories of Nowruz were distinct: smelling the hyacinth (sombol) wafting through the house, shopping at the market for greens and goldfish, spring cleaning, leaping over bonfires, buying new clothes, reading the poetry of the eternal Hafez of Shiraz and sharing festive meals with loved ones. These traditions are what make this holiday so special. We set a haftseen, a table filled with symbolic items to represent some of these traditions. We visit loved ones, exchange gifts and eat lots and lots of beautiful foods and sweets.  There is symbolism in the food as well. For example Persians traditionally eat “Sabzi Polo Mahi”- Basmati rice with fresh dill accompanied by fish.  The fresh herbs represent rebirth and fish represents life.  Some of the symbolism of the haftseen is mentined below. These are just to name a few. In the coming days I’ll be posting the various recipes of the delicious food we enjoy over this festive holiday.

For the moment here is the Basil and Roses menu and a sneak peek of the dishes we enjoy over this 13 day holiday.

Wishing you all a beautiful New Day and all the best new beginnings your hearts desire! Nowruz Mobarak!
نوروزتان پیروز ، هر روزتان نوروز !

Sabzeh/Sprouts- grass grown from wheat or lentils, representing rebirth

Seeb/Apple– representing health and beauty

Samanu– A sweet creamy pudding, representing humility

Senjed– sweet and dry fruit of the lotus tree, representing love

Serkeh/Vinager- representing age and patience

Seer/Garlic– representing medicine and good health

Somaq/Sumac– A spice representing sunrise and light overcoming darkness

 

 

 

Musical Inspiration

Leila Forouhar- Nowrooz

Tuscan Inspired Lemon-Rosemary Chicken with Cannellini Beans & Roasted Squash-Arugula Salad

Tuscan Inspired Lemon-Rosemary Chicken with Cannellini Beans & Roasted Squash-Arugula Salad

There’s something so fulfilling about roasted chicken and this sense of satisfaction is universal. The warm aromas that fill the kitchen while it cooks are comforting and feel like home. I love the different ways you can roast chicken with endless herbs and veggies- somehow lemon and rosemary end up on the rotation more often than others. There is something magical about how this combination marries with garlic and olive oil. You can develop deep flavors in this  simple recipe. The cannellini beans are creamy and filling and beautifully absorb the rosemary, garlic + lemon. The kitchen will smell divine too.

Once the salad is made, serve with chicken and a nice glass of white wine. If you’re inspired by the rustic Tuscan flavors, try a nice Vermentino. Tuscany is known mainly for it’s red wines but there are lovely whites as well from the coastal regions of Tuscany known as “La Costa Toscana!” Just the name is divine! (forgive me, I’m taking Italian lessons and I’m in love with the language). According to Zester Daily, “Vermentino should have an appealing sapidità, a difficult word to translate into English — “sapidity”. Essentially it should leave you wanting another taste, or indeed another glass.”                  No arm twisting required here…

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Lemon-Rosemary-Garlic Chicken with Cannellini Beans

 

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Roasted Squash-Arugula Salad

 

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Musical Inspiration:

Andrea Bocelli, Melodramma (Vivere Live in Tuscany)

 

Baklava

Baklava

Like many other traditional foods of the past, the origin of baklava is difficult to narrow down. Every ethnic group with ancestry connected to the Middle East has some claim to this delicious pastry.  It seems generally accepted that Baklava was first made by the Assyrians around 8th century B.C.- who layered nuts with unleavened flat bread and drenched with honey.

The type of nuts or syrup ingredients often suggest the origin of the recipe. Syrup with rose water and cardamom is most likely be from Iran or Arab countries. While syrup with cinnamon and cloves is more associated with characteristic of the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and those of the western part of the Middle East. The Greeks version is often more walnut heavy.

I’ve had them all! Persian, Greek and Turkish baklava are all sumptuous in their own way. The Persian iteration  with the saffron + pistachios reminds of my Grandmother. The Greek variety takes me back to a wonderful trip to Mykonos a couple of years ago and the Turkish version echoes the sound of the call to prayer which we I  had in the Sultan Ahmed area of the the old city in Istanbul.

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At the top of the world in magical Santorini
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In Istanbul, the honey on the baklava had a unique flavor, served with a rich cream. It was really enjoyable with tea or Turkish coffee of course!img_20151005_000044

So I decided to create my own version, taking a bit of inspiration from each culture. What can I say, I like the harmony of honey and nuts and dough. After all, there is a reason in ancient times Baklava was considered the food of the Gods!

My recipe is below. The layering requires a bit of patience and time but the end result is well worth the effort.

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Musical Inspiration-

Soap Kills – Cheftak

Autumn

Autumn

The seasons honor the passage of time… I like that.  As the days get shorter and temperatures lower, my love for the beauty of nature grows.  Each season has it’s own charm but the scarlet, saffron and gold hues of Fall are uniquely special.  The days wane and the nights arrive sooner as we turn back the clocks- but there is much warmth and comfort to be found in the hues, flavors and traditions of fall. Beautiful foliage hikes, apple picking, warm cider, cozy woolen sweaters, fireplaces and butternut squash just to name a few. And after all Thanksgiving is right around the corner!

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In the wake of the post 2016 election era, embracing change has become an important theme. Regardless of our political positions, there is a new season to embrace. And although the road ahead is unclear, we must remain hopeful and optimistic. Change is hard. Change in inevitable. But change is good. Sometimes we must lose something, in order to gain something greater. Deepak Chopra says that “all great changes are preceded by chaos.” In nature, autumn is a perfect example. The changing color of leaves is due to cold weather and less light which affects the way plants create chlorophyll – the green pigment that captures light and powers photosynthesis and makes plants green. This disruption allows other tones to shine through giving leaves a more red or orange color. The loss and breakdown of one element, allows the the splendor and growth of another through color and beauty.

In my garden, the Hydrangeas’ colors change as the acidity of the soil changes. Their slow and remarkable transition is filled with wonder. The white hydrangeas turn a mauvy pink, the blue turn green, the light purple turns a deep burgundy and the bright pink ones wear the cloak of deep magenta. Some growers intentionally force the color change by adjusting the PH and aluminium levels of the soil. I don’t do that and simply enjoy the organic change of the earth as time passes.

George Bernard Shaw tells us “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” This is a time of year where many of us come together in the spirit of family and charity and focus on gratitude and self reflection. Change begins from within each of us. I hope America can find that spirit as we transition through our modern challenges and honor the passage of time with grace, understanding and respect for the nature of life and ultimately, for each other.

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Hafiz of Shiraz:

“Leave the familiar for a while.

Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season

Onto the meadow and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.

Make a new watermark on your excitement

And love.

Like a blooming night flower,

Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness

And giving

Upon our intimate assembly.

And Change rooms in your mind for a day.”

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Musical Inspiration:

~Vivaldi Four Seasons violin concerti,  Autumn- 1725

Green Garden Herb Basmati Rice with Basil, Mint, Chive + Rosemary (and an unexpected virtual trip home)

Green Garden Herb Basmati Rice with Basil, Mint, Chive + Rosemary (and an unexpected virtual trip home)

Rice is the ultimate comfort food. It has been farmed by people for over 10,000 years.

In the Hindi language “Bas” means “aroma” and “Mati” means “full of.” Growing up in a Persian family, that beautifully fragrant and earthy aroma  is part of the essential scents of home. The cue of happiness and and eternal symbol of family dinners, celebrations and tradition.

Cooking traditional Persian rice (with tahdig of course) is truly an art form. For how to create such a saffron scented masterpiece check out Persian Mama’s great recipe here. For a simpler and quicker recipe, I use a rice cooker. Not all rice cookers can deliver the crunchy and golden bottom of the pot goodness. Generally the Pars brand rice cookers do the trick.

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In this rendition, I highlight herbs in the garden using basil, mint, chive and rosemary for an aromatic rice dish guaranteed to feed the soul (nousheh jan...). I was recently in Philadelphia and ate at one of the best restaurants on the scene in recent years: Zahav. Here Chef Michael Solomonov beautifully highlights modern Israeli cuisine. I was greatly inspired by his vision, the story behind his culinary ventures and the flavors of the amazing meal we had that October eve in the city of brotherly love. The Zahav menu excited my senses and my palate was dancing, curiously processing the familiar and the new. As you looked around, most diners had a sense of exploration, discovering the colorful melody of flavors and layers in each dish. Simple, humble and deep flavor that payed homage to the chef’s roots, to his fallen brother and to the beautiful simplicity of the pleasures we can receive from the fruit of the earth.

For me personally, what resonated the most in this culinary adventure were the familiar flavors of home in the smoky eggplant, the coriander, the homemade bread, the grilled meats and the pomegranate. But most notably-  in the herbed basmati rice. The Al’Haesh dishes (grilled over coals) are served with a side of the basmati rice that was not only delicious, but momentarily took me home. This humble side dish became the center of what all the other plates harmoniously danced around. This beautiful little pot of rice had the power to transform me to another place and time. To the familiar places where we feel safe, comforted and loved. To where I remember being happy. To the quite corners of memory,  to our mother’s cooking and the taste of my grandmother’s love in an old kitchen in Isfahan.  Maya Angelou  says “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” I found myself at home in this beautiful experience, and I hope you do too by trying my basmati rice recipe.

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Ingredients:
3 cups uncooked basmati rice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large white onion
1 1/2 cups chopped chives
5 tablespoons chopped mint
3 tablespoons chopped basil
1 cup chopped cilantro
1-2  tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1/ 1/2-2 teaspoons black pepper (adjust to taste)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt (adjust to taste)

Directions:
Wash and drain rice.
Place rice in rice cooker. Cover with approx 1 inch of water above rice.
Add olive oil, onion, basil, mint, chives, cilantro, rosemary and salt + pepper.
Mix and turn on rice cooker. Continue to mix ingredients a couple of more times in the first 3-4 minutes if cooking so all ingredients are evenly spread throughout.
Let rice cooker do it’s magic!
Cook rice for approximately 1- 1 1/2 hours, or until the indicator lets you know the cooking is completed. A smaller rice cooker may only take around 45 minutes. The timing can vary depending on the size and model, but trust their settings. I’ve never had an issue.
Once cooking is finished, remove lid and place a plate on top of rice cooker bowl. Holding the sides with oven mitts, flip the golden rice cake with confidence!
Valiantly demonstrated by my cousin Payam, here:
If you don’t have a rice cooker, see here for instructions on how to cook in a regular pot.

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Musical Inspiration:

The Idan Raichel Project

http://idanraichelproject.com/en/

 

 

Remembering Rosemary

Remembering Rosemary

Ahhh Rosemary… One of my favorite herbs. “Rosemary” is derived from Latin words “ros” and “marinus”, which mean “dew of the sea” or “mist of the sea”. It refers to the coastal region that is occupied by this plant in it’s wild form.  As the days get shorter and the warm temperatures dwindle in early fall, the Rosemary in the garden is still going strong and one of the last herbs to continue giving to my garden. My inner poet can’t help but consider it the most royal of the garden, growing and giving until the very end. Perhaps this is why Rosemary is a symbol of loyalty and love. In certain parts of the world, bride, groom and their guests wear branches of rosemary during wedding ceremonies. During the English Tudor era, Rosemary symbolized fidelity, and brides would give sprigs of Rosemary to bridegroom as a tradition.

The history of Rosemary is fascinating and for centuries it was used to enhance memory. Recent studies suggest rosemary may sharpen memory and brain function and suggest it’s use for Alzheimer’s patients. Shakespeare may have agreed. In “Hamlet,” Ophelia waxes poetic about rosemary as she descends into madness. There’s Rosemary, that’s for Remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.” It’s also believed ancient Greeks wore rosemary in their hair to fortify their memory. The association between rosemary and memory has persisted throughout history. Personally, I love the the poetic history of the mist of the sea.  Sir Thomas More wrote: “I lett it runne all over my garden walls, not only because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance and therefore to friendship.”

For the last harvest of our historical herb, I wanted to celebrate this beautiful woodsy herb with the bittersweet nutty flavor and create a menu that highlights it’s fabulous fragrance!

Coming soon:

Rosemary skewered chicken

Green Garden Herb  basmati rice with mint, chive + Rosemary

Orange blossom Rosemary Gin Cocktail

Chopped kale salad with tomato, avocado, onion and lemon

Rosemary infused olive oil

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Istanbul

Istanbul

Travel has always been a source of inspiration. Experiencing new countries and getting to know them through their food- tiles my memory with a mosaic of color, flavor and nostalgia. During the past year of self discovery, Istanbul provided that for me on a level only second to a journey back to Iran 20 years after my family immigrated from my place of birth. Turkish culture has many parallels to Persian culture and that might explain why one sees many Iranians walking the streets of Istanbul. I heard more Farsi spoken there that I have in Great Neck!

Us Iranians, we are nostalgic people. Nostalgia is a common human sensation, but Persian culture is deeply impacted by the elusive dream of the past. Always distorted, always yearned for, and always seen as better days. It keeps us from the truth of the present and the pain of reality. It’s seen as something beautiful, something irrevocable and somewhere that will always be better than where we are now. Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris” portrays this sentiment well. Regardless of the decade, there is a constant notion that the “golden age” existed in the past and the story line follows various characters in the constant quest for better times.  However, like the unforeseeable future, the past itself is an idealized version of something we want it to be, not what we know as reality. Memory is fiction. An though at times I struggle with this truth, I still allow myself to relish in the people and places that take me to my idealized history, regardless of it’s distance from what may have actually happened.

Istanbul was that kind of journey. It was a last minute trip which ended up being one of the most profound travels of my adult life. To my surprise the food in Istanbul was not great. Aside from the endless spice bazaars which I bought a zillion colorful powders from, the food was bland. The meals were disappointing everywhere from street-food to high end restaurants. The kebabs were fatty, the lemons had a strange aftertaste and Manti was mushy. Besides the delicious baklava and teas and coffees we did not have any memorable meals.

However, despite this unexpected letdown, I was happy to be there. I felt a strong connection to this city, to it’s people, and to its history. All the sites we visited were beautiful and somewhat ethereal with their echos of the past. I became obsessed the tile work such as the ones in the Blue Mosque and fell utterly in love with Iznik Turkish Tile. I bought bowls and scarves and coasters with these beautiful patterns and even invested in tiles painted by an artists of Iznik tile who is dedicated to continuing this ancient art form, passed down generation to generation.

This was a magical journey amongst history, minerates, domes, culture and faith. Color and beauty collided in the smokey city where East met West, where inspiration bloomed, where ancient empires once stood and where today, the old and new mingle in beautiful harmony. At the end, a trip to this land ended up being a journey to my self.  To understanding myself and to appreciating all aspects of my human experience. From the allure of the past, to the tangible miracle of the present and the promise of a bright future and the unique combination of them all, which ultimately make the Mosaic of Me. The Mosaic of Nazanin. For so long I had struggled with my own East meets West identify conflic- what was I supposed to be? Which was I supposed to be? For the first time, I recognized the beauty of the sum of the parts and the harmony that exists in contrasts. Perhaps this is why the tiles mesmerized me so.

As Azadeh Moaveni says poignantly and beautifully in her memoir “Lipstick Jihad”-

“All our lives were formed against the backdrop of this history, fated to be home nowhere- not completely in America not completely in Iran. For us home was not determined by latitudes and longitudes. It was spacial. This was the modern Iranian experience that bound the diaspora to Iran….. But the bridge between Iran and the past, Iran and the future, between exile and homeland, existed at these tables- in kitchens, in bars, in Tehran or Manhattan- where we forgot about the world outside. [Our culture] had been disfigured, and we carried its scraps in our pockets, and when we assembled, we laid them out, and we were home.” 

(Check out my baklava recipe inspired by this trip, here)

 

 

Simin Bari- A popular Persian tune sung by a Turkish artist, heard all over cafes in 

 

Homemade Falafel with Herb Tahini Sauce and Shirazi Salad

Homemade Falafel with Herb Tahini Sauce and Shirazi Salad

Falafel! The ultimate Middle Eastern  comfort food, the name of which probably comes from the word pilpel (pepper, felfel in Farsi- referring to the shape of a pepper corn) was made in two ways: In Egypt today, from crushed, soaked fava beans and combined with chickpeas or, as Yemenite Jews and the Arabs of Jerusalem did, from chickpeas alone. My version uses chickpeas and herbs and it’s simple and finger lickin’ good!

Note: Add a drizzle of Harisa (a hot sauce paste used in North African cuisine, made from chili peppers, paprika, and olive oil) for an extra kick!

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***A special thanks to the Kashin Kitchen for hosting the recipe testing of  this deelish dish!

The Life of Love- Khalil Gibran

The Life of Love- Khalil Gibran

 Spring

  • Come, my beloved; let us walk amidst the knolls,
  • For the snow is water, and Life is alive from its
  • Slumber and is roaming the hills and valleys.
  • Let us follow the footprints of Spring into the
  • Distant fields, and mount the hilltops to draw
  • Inspiration high above the cool green plains.
  • Dawn of Spring has unfolded her winter-kept garment
  • And placed it on the peach and citrus trees; and
  • They appear as brides in the ceremonial custom of
  • the Night of Kedre.
  • The sprigs of grapevine embrace each other like
  • Sweethearts, and the brooks burst out in dance
  • Between the rocks, repeating the song of joy;
  • And the flowers bud suddenly from the heart of
  • Nature, like foam from the rich heart of the sea.
  • Come, my beloved; let us drink the last of Winter’s
  • Tears from the cupped lilies, and soothe our spirits
  • With the shower of notes from the birds, and wander
  • In exhilaration through the intoxicating breeze.
  • Let us sit by that rock, where violets hide; let us
  • Pursue their exchange of the sweetness of kisses.

    Summer

  • Let us go into the fields, my beloved, for the
  • Time of harvest approaches, and the sun’s eyes
  • Are ripening the grain.
  • Let us tend the fruit of the earth, as the
  • Spirit nourishes the grains of Joy from the
  • Seeds of Love, sowed deep in our hearts.
  • Let us fill our bins with the products of
  • Nature, as life fills so abundantly the
  • Domain of our hearts with her endless bounty.
  • Let us make the flowers our bed, and the
  • Sky our blanket, and rest our heads together
  • Upon pillows of soft hay.
  • Let us relax after the day’s toil, and listen
  • To the provoking murmur of the brook.

 

Autumn

  • Let us go and gather grapes in the vineyard
  • For the winepress, and keep the wine in old
  • Vases, as the spirit keeps Knowledge of the
  • Ages in eternal vessels.
  • Let us return to our dwelling, for the wind has
  • Caused the yellow leaves to fall and shroud the
  • Withering flowers that whisper elegy to Summer.
  • Come home, my eternal sweetheart, for the birds
  • Have made pilgrimage to warmth and lest the chilled
  • Prairies suffering pangs of solitude. The jasmine
  • And myrtle have no more tears.
  • Let us retreat, for the tired brook has
  • Ceased its song; and the bubblesome springs
  • Are drained of their copious weeping; and
  • Their cautious old hills have stored away
  • Their colorful garments.
  • Come, my beloved; Nature is justly weary
  • And is bidding her enthusiasm farewell
  • With quiet and contented melody.

 

Winter

  • Come close to me, oh companion of my full life;
  • Come close to me and let not Winter’s touch
  • Enter between us. Sit by me before the hearth,
  • For fire is the only fruit of Winter.
  • Speak to me of the glory of your heart, for
  • That is greater than the shrieking elements
  • Beyond our door.
  • Bind the door and seal the transoms, for the
  • Angry countenance of the heaven depresses my
  • Spirit, and the face of our snow-laden fields
  • Makes my soul cry.
  • Feed the lamp with oil and let it not dim, and
  • Place it by you, so I can read with tears what
  • Your life with me has written upon your face.
  • Bring Autumn’s wine. Let us drink and sing the
  • Song of remembrance to Spring’s carefree sowing,
  • And Summer’s watchful tending, and Autumn’s
  • Reward in harvest.
  • Come close to me, oh beloved of my soul; the
  • Fire is cooling and fleeing under the ashes.
  • Embrace me, for I fear loneliness; the lamp is
  • Dim, and the wine which we pressed is closing
  • Our eyes. Let us look upon each other before
  • They are shut.
  • Find me with your arms and embrace me; let
  • Slumber then embrace our souls as one.
  • Kiss me, my beloved, for Winter has stolen
  • All but our moving lips.
  • You are close by me, My Forever.
  • How deep and wide will be the ocean of Slumber,
  • And how recent was the dawn!

 

Greek Goddess Breakfast

Greek Goddess Breakfast

This is how I start my day, everyday. It’s the simplest and possibly one of the most decadent recipe on Basil and Roses.

Enjoy feeling like a Goddess with every spoonful of this creamy yogurt which is well balanced with the crunch of walnut, the juxtaposition of the tang of yogurt with the sweetness of honey, and the thought of knowing you are starting your day on a high nutrition and pleasure note!