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Mama’s Mexican Fiesta

Mama’s Mexican Fiesta

My beautiful Mother Edna is one of my greatest inspirations- in life and in the kitchen. In life she is and always has been an incandescent source of light + love and my rock. In the kitchen, she is a creative genius. Cooking with my Mother has always been a pure source of joy for me and I have learned much from her over the years. She makes amazing dishes and somehow manages to always keep it healthy yet interesting. She is the master of creating Persian dishes, but balances that with new and modern recipes. There is never a dull moment in Edna’s Kitchen and thanks to her, many lovely meals have been enjoyed in our family Home.

Much like in Italian culture, in a Persian family you show people how much you love them with food. Combine that with the generous magnanimity of the graciousness of Persian hospitality and every gathering becomes magical. I grew up in a home in which my parents embraced that sentiment along with a deep passion to make the people we love happy by bringing them together and hosting beautiful meals. The pots and pans in that kitchen are exhausted! I can’t tell you how much work and effort they’ve been a part of over the years. I love these pots… so many meals, so many trips to the market, so many onions peeled, so many glasses of wine filled… so many memories, so much hard work and ultimately, so much love.

One of many cabinets filled with heavy duty pots and pans. More than kitchen utensils, they have been the vessels through which Mom’s beautiful cooking has messenger-ed her love for gatherings, people, family and friendship.

 

Given her exceptional skills in the department, our Mom (whom we adoringly call Duda) is usually cooking for us. On rare special occasions, I get to cook for her. This past Mother’s day was one of those special days. And in true Duda character of originality and unpredictability- she asked for Fish Tacos! When Mama asks for a Mexican Fiesta, she gets the best Fiesta! In this post I share with you the fun menu we enjoyed. It’s not an easy task, but Duda was pleased. Not only with the fish tacos, but also with sharing another delightful meal with her family, in her kitchen of pots, memories and laughter.

Tequila-Lime Baked Fish Tacos

Fish tacos, how we love them so… truly one of my favorite things to eat. I enjoy indulging in crispy fried versions once in a while, but in general prefer a healthier baked or grilled version. With the immense flavor of this tequila-lime recipe nothing will be lost, promise! There is just something so gratifying about a good fish taco. All you need is a white flaky fish, a zesty salsa with a kick, guacamole, a crunchy slaw and of course a nice amount of citrus and spice and everything nice!

My family loved this recipe and I hope you enjoy it too. With summer just beginning, this is the perfect dish to make for warm afternoons in the backyard served with a refreshing margarita!

¡Buen apetito!

 

 

 

Vibrant and Colorful Mango Salsa

This colorful salsa is fun to make, fun to eat and a feast on the eyes! The gorgeous colors make the table festive and the sweet and sour flavors are explosive! Great on fish tacos or as a dip.

 

Nani’s Guacamole

I think avocado is the most magnificent fruits in the world! It is rich, creamy, earthy, nutty, and savory. Avocados also have great health benefits. The list is long but to name a few they are high in potassium, good fats and they are one of the few high protein fruits. I love it’s creamy texture and use it as a substitute for butter or oils often. And of course, nowhere is the beautiful avocado highlighted more than in a classic guacamole! I don’t use garlic or tomato’s in my recipe, but feel free to add them if it makes you happy…

P.S. This recipe also works really well for avocado toast. It’s excellent on toasted sourdough bread with a couple of slices of tomato and a pinch of sea salt. Yum!

 

 

Pico De Gallo

Salsa Fresco

Forget store-bought salsa and with a few simple steps make your own tasty Salsa Fresca!
In Spanish, pico de gallo literally means the “beek of the rooster.” An internet search led me to several colorful explanations for the etymology of the term, but mostly urban legends and no definitive answer. According to Wikipedia “in Mexico it is sometimes called salsa mexicana (Mexican sauce). Because the colors of the red tomato, white onion, green chili are reminiscent of the colors of the Mexican flag, it is also sometimes called salsa bandera (flag sauce).” So there you go.

Now, let’s make some yummy flag sauce! This is a party favorite to be enjoyed as a dip with chips, and it ends up being great on tacos, nachos, burritos, grilled chicken… and so on.

 

Azi’s Red Cabbage Slaw
Honey-Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette

This was the first time I made this and it ended up being great. I love using red cabbage for it’s beautiful color, slightly bitter and peppery flavor and many health benefit- Vitamin C, A, K and dietary fiber to name a few. It adds a nice crunch to the otherwise soft textured fish taco and marinated in a honey-lime-cumin vinaigrette it became a great addition to our fiesta!

In case you’re wondering, it’s called “Azi’s Slaw” because my beautiful sister Azadeh was a big help in the recipe testing of this dish. She has always been a dream sous chef, putting up with my colorful antics in the kitchen… Thanks, Sis!

 

 

Fresh Lime Margaritas

Who doesn’t love a citrusy fresh margarita! A natural addition to our Mexican themed celebration but also a fun drink to make all summer long for those hot weekend afternoons to enjoy with chips and dip and friends.

Skip the high sugar content margarita mixes and make this fresh version at home. You can either use agave nectar, honey or make a simple syrup in minutes. I usually use agave nectar, but since this was a celebration we indulged a bit by using sugar. No biggie, everything in moderation! Just combine 1/2 cup sugar in 1 cup water in a saucepan and cook on medium heat until sugar dissolves. It only takes a few minutes.

¡Salud!

 

 

Master sous chef Azi and I toasting to a successful meal!

 

 

 

 

Green Garden Herb Basmati Rice Without a rice cooker

Green Garden Herb Basmati Rice Without a rice cooker

Thanks everyone for the feedback on this recipe! Many of you asked for instructions on how to make it without a rice cooker. We gave it a go and the results were equally wonderful- and we ended up with a bit of delicious tahdig (crunchy bottom) to boot!

The recipe utilizes the same ingredients as the rice cooker version. Here, I used a nonstick standard pot.  Instructions are below. Feel free to share your results and happy cooking!

 

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Tahdig Flippin’

Tahdig Flippin’

This is how you simply and swiftly flip the Persian cake of savory golden goodness you’ve created in the rice cooker. The “Tahdig” is arguably the crowd favorite at any  meal so every cook wants to proudly present their masterpiece. By cooking it in a rice cooker you get a tahdig cake of the golden crunchy goodness to be enjoyed by all.

Note- you must do the flip with confidence. Tahdig flipping is not for the light hearted!

Here, my cousin Payam demonstrates:

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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 an 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 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/