Thursday, August 31, 2006

Persian Cooking Lesson

My Aunt Maryam cooked a second feast for us at Katti and Adam’s house and we returned from Snoqualmie Falls in time for me to watch and help her prepare a variety of dishes. She was making three different main courses, actually four, because one of them was a vegetarian variation of Persian macaroni. I was most interested in the Koresh-e Fesenjan, the chicken stew made with a walnut and pomegranate sauce. I had tried to make it at home with peanut butter (I know…) because Jim is allergic to nuts, but here was a chance to see how it’s really made, with all of the authentic ingredients. Aunt Maryam was reluctant to make it at first, when she heard about Jim’s allergy, because she didn’t know if even having the walnuts in the kitchen when she was preparing other things would be a problem. I assured her that his allergy is not that severe, and she thought of another stew with celery and beef that she would make for him.

To start, we ground walnuts in a grater, such as the kind that some use to grate parmesan cheese. We did what must have been a pound or two. Then we cooked onions in oil and added pieces of skinned chicken to brown. I believe we added water and then the ground walnuts, which made a thick gravy. Later, after the meat simmered we removed the bones. We added a full bottle of pomegranate syrup for flavor. Aunt Maryam gave me two bottles to bring home. Adam gave me a bottle of olive oil flavored with Persian limes and Nahid gave me saffron. I expect to cook with all of this gifts and my new knowledge sometime this fall. Let me know if you want to join in the experiment.

The other dishes we had that night included the ultimate Chelo Koresh, or rice with a crusty top. I learned a few tricks about this, but I’m not confident that I can pull it off yet. Making rice like that is the hallmark of a good Persian cook, and it probably takes years of practice. We also had Persian macaroni, which involved taking the cooked pasta and homemade meat sauce, flavored with cinnamon, and layering it over cut pieces of yam and crushed rose petals. Katti also made a green salad with red currants and avocados and a salad dressing of lime, garlic and live oil. We sat out on their patio and watched the sunset over the Olympic Peninsula. Everyone had seconds, thirds? Even Chloe and Conor ate more than just rice and bread.

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