Monday, July 27, 2009

Noting a Life: Dinner Notebooks

When the group from First Congregational Church of Berkeley and I arrived in Spain from Morocco, our first stop was Marbella. I knew the name immediately from Chicken Marbella which is one of my favorite dishes, originally from the famous Silver Palate Cookbook. You’ll find the recipe below. But I had always called it Chicken Marbella—like Mar-bel-la. To my surprise the city’s name was pronounced Mar-bay-a. So now I know, Chicken Mar-bay-a.

We spent one night. I didn’t eat Chicken Marbella—in fact it wasn’t on the menu. But I can tell you exactly what I did eat at Bar California: salad with carrot, tunafish, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and onions and poured my own oil and vinegar. Then I had Shrimp Pil-Pil which is shrimp in boiling hot olive oil and garlic served in a small casserole. A Barbarillos (white?) and a Rioja (red) to drink. Then we went off to a bar and I ate Cuarent Tres, which means 43, almonds from Catalonia, and Poncho Cabineros, a spicy liquor, which I loved. Please correct my Spanish.

The reason that I know exactly what I ate is that since 2004 I have been writing down my dinners (and on trips all three meals) along with important information like where, with whom, what and the cookbooks I used, wine, etc. I put the information in little 4 x 6-inch notebooks which are easy to take along on a trip and to restaurants if I think a meal may be worth recording in detail.

At the end of each month, I put this information on a spreadsheet, clearly a throw-back to my 16 years as an administrator at Duke University. Then at the end of the year I tally it up. Here’s what it looked like the first year 2004 and the most recent year 2008: Cooked dinner for guests 46/38, Cooked dinner for myself or myself and Katherine 80/84, Ate leftovers 84.5/63, Take-out 0/4, Out at restaurants 50/57, Out at friends 23/17, Out shared (mostly holidays) 3/6, Catering 4/0, Traveling (mostly restaurants) 75/97. They each add up to 366; I don't know why. But close enough.

There is no real reason for recording my dinners in this way. I think originally it seemed like a fun project—and I love projects. I do occasionally go back, as I did above, and check out what I ate on a particular date, like Saturday, March 20, 2004.

Sometimes I think that I am providing a future graduate student with a masters thesis on what a white, middle-aged, middle class, woman ate between 2004 and whenever I decide to stop.

But mostly I like to keep track of my life. I call the bookshelf that holds all these notebooks and others you will hear about at another time Noting A Life.

Menu 8: A Second Spanish-influenced dinner

Chicken Marbella
Now that we have the pronunciation straight, we can proceed. Within the last year I have discovered that not everyone shares my affinity for sweet and savory in the same dish. I recently mentioned Chicken Marbella to Jessie, a dear friend of a friend, who said that she would never fix anything that had chicken and prunes together. She just wasn’t drawn to those combinations. What you have probably noticed by now is that I am drawn to those combinations. In fact, they jump off the page of a cookbook and into my lap. Sweet and salty. Raisins and bacon. My mouth waters. I want you to know that I fully confess to this affinity and won’t take offense if you don’t share it.

What is really great about Chicken Marbella is its ease: you can marinate the day before, then put it in your pots or pans, pour in the wine and sprinkle sugar, and bake. None of that nasty browning business. The thighs are much more forgiving than chicken breasts which tend to dry out.

8-10 chicken thighs, skin and extra fat removed
½ head of garlic, peeled and pressed
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup pitted green olives
¼ cup capers with a bit of juice
3 bay leaves
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup wine
2 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley or cilantro

1. In a large bowl, combine the chicken thighs, garlic, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Add the salt and pepper. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight. You can also make it in the morning and refrigerate for the day.
2. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
3. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in one or two large shallow baking pans or clay pots and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
4. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when the juice from the thighs runs clear, not pink, when pricked.
5. If you’ve cooked in the clay pots, then leave them as they are. If you’ve cooked in not-so-pretty pans, transfer the thighs, prunes, olives and capers with a slotted spoon to a serving platter, moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and pass the remaining juices in a small pitcher. Sprinkle the clay pots or the platter generously with parsley or cilantro.
Note: This dish can be served right out of the oven or at room temperature.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Julee Ross and Sheila Lukins’ The Silver Palate Cookbook

Coconut Rice
This rice is actually Cuban, but it goes with the Marbella so nicely. Both speak Spanish fluently. The photo doesn't reveal how tasty this dish is. Delicious. But not very visually stimulating.

2 tablespoons oil or butter
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1½ cups basmati rice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (comes in a can)
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon salt

1. Heat oil or butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, but not brown, about 1 minute. Add the rice and sauté until the individual grains are shiny, about 1 minute.
2. Add the coconut milk, water, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and cook the rice until all of the liquid is absorbed and the grains are tender, 18 to 20 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and let the rice stand, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve at once.

If you want to make it a bit ahead of time, you can rewarm it in a low oven.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Miami Spice

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
I am crazy about these tomatoes, especially the cherry tomatoes. Fresh sliced regular tomatoes or cherry tomatoes would be great with this meal as well. Both the roasted and fresh add a necessary color to the plate.

3 pounds small to medium tomatoes of any kind or color
2-3 boxes of cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Cut the regular tomatoes in half crosswise and remove the seeds.
Poke a hole in each of the cherry tomatoes.
2. Place in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Mix together.
3. Place the cherry tomatoes or the regular tomatoes with their cut side up in a single layer on low-sided pans lined with parchment paper or silpat. Roast in a 350ºF oven. No need to preheat. You can use convection mode on either roast or bake if your oven has that feature.
4. Bake in the oven until the skins are wrinkled and juices evaporated somewhat. The flesh should still be moist and soft to the touch. For regular tomatoes, count on 1-2 hours; for cherry tomatoes, one hour should be sufficient. If you are using convection, the times will be shorter. You can remove the tomatoes that are starting to caramelize (and potentially burn) if you desire.
5. Remove from the oven and cool.

4 servings
Adapted from a Ramekin’s cooking class taught by Mary Karlin, August 2004.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Novella Carpenter: Urban Farmer

I just finished reading Novella Carpenter’s new book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. Novella and her boyfriend Bill moved to Oakland from Seattle where they had already started raising bees and having chickens for eggs—and a garden. But on 28th Street and MLK in Oakland, CA, they really found their very own farm. Their rented second floor duplex had a large empty lot next door and a backyard. So they “squatted” on the lot (they did have the permission of the fellow who owned the land but were aware that at any moment he could decide to sell it) and gradually turned it into a huge garden and made the produce available to folks in this rough and tumble neighborhood.

But they didn’t stop with the garden. Bees arrived in a box at the Oakland post office, full grown laying hens were purchased from a local store, and a box of meat poultry, Homesteaders Delight, arrived in the mail. Little fluffy chicks, ducks, geese, and four young turkeys. Then on to rabbits. And finally two young pigs purchased at an auction in Boonville. Young pigs which grew to 300 pounds and had to be fed well and often. Thanks to Bill and Novella’s prodigious skills as Dumpster Divers, their animals ate very well indeed. It is an amazing story. I have a huge amount of admiration for her sense of humor, her ingenuity, her ability to learn fast on the job, and her commitment to seeing the projects through to the end. She is also a wonderful writer.

I took these photos a couple of days ago. I really wanted to see what 28th and MLK looked like. I don’t know for sure that they still live in the upstairs apartment and the house is a different color from what she described in the book. But I saw what looked like the handle to a garden tool on their front porch and there was this huge garden next to it with the sign, so I’m figuring they are still around. No animals in sight from the entrance to the garden. I couldn’t see into the backyard and didn’t want to venture further.

Order this book from your favorite independent bookseller as soon as you can. She'll be reading at Readers Books in Sonoma on Sunday, August 2, 2009. And let me know what you think of the book.

I love/I hate my Cuisinart

This has been a particularly busy week for dinner parties. Three of us on Thursday, seven friends on Saturday and four on Sunday. That’s a lot when I’m accustomed to one or two. In preparing the three dinners, I used my Cuisinart five times. It is a wonderfully helpful machine. I literally couldn’t cook what I like to cook without it. Whirling away--or as my friend Cathleen says “cuising” away (I think it rhymes with wheezing)--I made pesto, roasted carrot dip, lemon squares, chocolate pots, and fig and black olive tapenade. And last week I made the Romesco Sauce that you’ll find below. Of course, you can make these items by hand, or with a mortar and pestle, or maybe in a blender, but none of these options works quite as well as the processor.

That said, the Cuisinart has major design flaws. First, the complicated locking mechanism. Early on, someone must have stuck his or her fingers into the spinning blades. Messy and awful for them, I know. But is it really necessary from a safety standpoint to have three components exactly aligned before the C will work? Three. Ridiculous.

Second there is the cleaning issue. There are obscure places which are nearly impossible to wash well: the bottom of the unit which houses the feed tube, the spindle hole underneath the blade, and the inside of the handle. Because it is so hard to clean, I will often organize my cooking so that I only have to rinse it out before moving onto the next task. Maybe dishwashers solve the problem of the hard to reach spots, but I can’t run the dishwasher every time I want a clean processor.

Third, there is the problem with the blade going dull—which it invariably does over time. Did you know that you can sharpen it just as you would any other knife? And you can also buy a new blade from Appliance Sales & Service in San Francisco and get it in the mail. Without replacing the whole unit.

So there you are. I need it. I love it. I wish it were better. Has anyone found a really good one that doesn’t cost a fortune?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Menu 7: Spanish dinner

 Spanish cuisine has been greatly influenced by the Moors, who crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from Morocco in 711, conquering most of the country in 7 or 8 years. It is believed that the Moors were Arabs and Muslims. Along with their culinary traditions, they brought knowledge of architecture, science, and engineering. Their influence on farming and cooking was extensive. They introduced saffron, sugar-cane, cotton, rice, figs, grapes, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, bananas, peaches, apricots, eggplant, artichokes, cumin, coriander, almonds, henna, and madder. They were excellent water engineers, devising ways to bring water from the mountains to the valleys by means of trenches and channels which you can still see today in the Alhambra in Granada. They created terraces which made farming possible on steep hillsides. They were conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 and forced to leave Spain. A few were asked to stay to run the water systems. To this day, their extraordinary culinary and architectural treasures remain.

The following Spanish menu consists of shrimp with an almond, pepper and tomato sauce called Romesco which in our house rivals pesto in popularity. This sauce is as good on the potato tostones as it is on the shrimp. A green salad with a citrus vinaigrette would be great along side.

When I was in Spain in 2004, I organized a sherry tasting in Cordoba for the group from First Congregational Church of Berkeley. If you are up for it, drinking some sherry with this dinner (dry and chilled for the main course, sweet and sticky like Pedro Ximenez for dessert) would be really fun. Have some white wine on hand, just in case—like an albarino--or a good pink (to match the shrimp). Check out The Spanish Table’s sherry selection in Berkeley, Santa Fe, Seattle and Mill Valley. Kevin, the wine purchaser in Berkeley, says that his blog would be helpful.

Shrimp with Romesco Sauce
This sauce takes a while to make. I have tried simpler versions and the flavor is, well, much less interesting. This one is worth the effort.

Romesco Sauce:
1 large ripe tomato or 3 Romas, cut in half
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 Novas Secas dried pepper
1 Choricero dried pepper or 1 Ancho dried pepper
Note: Other dried peppers can be used, like mild New Mexico, but they shouldn’t be especially hot.
½ cup water
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 thin slice of crusty bread
¼ cup slivered blanched almonds
½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon smoky sweet paprika or regular paprika

1. Roast the tomato and garlic on an ungreased roasting pan at 350ºF for 30 minutes.
2. Place the dried peppers in a saucepan with the water and 3 tablespoons of the vinegar. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the peppers and save the water.
3. Place the roasted tomatoes and the softened peppers in a food processor and process until smooth. Put the contents through a sieve to remove the skin and seeds. Stir and press with a rubber spatula to extract as much of the goodness as possible. Return the strained mixture to the food processor.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet and fry the bread until golden on both sides. In the same oil, fry the almonds until golden.
5. Add the bread, almonds and roasted garlic to the processor. Process until smooth.
6. With the motor running, pour in the ¼ cup oil, the remaining teaspoon of vinegar, the smoky paprika or regular paprika, and the salt and pepper. You can add some of the pepper soaking liquid if the sauce is too thick. The sauce should be the consistency of guacamole.
7. Place in a bowl and serve at room temperature.

The Shrimp:
1½ pounds shrimp in their shells
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oil, add the salt and shrimp, and stir fry until pink, or just done.
2. Serve hot or at room temperature with the Romesco Sauce. Serve with paper towels. Peeling the shrimp is a messy and delightful business.

Note: The sauce can be made a day in advance. The shrimp can be made a couple of hours before if you want to serve at room temperature. I usually serve them directly from the pan while still hot.

4 servings for dinner, more as tapas.
Adapted from Penelope Casas’ Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain

Potato “Tostones”

Flattened before frying

Crispy after frying

2 pounds small potatoes (about 20), like Yukon gold
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Olive oil
Coarse sea salt

1. Place a steamer basket in a large pot filled with an inch of water. Add the potatoes to the basket. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Steam until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with a knife, about 20-25 minutes. Don’t overcook or they won’t hold together when flattened.
2. Remove the basket and let the potatoes cool enough to be handled.
3. Gently squeeze the potatoes, one at a time, between your palms so that they flatten slightly but remain in one piece. Some will break but they can still be used.
4. Pour ¼-inch oil into a medium frying pan on medium high heat. Add the potatoes in batches to avoid crowding. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Fry on both sides until crisp and browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
5. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with sea salt.

6 servings
Adapted from “Recipes,” by Susan Spungen. This recipe was published in the July 22, 2007 New York Times Sunday Magazine

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Making Dessert

You may have noticed that desserts have been missing from all the menus so far.

Time to remedy that situation. Remember when I mentioned in the very first blog (In the Beginning) that my cousins and I had made a disastrous chocolate cake? For a good long period of time, my luck with desserts didn’t improve very much. Especially with cakes. I now know that baking in general and making cakes in particular involves a chemical reaction. It requires just the right interaction between the ingredients in the cake and the oven. If you are working with a bad recipe, even following it exactly, or a faulty oven, you’re doomed. As time went along I could make a pretty good Thanksgiving pie, a perfectly fine baked custard, and decent fudge brownies. Cakes still eluded me. When pushed, I would buy dessert for a dinner party rather than risk disaster.

Two people have changed my relationship to desserts. Our friends, Francis and Xochitl, moved to the Bay area from Mexico shortly after we moved here from North Carolina. Xochitl suggested that we start a dinner party club, the only requirement being that the host or hostess had to make everything from scratch. I said that I thought that would be interesting but I couldn’t guarantee I would make dessert. Well, I never heard the end of it. Whenever we invited them for dinner, she would pointedly offer to “make the dessert.”

Finally I said to myself, “Enough. I cook a lot of really good food. Why not desserts?” Coaxed into action, I set to work finding reliable recipes and practicing so that the next time they came to dinner I could offer them something home made. I can’t remember the first one I made for them, but let me tell you it was received with a great deal of laughter and enthusiastic praise.

My daughter-in-law Michelle Polzine has also been instrumental in this process. She is the award-winning and magical pastry chef at Range in San Francisco. Prior to my enlightenment, I would ask her to bring the dessert for every family meal figuring that she knew what she was doing and I didn’t so she should provide dessert. At some point I said to myself, “Enough. It’s not fair to ask someone who makes desserts for a living to make them for every family occasion. Give her a break.”

And so the learning process continued. I found more great recipes, including a couple of cakes. I practiced. I fed (and still feed) my favorites to my dessert-loving friend Sam to see how he responds. Over the years I have built up a pretty good repertoire of choices that are delicious, pretty and relatively simple. Best of all, with some confidence, I now serve desserts to Michelle.

Desserts in Three Flavors

Fudge Brownies
I’ve been using this recipe for years and years. The round pan will give you a dessert that looks more like a cake than a cookie.

½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate, melted*
½ cup flour, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup walnuts, optional

1. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla. Beat in eggs.
2. Blend in melted chocolate. Stir in flour and nuts.
3. Grease an 8x8 square or an 8-inch round pan. If you are using the round one, line it with parchment paper for easier brownie removal. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in a 325ºF oven for 30-35 minutes. The round one may take slightly longer.
4. Cool and cut into 16 squares or as for a cake. You can serve with Roasted Strawberries and whipped cream if you like or dust with powdered sugar.

* You can melt the chocolate in a microwave for 4 minutes at 50 percent power.
You dramatically improve the quality of the brownies if you use good chocolate.

Makes 16 squares or 8-10 slices.
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook

Lemon Pudding Cake
The miracle of this dessert is that the batter separates into a cake layer on top and a lemon sauce layer on the bottom. It’s magic.

1 cup sugar (divided ¾ cup and ¼ cup)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup flour
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted
Zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
1½ cups milk
3 eggs, separated

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 1½-quart baking dish or an 8-inch baking pan.
2. Mix ¾ cup of the sugar, the salt, and the flour together in a bowl. Add the melted butter, lemon juice, lemon peel, and egg yolks, and stir until thoroughly blended. Stir in the milk.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the remaining ¼ cup sugar until they are stiff but remain moist. Fold the beaten whites into the lemon mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
4. Set the baking dish in a larger pan at least 2 inches deep and pour enough hot water into the larger pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.
5. Serve warm or chilled. Blueberries or raspberries, or any other fruit of your choosing, would be great on the side.

6 servings
Adapted from Marian Cunningham’s Lost Recipes

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
A cool and refreshing Italian treat on a summer evening with the wonderful hit of concentrated strawberry flavor from Roasted Strawberries.

1½ cups half and half or whole milk
½ cup sugar
Grated zest of 2 lemons or 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 cinnamon sticks
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup buttermilk
Fresh strawberries or Roasted Strawberries
Fresh mint for garnish

1. Warm the half and half, sugar, zest, and cinnamon sticks in a non-reactive saucepan. Once the mixture begins to steam, remove it from the heat, cover, and let steep for 30 to 60 minutes.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let it soften for 5 minutes.
3. Rewarm the infused half and half, then pour it through a strainer over the softened gelatin, stirring to dissolve it completely. Press the zest to release as much of the liquid as possible. Add the salt. Let the mixture cool.
4. Stir in the buttermilk. (If the mixture is steaming hot when you add the buttermilk, the mixture can separate. If it does, whisk it vigorously until it is smooth.)
5. Lightly grease 5 or 6 4-ounce ramekins with unflavored oil. (If you use smaller ramekins, you’ll make more desserts.) Divide the panna cotta mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
6. To serve, run a sharp knife around the inside edge of each ramekin to release the panna cotta. Invert each one on a serving plate. Spoon the strawberries (roasted or fresh) around it. Add a sprig of fresh mint if you like.

5-6 servings in 4-ounce ramekins
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Ripe for Dessert
He serves his with a blueberry sauce.

Oven-Roasted Strawberries
 Roasting concentrates the luscious strawberry flavor. You won’t believe it.


1. Remove the stems and place the strawberries on a sided cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or silicone mat.
2. Sprinkle lightly with sugar (about 1 tablespoon per basket).
3. Roast in a 300°F oven for about 1 to 1½ hours. Turn them over about half way through roasting. You can use Convection Roast if your oven does that. The roasting time will be shorter.
4. The strawberries are done when they have shrunk to about half their original size and are soft without being burned.
5. Store with any collected juices in the refrigerator in a covered container.

Serve with Fudge Brownies, anything chocolate, panna cotta, or shortcakes.

Adapted from Michelle Polzine’s suggestions in San Francisco Magazine, June 2007

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Menu 6: A Persian Fourth of July

Our Fourth of July dinner for friends, Kit from LA and Nancy and Bill from Sonoma, was not your usual grilled affair. I felt more inclined to support free and fair elections for the people of Iran than to celebrate the birth of American freedom with burgers and buns. So I planned a dinner around one of the most famous dishes in Persian cuisine: Fesenjan or Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce. We ate the Fesenjan with an herby rice dish and two salads. You’ll find these recipes below. We started with hummus and toasted pita in the living room over our first glasses of wine and a selection of gorgeous cheeses and finished with a decadent Chocolate-Lime Cheesecake from Nigella Bites. It was a splendid dinner, colorful and delicious.

Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce (Khoreshe Fesenjan)

10 chicken thighs, extra skin and fat removed
3 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon poultry seasonings or za’tar*
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste or harissa*; or 1 tablespoon of each
2 cups walnuts, very finely chopped.
Note: Use a food processor if you have one. Stop before the walnuts become a paste.
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon smoky hot paprika or regular paprika
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup fresh pomegranate juice (Pom brand is very good)
2-3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup or molasses*
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

1. Sauté the chicken in the butter, sprinkling each side with the poultry seasoning or za’tar, salt and pepper, until light brown on all sides. Remove to a plate.
2. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of the combined chicken fat and butter. Sauté the onions in the remaining fat until golden brown. Add the tomato paste and/or harissa and sauté for a few minutes. Add the walnuts and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly so as not to burn the walnuts.
3. Add the stock, salt, cinnamon, paprika, lemon juice and pomegranate juice and syrup. Cover and let cook on a low fire for about 35 minutes. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary and sugar if the sauce is too sour for your taste.
4. Arrange the chicken in the sauce. Cover and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Taste for seasoning. I needed to add more salt and a bit more lemon juice.
5. Decorate with parsley and serve with rice.

*Za’tar, harissa, and pomegranate syrup or molasses are available at Middle Eastern or Persian food stores or delis.
You can make this the day before. Reheat gently before serving and garnish with the parsley.

6-10 servings, depending on appetites
Adapted from Maideh Mazda's In a Persian Kitchen

Rice with Herbs (Sabzi Polow)

2 cups basmati rice
Salt for boiling the rice
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups finely chopped herbs of your choosing.
Note: A combination of tarragon, chives, flat-leaf parsley, and dill is good. Use a food processor to chop, if you have one.
6 scallions, finely chopped in a food processor
6 tablespoons butter or 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Wash the rice in warm water and drain.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pour in the rice and boil for about 12 minutes, until the rice is still slightly undercooked. Drain.
3. In the same pot, heat half the butter or oil. Pour in the rice, mixing in about ¾ of the fresh herbs and the teaspoon of salt. Add the remaining butter or oil. Stir gently.
4. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and steam for 15-20 minutes over very low heat. You want to create a very lightly brown crispy layer on the bottom of the rice. After the rice has finished cooking, you may need to turn up the heat a bit to crisp up the bottom, watching it carefully.
5. Add the remaining herbs just before serving. If you are using a nonstick pan, you may try flipping out the rice onto a large platter. If you have not, use a spatula to scrape the rice out into a serving bowl, displaying the beautiful crust or crusty bits on top.

You can also make this using leftover plain cooked rice from another occasion. Just begin the process at #3. If the rice is cold, it will take longer than 20 minutes to reheat and to form a crust. You can keep peeking inside the pan to check on the crust.

6-8 servings
Adapted from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

Beet and Yogurt Salad or Dip

2 large or 4-5 small uncooked beets (red or golden) OR
1 can (16 ounces) cooked beets, drained
1 cup drained plain yogurt or more depending on your amount of beets and your serving bowl
Note: Buy thick Greek yogurt or drain soupy yogurt by lining a sieve with two layers of paper towels, pouring in the yogurt, and letting it drain over a bowl for several hours. To see a photo of the draining process, check the Cucumbers and Yogurt recipe.
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or slivered mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint

1. If using fresh beets, steam them with the skins on for about 1½ hours or longer until tender.
Place fresh beets in a baking dish filled with ½-inch water. Cover with foil. Bake in the oven at 400 F for 45 minutes for small beets, longer for larger. I usually use this method.
2. Peel the fresh beets. Cut cooked or canned beets into ¼ - ½-inch cubes. Mix with the sugar and salt to taste. Chill until ready to serve.
3. Immediately before serving, spread the yogurt in the bottom of a shallow serving bowl. Place the beets on top, gently nestling them into the yogurt. Garnish with the mint. Serve as a salad or as a dip with toasted pita bread.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Najmieh Batmanglij's New Food of Life

Parsley, Celery and Herb Salad

2 cups parsley leaves
½ cup 1-inch snipped chives
½ cup tarragon leaves or mint
4 stalks celery, cut on the bias about 1/8-inch thick
An equal amount of fennel
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon, Meyer if possible
Salt and pepper

1. Combine the parsley, chives, tarragon/mint, and celery.
2. Mix together olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
3. Just before serving, pour the olive oil mixture over the greens and toss gently. Taste for seasonings.
Note: The proportions can be varied depending on the herbs you have at hand. Celery leaves are a good addition. You can also add 2 small seeded tomatoes for color.

6-8 servings
Adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, January 30, 2005, David Bazirgan at Baraka