044: Nowruz is Good News
Topanga opposes police interventions into CTC-gate; plus, an inspired recipe for shrimp toast crunch!
(SB) Dear readers, we’ve made it to Spring. The sun is setting later, the air smells alive, and I have felt the slow but deliberate lifting of seasonal depression through no great effort of my own. As we emerge from perhaps the longest winter I have ever known, I have been thinking a lot about how lucky I feel to be alive and acutely aware of how exceptional a state of being it really is. As we send off this tentatively Nowruz-themed issue, I have also been reflecting on the holiday’s themes of rebirth and renewal. Like Diwali in my own culture, Nowruz is often described as the ritual celebration of the triumph of good over evil and life over death. It is a (thirteen day!) occasion marked by flowers, sweets, sprouts, and togetherness that I have long admired from afar, and am dipping my toes into marking more fully this year. As spring bursts forth this year, I feel not so much triumphant, but instead deeply aware of how connected life and death are.
The return of the season, marked by the return of green garlic and ramps and the regularity of cloudy mornings that conjure the marine layers of my youth, has me thinking a lot about this time a year ago and just how much has changed. I am most startled by how busy I have become and how obstinately I have claimed a furious and unrelenting pace for my days. Despite talking a big game, my personal Reductress headline might read “Woman Encouraging Others To Practice Self-Care Spends 15 Hours on Zoom.” So, in the spirit of rebirth and reimagining, I’m searching for some ways to cultivate my own little sprouts in this precious springtime light. I feel a buried and insistent excitement at the thought of being able to spend time with some of you soon, after so long apart. Here’s what I ate in the interim:
I began an attempt to make this Jacques Pepin vegetable soup, discovered I had no zucchini or green cabbage about halfway through, and pivoted to make a loosely Ukranian-inspired veggie soup with big chunks of cauliflower, white beans, a jar of whole tomatoes and food processed potato, turnip, onions. I threw in some kashmiri chili and smoked paprika for good measure and served with leftover Mel the Bakery Country Loaf croutons.
Nancy Silverton’s chopped salad, with some leftover ciccheria beans and a roma tomato. Fun fact: Jake and I both made these on the same day for lunch, but without communicating beforehand! (JS: That’s praxis, luv)
A fair amount of fried fish themed take out: fish tacos from neighborhood staple Serrano, fried seafood combo platter from S&S market on Sherman, several seafood empanadas.
(JS) Sprung has finally freakin’ sprung, my lovely readers! I’m not sure if it’s a delayed adjustment to the time change, my bold decision to upgrade from 30 to 45 minutes of daily Youtube exercise, or simply a side effect of early middle age, but I’ve been feeling the burn these past few days. Fortunately I’ve now got one dose of that sweet Moderna nectar pulsing through my veins, arguably the best second pandemic birthday present a boy could ask for (with an authentic Off Hours homecoat coming in at a very close second!!! My friends are the best!!!). Alongside a slew of mindless editing projects, I’ve been doing my best to get out of the apartment and enjoy the sunshine. In addition to banking vitamin D, I’ve used the increasingly walk-worthy weather as an opportunity to toggle between three most excellent and topical audiobooks: Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, which weaves together memoir, folklore, and ethnobotany to suggest a different way of relating to plants and the natural environment; John Ghazvinian’s America and Iran, an ambitious survey which draws from the archives of both nations to offer a relatively nuanced portrait of international relations from the eighteenth century to the present; and Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings, a collection of poignant, poetic, and oftentimes comical personal essays examining the complex experience of being Asian in America. I’d eagerly recommend all three, in case you too find yourself contemplating the potential for better futures.
To ring in the season, we’ve cooked up a few extra green recipes this week (and even swapped out our banner... so you know it's real). Nowruz pirouz to those who are celebrating; there’s nothing we love more at this newsletter than learning across cultures. Here’s what I’ve been eating:
Sweet and savory sourdough kolaches à la Lula Cafe, with a lot of handholding from friend of the newsletter Hannah; half were filled with coffee peanut butter and sour cherry jam, while the remainders were stuffed with Sichuan pork cheeks and ya cai
Pizza night (grandma style, with fennel and sopressata), to celebrate friend and future OB-GYN of the newsletter Reed’s match day success
For my birthday, a steakhouse inspired spread; ribeyes and strips, Luger-style hash browns, creamed spinach, and wedge salads, with key lime pie a la Joe’s and this newsletter’s favorite kladkakka for dessert
TMYK: Coocoo for Kuku Sabzi
(SB) A couple of weeks ago, I became captivated by Naz Deravian’s (aka @bottomofthepot) online lentil-to-sabzeh journey. Eager to join in on a springtime ritual and wise to the benefits of aquafaba for my plants, I began soaking some mung beans. Around day 6 or 7, a combination of marathon work days, cloudy weather, and my ever-overactive radiator conspired to deal the death blow to my tentatively thriving sprouts, which had all but shriveled. I was demoralized that a day (maybe two) of mild neglect and an overcast forecast had rendered this little (stinky!) journey for naught, and tried not to be too superstitious as I tipped my thwarted seedlings into the compost. Spring would still come, even without my participation in this ritual.
So, as the seasons shifted this past weekend, I found myself longing for something verdant to mark the moment and, perhaps, call its abundant lushness and a little ease into my own life. Enter: kuku, a herbaceous, frittata traditionally enjoyed for the Nowruz holiday. I perused many recipes, some studded with walnuts or aubergine, and others scented with saffron, before deciding to place myself in the trustworthy hands of my queen, Samin Nosrat. I was happy to find that there was plenty of springtime ritual to be found in preparing this particular frittata.
Samin has us begin by washing and de-stemming about two pounds of fresh parsley, cilantro, and dill. Pale green leeks also feature in the first act of this green symphony; these are trimmed, chopped, and washed, then in a cast iron pan with some (hot) olive oil to cook down for about 20 minutes. During this time, I trimmed the woody bits from the ends of my medley of fresh-bought and from-fridge herbs, washed the sizable mound, and attempted an at-home salad spinning routine to get everything pretty dry. (JS: I find this method both effective and cathartic.) I then rolled the herbs (and a few leaves of romaine) into large balls to chop them thoroughly by hand; the finer the chop, the greener the kuku. While destemming the wan bits lingering at the bottom of a cooler drawer is one of my least favorite tasks, chopping up a large cloud of these herbs proved to be a lot of fun. I added some fenugreek to the mix (JS: she’s a methi bitch who lives for drama), and eventually added everything to my pan with the softened leeks. This mixture cooks for about five minutes with a generous pinch of salt, until it’s a deep, dark green.
Transfer this to a bowl and once cooled, add in some (pre-soaked) barberries, turmeric, cinnamon, a little baking powder, salt, and some pepper. Samin recommends tasting at this point to make sure that the mixture is sufficiently salty. Once satisfied with the seasoning, I added in my eggs, one by one, stirring until things were just holding together. As Samin notes, you want to use only as many eggs as you need for the mixture to cohere in order to ensure the greenest possible kuku (for me, this was seven eggs). I wiped out my cast iron, melted about four tablespoons of butter until just browning, added a touch more olive oil, and tentatively scooped a little egg-and-herb mixture onto the pan. Once I heard it sizzle, I slowly poured in the rest. Though I agitated my pan a few times, I mostly left this frittata untouched for about 20 minutes. I did run a spatula around the edges at regular intervals, to make sure that my kuku wasn’t sticking to the sides. The oil and butter bubbled, as promised. Once things seemed to be firming up, I cut the heat and let things rest for a few minutes before inverting my kuku onto a serving platter. In my case, there was very little excess oil.
The results were stupendous: tender, savory, and flavorful all in one. Something about the barberry and fenugreek combination rendered the greens citrusy and bright, while the eggs added a savory heft to the mix. I enjoyed it best at room temperature and topped with some sliced radishes. I returned to the platter so often for seconds that I’m shocked and pleased we still have a few wedges leftover for mast-o khiar and sourdough sandwiches today.
TRASH TALK: Lacto-Fermented Limeade
(JS) Perhaps you’ve found yourself making more paneer than usual lately, or you’re suddenly in possession of a lotta ricotta. Maybe you’ve finally dipped your toe into homemade yogurt (figuratively, I should hope). I’m not really here to pry about why you’re suddenly prone to culturing, but if you happen to find yourself knee or even ankle deep in whey these days, and have somehow tired of last week’s caramel, I have a few more ideas for you to try out. (NB: these suggestions are optimized for acid whey, not to be confused with sweet whey, the byproduct of rennet-coagulated cheeses). Bakers will use it as a replacement for water, providing a tang more subtle than sourdough, and in some cases, a softer crumb. It also makes an excellent brine for poultry, providing a slightly acidic base you can gussy up with your choice of aromatics and spices. And of course, it’s no secret that whey is a natural probiotic, and in many cultures across the world, it’s not uncommon to drink the stuff straight.
If the idea of plain yogurt water doesn’t exactly sound thirst-quenching to you (remember two weeks ago when I tried to sell you on bean water?), I’d suggest tempering it with some citrus and sugar, then let it sit for a couple days for a sweet and only slightly sour refreshment. To make lacto-fermented limeade, Lindsey-Jean Hard combines the juice of five limes, ½ cup sugar, and ½ cup whey in a half-gallon container, filling the rest with water to dilute. To coax out a bit more citrus flavor, she tosses the spent limes in additional sugar and lets them sit out for 6-12 hours, drawing out the aromatic oils in a manner similar to oleo saccharum to yield a limey simple syrup. When the limeade has reached your desired level of funk – I gave it two days in a non-sunny corner of my kitchen – add syrup to taste. (SB: Word to the wise: I flew too close to the sun and by day 3.5 my limeade had indeed molded.) You could easily make this with lemons, if that’s more your speed, or feel free to experiment with a mix of citrus. Lindsey suggests serving this over ice, or mixed with your preferred seltzer, perhaps experimenting with complimentary flavors (she suggests coconut Lacroix, a choice I cannot wholeheartedly endorse but to each her own!). I like to add a pinch of vanilla salt before serving, begrudgingly taking a hint from the evil geniuses over at Sq*rl. Sip, savor, and reflect on the benefits for your gut health.
IT TAKES TWO: Beans, But Make It a Cookie
No Nowruz festivities would be complete without some good old fashioned shirini. Given our undying love for besan, we found ourselves besmitten with the idea of nan-e nokhodchi, an Iranian cookie traditionally made of chickpea flour perfumed with rose water and cardamom then finished with a sprinkle of ground pistachios. A little recipe research brought us to Louisa Shafia’s adaptation from The New Persian Kitchen, using a combination of chickpea and almond flours as well as butter in lieu of the more traditional oil. Just how did these springy little shortbreads turn out? Read on and find out!
(SB) I’m no stranger to a sweet tooth or a cardamom-and-rose-infused confection, so it didn’t take much to sell me on the idea of these cookies. After a few days of contemplating more conventional oil-based versions, I was doubly delighted when Jake sent me a recipe that made handy use of some flours that had been lurking in my pantry and promised to be extra-buttery. With the exception of some planning around fridge-rest, these cookies also came together quickly and easily. I left a stick of (plain old) butter on the counter for a few hours, returning around lunchtime to cream it with half a cup of sugar before adding a little splash of rosewater. Ever a few steps behind my lovely collaborator, I heeded his advice and sifted together equal parts chickpea flour and almond flour in another bowl, adding the crushed contents of several Diaspora Co.’s Baraka Cardamom pods (honestly a revelation). I tipped the dry ingredients into my mixer, and then tipped the dough out onto some plastic wrap, shaped the whole thing into a clumsy disk and popped it into the freezer.
Since my toxic trait is compulsive multi-tasking, I soon forgot the little dough disk in my freezer for upwards of an hour while on a Zoom call, and returned to find it rock hard. After a 15-minute thaw, however, it was ready to roll into a log. I opted to do this roll-out using the same plastic wrap, but I could see an argument in favor of a sturdier parchment paper if you’re particular about the contours of your log. Classically, I didn’t bother measuring out a full 10-inches, but would estimate that the log came close. (JS: We’ve been burned before.) After a couple of hours in the fridge, the dough was ready to slice and only a little buttery-slick to the touch. I didn’t get anywhere near the 40 cookies described in the recipe, and may have sliced a few of these thinner than the recommended ¼ inch in trying. They maintained their shape nicely while I pressed in little thumbprints of chopped pistachios atop each before baking them at 350 for about 10 minutes.
To my surprise, the cookies spread considerably and emerged from the oven nearly paper thin and with their edges touching. Somehow they also stayed delectably chewy and delicate after cooling, and I can’t say that I was particularly put out about the inexplicable spread in the end (maybe it was all that freeze-and-thaw action? Food Science hive, sound off). Pistachio-flecked and fragrant, these cookies have made me feel like a springtime bee already drunk off nectar. I enjoyed them this morning under the guise of prepping a photo in natural light, and can attest that they pair well with coffee.
(JS) I’d been keen to try my hand at nan-e nokhodchi but was feeling anxious about my lack of proper Iranian (or really any) cookie cutters. Part of the allure of shirini are their cute little shapes, stamped with intricate geometric designs or cut into squat flowers, stars, and quatrefoils. In the past I’ve stamped out dough circles with a glass, but I feared my smallest espresso cups wouldn’t quite cut it this time; thus I was delighted to come across Louisa’s take, instructing us to shape the dough into a log which is then sliced and baked. I opted to toast my chickpea flour in a dry skillet until fragrant and added a tablespoon or so of malted milk powder to my dough, thinking it would pair well with the nutty flours and my favorite fancyish butter, but otherwise largely stuck to script. (SB: Wow, malted milk powder is INSPIRED. A genius, my friends.)
I would advise anyone making these to consider sifting your chickpea flour; mine was still a bit clumpy when I tried to incorporate my dry ingredients, and I had to break up the little lumps with my fingers in a manner not dissimilar to popping pimples (many thanks to Natasha Pickowicz for normalizing this metaphor in recipe writing). My dough easily formed a disk, which I popped in the freezer for 30 minutes, but when it came to rolling the rested dough I fumbled a bit, gingerly trying to seal the cracks for a smooth and cylindrical log. Memories of failed attempts to shape “the cookies” flashed before my eyes (“you’ll never be the internet’s culinary darling!” mocked the devil on my shoulder), but I persevered, settling for something closer to 9 inches long instead of 10 and slightly thicker than the prescribed 1.5 inch diameter (wink… sorry). I left my dough to chill and ground some pistachios with a pinch of rose petals. I know what you’re thinking: Florals for spring? Groundbreaking.
A couple hours later, the dough emerged firm to the touch, yet easily sliceable. The book alleges a true 10-incher yields 40 cookies, but I was hard pressed to squeeze much more than a couple dozen out of my log (I couldn’t manage to square off my ends, so two were somewhat convex). I spread my shortbreads across two sheet pans, sprinkled the tops with the pistachio mix, and baked them off in succession; I kept the first batch in a full 15 minutes and they were definitely on the bien cuit side – normally a quality I look for in baked goods, but in this case, the well doneness was a detriment to their texture. I baked my second batch for only 10 minutes and ended up with something much closer to the crumbly shortbreads I know and love. These are subtle on the first day, but Louisa claims the spices really sing after a full night’s rest. What’s clear is that they’re quite moreish; I’ve somehow polished off six and will justify my continued snacking by their high protein content.
PERMANENT ROTATION: If a Luger-style steak sauce isn’t your style, I (SB) am a big fan of this simple Vietnamese style marinade, featuring a hefty dose of the incomparable ( and sometimes polarizing) condiment that is Maggi sauce. I like to eat mine over jasmine rice and sweet corn, sometimes with a little butter.
(SB) As we know, it’s about to be mango season. I predict that the global pandemic has put a real damper on the import of my sweet, sweet Indian mangos, but I am tempted to chase that dragon with a print from @heleenatattoos.
(JS) Those of you who follow me on Instagram may be aware I’m raffling off a couple cakes as part of the @BakersForChange bake sale this Thursday. All proceeds will benefit Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s sister org, the Asian Law Caucus. New Yorkers who want to get in on the action can Venmo me @Jake-Stavis a minimum donation of $5 to enter the raffle! Every increment of $5 gets you an additional entry. May the odds be forever in your favor.
(SB & JS) While we’re admittedly lukewarm on the Boy Smells lineup as midmarket candles go, we’re deeply intrigued by their latest fragrance rollout, DS & Durga-inspired packaging and questionable names (Rose Load?) be damned.
Until next week, freaks; follow us on Instagram for more accumulations of cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren’t thoroughly blended.