Twenty years ago or more, a young Persian man--a visiting professor--rented a room in a boyfriend's house. One night, he treated us to the food of his homeland: ground meat kabobs, steamed rice with a well that held an egg yolk and chopped onion, and some rich, buttery pastry infused with rosewater. The meal was simple and utterly delicious. I have never forgotten the aromas and the creamy richness of that egg yolk blended with the hot rice and onions, nor the simple and aromatic pungency of the kabobs, which he prepared in a large, sided cookie sheet, then sliced into squares.. Not being a dessert person, the rosewater pastry didn't resonate with me, lovely though it was. What I wanted was more kabob meat and rice with egg yolk!
Recently, I attempted to recreate that meal for some food and wine-loving friends. Did I succeed? I don't know. The recipes I researched were far more sophisticated than the young professor's. His food had a simple, intense, rustic appeal that provoked a visceral response in me. Mine were good, but never could be as good as that original experience. Perhaps it was the stories he told of his childhood in Iran that enhanced the meal so much. I don't know.
But on this particular recent evening, we started with dry, apple-laced bubbles: the excellent Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut. We nibbled olives and cashews while the meal came together. While still waiting for the meal to come together--its progress slowed by tangents of conversation and laughter--we enjoyed a bottle of Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre Cuvee "Les Coutes" 2008 (France). Bracingly crisp and dry with an intensely limey finish (in both the mineral and citrus sense), we got a nose full of green olives and salt that held its own against the olive-bar mix and salty cashews.
Then, at the dinner table, two whites that supported the spice and floral aromas in the food: KungFu Girl Riesling 2010 (Washington State), an off-dry riesling floral and the flowery Asian pear dancing amidst crispness and minerality; and the lovely Ballet of Angels (Conneticutt), a blend of several varietals beautifully presented in its frosted bottle with early 19th c. art on its label. I first tried this surprising wine from the eastern seaboard (which claims to be the best selling wine in New England) at the Hyde Park Diner, a solidly established restaurant in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, TX. Ballet of Angels is full of fruit and flowers, slightly sweet, and flirts shamelessly with grapefruit. We tasted these wines side by side during dinner and although I loved the crispness of the riesling, I thought that the roundness of the east coast wine was an impressive match with the menu. As I recall, my friends thought much the same. Needless to say, no wine was left to savor the next day.
The recipes for this dinner are below. In future, I would change the texture of the lamb kofta by adding fresh breadcrumbs and egg (1/2 cup soft breadcrumbs and one egg well beaten per lb. of ground meat) since the kofta were too dense. Also, the amount of gelatin called for in the Honey Panna Cotta is incorrect. The correct proportions are 1 envelope of gelatin to approximately 2 cups cream. I would like a redo of this recipe and will get back to all of you in future about the results.
May your tastebuds dance!
Note: If you want a softer textured kebab, add 1/2 soft breadcrumbs and one egg, well beaten to the ground meat mixture.
Tzatziki with Mint
Saffron Rice with Rose Water
1 1/2 cups basmati or other long grain white rice
3 cups water
1 Tbs. butter
generous pinch saffron (bloom in 1 Tbs. hot water first)
1/2 tsp. rose water (optional)
4 egg yolks
finely chopped sweet onion for serving
1. Combine rice, water and butter in a covered saucepan and bring to boil.
2. Add saffron and rosewater.
3. Cover, reduce heat and cook for about 18 minutes.
4. Fluff with a fork, then divide rice between four plates.
5. Make a well in the center of each serving.
6. Place an egg yolk in the center.
7. Pass chopped onions. Serves 4.
Persian Baked Zucchini
Honey Panna Cotta
Note: Please adjust the gelatin as instructed above. Also, you can steep 1 tsp. of cardamom seeds in the honey and cream mixture when you're dissolving the honey for a "Middle Eastern tweak" on this dessert.