Tahdig

I was listening to The Splendid Table, the podcast hosted by Francis Lam, and one of his guests was Naz Deravian, author of the Persian cookbook Bottom of the Pot. I don’t own the cookbook (yet) but if the recipes are a fraction as compelling as her poetic storytelling, I’m already a fan.

They were discussing tahdig, the Persian saffron rice dish that’s all about that crispy layer that forms at the bottom of the pot – that is, it forms if you are either a seasoned culinary genius or extremely lucky in the kitchen. (In Persian, tah means bottom, and dig means pot.) This delicacy is rightfully beloved among many cuisines worldwide – you may be familiar with socarrat in the preparation of Spanish paella or Chinese guōbā. Wikipedia has a page titled Scorched Rice that includes it, but if that’s not an off-putting name, I don’t know what is.

During Ramadan last April, I made fesenjan with duck and decided to see how well the (meager) leftovers would freeze. (For the record, it was as successful as any reheated leftover stew-like dish, which is to say not bad at all.) So, charmed and encouraged by Ms Deravian’s narrative recounting her experience with her mother’s tahdig, I set out to try my hand at making it as an accompaniment for the revivified khoresh. I perused a number of recipes on the interwebs and came up with my own simplified (of course) procedure. Here’s how it came out:

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I think I may have initiated a new personal tradition for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year that heralds the spring equinox – that is, assuming I get extremely lucky in the kitchen again!
 
 

Ramadan 2021

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the holy month in which the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad; this year, Ramadan begins at sundown on Monday, April 12. During that period, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk; the meal that marks the end of each day’s fast is called iftar and often commences with three sweet dates which help restore blood sugar levels, after which the menu will vary by country and regional specialties.

In Iran, a rich stew (a khoresh) is not uncommon at the dinner table. This is fesenjan, a Persian dish often made with chicken, sometimes with duck like this one; the other two essential ingredients are walnuts and pomegranates in some form – my version uses pomegranate molasses although I’ve seen pomegranate juice pressed into service as well. Saffron rice in the supporting role.

(And that’s my grandmother’s serving dish if you’re curious.)

Ramadan Mubarak!
 
 

50 Ways to Love Your Liver

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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There must be 50 ways, I thought, so I set about searching for some unusual ones. Easier sung than done though.

I confess to being a lifelong liver lover, but I do know folks who are liver leavers, some tracing the trauma back to a childhood experience with a Chaplinesque dinner of shoe leather liver, so I’m always on the lookout for more palatable variations. I wrote about South African Chicken Livers Peri Peri a while ago (one of my favorite treatments for liver) and now I’ve unearthed this Persian dish called Jaghoor Baghoor. You might see it as Jaghul Baghul or any number of alternate spellings where double o’s and single u’s get swapped and l’s and r’s freely do-si-do. And there are as many unique tweaks for it as there are spellings.

A traditional dish from Zanjan province in northwestern Iran, it calls for lamb liver, onions, optional mushrooms, and fried potatoes – fairly prosaic, right? But what attracted me was the unlikely combination of three (and only three) flavor additions that make it distinct: tomato paste, pomegranate syrup (one of those aforementioned unique tweaks), and more turmeric than I’d ever think to use in a single dish.

The overall effect is not one of sweetness; rather it has background notes of umami from the tomato paste, tart fruitiness from the pomegranate, and earthiness from the turmeric.

Most of the recipes I found for the dish (and there really aren’t many) call for lamb liver but they all say that beef or calf liver can be used. Due to COVID, however, I couldn’t get my hands on any of those, so I had to make do with chicken liver. What can I say? During a pandemic, bloggers can’t be choosers.

Of course, while I was making it, I kept hearing in my head:

You just get out the pan, Dan
Toss in the veg, Reg
Then you throw in the meat, Clete
And crank up the heat

Just fry up a spud, Bud
You don’t need to make rice, Bryce
Now the dish is complete, Pete
And you’re in for a treat.

 
 
(With sincere apologies to Paul Simon.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️