Today’s culinary adventure brought us to the Middle East, which I felt was appropriate since I just finished reading a book about Mary and the Middle East had been on my mind (though, she of course lived in Palestine, not Iran, but whatever. Geography.) Iran is one of those places that both Mike and I would really like to travel to, but don’t expect to be able to any time soon. So, instead we traveled with our mouths.
Iran is one of those countries that I think is mired in our shared history. Instead of thinking of its vast culture, incredible history, contributions to art, science, and literature, we instead think of oil, or war, or hostages. It’s understandable that we do this – the images we see tend to be just of burning American flags and angry leaders shouting about the evils of the West. But just like anywhere, this isn’t the whole story. I’m not sure that eating Persian food really gives me much more knowledge about what the country is really like, but it did make me think of a nameless Iranian woman, working in her kitchen, making flat bread from scratch and chopping herbs, just like I was doing thousands of miles away.
Tonight we had a full meal, replete with spices and textures and tastes that were both familiar and foreign. It was spicy and satisfying. On the menu:
Kufteh-ye pesteh-o anar (Pistachio and Pomegranate Meatballs)
Doogh (I totally plagiarized the title of my post from hers)
Flat Bread (technically not an Iranian recipe)
This meal was a bit labor intensive and definitely took more time than I anticipated. I started with the bread at 3:30 pm and it was about 6:00 pm that we actually ate. So, definitely a weekend meal.
I started first with the flat bread, since it required a 1 hour rise. It was pretty easy to whip together in my food processor. This was a spur of the moment decision to make, but lucky for me, I had yeast in my pantry and thyme growing in my garden (this meal really utilized my herb garden, which was pretty awesome.). The trickiest part of the bread was rolling it out after the rise. It was really sticky, which made it hard to transfer into the pan. If I had used my brain for a second, I would have rolled it out on parchment, but hindsight, as they say … Anyway, this recipe tells you to cut the dough into 20 pieces and of those, I messed up about 5 of them and combined a couple of together, so I ended up with maybe 10 small pieces of flat bread, which was plenty.
The cooking of the bread is fairly easy – it only takes a couple of minutes per side. Just make sure the pan is hot (I used our griddle) and not oiled. Watch for bubbles, then flip.
While the bread dough was rising, I set to work on the meatballs. Let me tell you, shelling a cup and half of pistachios takes a bit of time.
A few notes about the recipe – I did not use the full cup of tarragon that it called for because I am not a huge lover of licorice. Additionally, the cilantro I bought just a few days ago was murdered by my refrigerator, so I left it out. Additionally, as far as technique goes, the instructions have you put everything but the meat (I used turkey) and the egg in a food processor and blend until it is a “grainy paste.” Instead of throwing it all in together, I would recommend grinding the pistachios in a spice/coffee grinder, since the food processor missed a few chunks of nuts. Although, ultimately, it wasn’t really an issue.
After getting it together, the mixture goes in the fridge for 30 minutes. This was the point at which I baked my bread. And once the bread was baked, I moved on to the cucumber salad.
This was really easy and required very few ingredients. The only one I had to go out of my way for was sumac, which I found at Whole Foods.
Like the meatballs, this salad required 30 minutes in the fridge. Right about the time it was going in, the meatballs were coming out for their initial bake at 500 degrees in the oven (nb: the yield in the recipe was 24 to 30 meatballs. I made 15 and then froze the rest into burger patties for “Persian burgers”). When they were in the there, I threw together the glaze.
I found the pomegranate molasses at a little Mediterranean market in Lake City. They had a ton of really great looking stuff, including a whole bunch of Turkish food, so I’ll definitely be going back. The pomegranate molasses was probably the hardest thing to track down (I was really surprised they didn’t sell it at Whole Foods). This had an interesting taste – really sour and not as thick as normal molasses. I definitely ended up adding more honey to the glaze, as the recipe suggested. After mixing it together, the glaze went on the meatballs and the meatballs went back into the oven.
Which gave me time to make the doogh. Doogh is a yogurt drink, which combines Greek yogurt with soda water, salt, and dried mint. It is extremely easy to make, as all you do is literally mix these things together.
And with the doogh made, we had our meal.
The meatballs were really good, reminding me a little bit of falafel, except with turkey. I think it was the cumin. I definitely liked the glaze and the pomegranate arils gave a really nice pop of sweet crunch.
The salad was really refreshing and was a nice compliment to the spiciness of the meatballs. I think it would have been even better leaving out the onions and going with just cucumber.
The bread was decent. It had good texture, although not too much flavor, which was fine. With a few meatballs wrapped inside, it was perfect.
But the doogh … the doogh was straight-up weird. It wasn’t as fizzy as I thought it would be (I think the mixing with the yogurt deflated the bubbles in the soda water, which I made myself in our Soda Stream – great purchase, btw), and it just tasted like drinking yogurt. I like yogurt drinks like mango lassis, but probably because they are sweet. Anyway, I didn’t like these, mostly because of the texture. Also, they weren’t cold enough, which could obviously be remedied if I were to make them again, but I won’t.
However, in general, I thought this menu was a real success. I loved all the different spices at work, especially the cumin and the red pepper, and enjoyed using so much from my garden (parsley, mint, and thyme).