#Recipe: My Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake

Dora's chocolate cake

My grandmother was famous for her chocolate cake. Some relatives joked that the secret ingredient was cigarette ashes, but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case.

When she died, many of her loved ones still had her cakes stowed away in the freezer. One passover, my sister found what she thought was the recipe hand written inside a haggadah. It turned out to be a grocery list.

Recently one of my cousins shared the recipe with us. I admit I was a bit scared to make it the first time. I was afraid it would not live up to the memory. There was nothing for me to fear. The very act of making the cake was enough to bring my grandmother back to life. It didn’t matter whether it was delicious or not.

Those of you heard the KFJC discussion between me and DJ Ruthie might be interested in the chocolate cake we talked about.

The cake (all the measurements are American style):

1 cup butter (I use about 3/4 of a block of butter for this)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 cups self-rising cake flour (I find it’s best when I replace one cup of flour with one cup of cocoa powder — yum)
1 large bar (or a little more) of good quality dark chocolate — melted (about 7 ounces–more for chocolate lovers)
5 eggs — separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 mashed bananas (when I make layers, I use 3 mashed bananas and put one between the layers)

Cream together the butter and sugar
add melted chocolate (I put a little bit of olive oil in a bowl and then put in the chocolate and microwave it)
Add the buttermilk and flour
Beat the eggs separately add the yolks
Fold in the whites

Bake at 180 C/350 F

Bake a deep cake about 45 minutes
If you are making layers, 30 minutes

I am not a huge frosting fan, so I don’t add any. It’s delicious with raspberries or powdered sugar on top.

Prayer Goes Out; Food Goes In: Plum Chicken with Bibi Kasrai

The day I spoke with the author of The Spice Whisperer, Bibi Kasrai, she was busy with her new enterprise, a cooking camp for children. She had left a career as a corporate executive to do what she loves: cooking and teaching.

That day the children were making hummus, croque-monsieurs, and popsicles. It’s this mix of cultures that makes Bibi and her cooking special. As she describes in her book, her journey from Iran to the United States took her all over the world, learning to cook, falling in love, and encountering a wide range of cultures.

Five years after the revolution in Iran, when Bibi was a teenager, her family went into hiding. An arrest warrant had been issued for her father, the well-known and well-loved poet Siavosh Kasrai. The family moved from house to house, not wishing to put friends and supporters in danger.

“My family had helped the Jews, the Baha’is and royalist friends escape, but now it was our turn,” she writes in The Spice Whisperer. “My mother came up with a plan to hire smugglers that would hopefully take us to France where all our European dreams would come true; except we ended up in Moscow via Afghanistan.”

Before they left Iran, as a last refuge when they had nowhere else to hide, her maternal grandmother took them in, saying, “If they are going to take you, let them take all of us.”

“My grandma was comfort,” Bibi recalls. “She was pure love…. Even when she wanted to teach a lesson, she was mild. Like she would say to me, ‘Bibi, you have a hot temper. When you get really angry take a glass of water and hold it in your mouth.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ And she said, ‘Because when water is in your mouth, you cannot say anything.’”

Read the entire article on The Guardian

Plum Chicken photographed by Sanam Salehian

Taste of Iran: Lari Kebab Made as a Stew

I loved the concise flavors of this dish, but learned that in order to replicate them I had to have the best ingredients.

Taste of Iran: Lari kebab recipe

Iranian student in Italy recreates a traditional dish – with a twist

Lari kebab
Lari kebab served with salad and jasminebasmati rice. Photograph: Tori Egherman

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is lit against the night sky, the square empty save for a couple walking hand in hand and a man with a dog by his side. In a top-floor apartment a few blocks away, Peyman Majidzadeh is putting the finishing touches on his favorite dish, Lari kebab, made on the stove instead of the grill and with chicken instead of lamb. It might be a stretch to call it Lari kebab, but that’s what Peyman calls it and so will I.

During the four years I lived in Iran, not only did I never eat Lari kebab, I had never even heard of Lar, the county seat of Larestan in Fars province. Four hundred kilometres from Shiraz, the province’s best known city, it’s not one of the more visited corners of Iran.

Larestan sits in the desert, close to the other Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. It has its own dialect, but it has no oil and little in the way of other mineral resources. It has no sites of particular interest to tourists or pilgrims. Very few Iranians from elsewhere in the country have ever been to Lar. Any who do go are likely to be surprised by the small city’s wealth and the fact that it is served by an international airport and a six-lane highway.

Read the rest on The Guardian

Cooking Aubergine Stew with Halleh Ghorashi

(Or as we Americans call it: Eggplant)

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Before going to Iran, I had eaten only stale, tasteless turmeric that added colour rather than flavour. On my first full day in Iran, I had a dish of eggplant stuffed with ground lamb, topped with unripe grapes, and seasoned with turmeric. I thought it was cinnamon, even writing in my diary that it was a different kind of cinnamon, “deeper and more earthy tasting. It isn’t as light or sweet. I guess you could say that it tastes as though it was grown with cumin…”

Now, every time I taste turmeric, I think of those early days in Iran, when I hadn’t yet overdosed on kebab and hospitality, and every meal was rife with new flavours and observations.

Food is a bridge to the past, and the best dishes come accompanied by good stories. This week, I cooked a stew of eggplant and chicken with Halleh Ghorashi, an influential scholar in the Netherlands, who I know came there as a refugee. Among her friends, however, she is more known for her cooking than for any of her academic accomplishments.

“When I cook, I cook with love,” she said. “I think of it like a painting that I compose with care.”

The dish she chose to cook was one that provided an enduring link with her mother and her own troubled childhood. When she cooks her eggplant dish, Halleh can’t help but remember the strain of growing up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia.

“It was always a painful relationship. Her life was dominated by her sickness and there was a direct connection between her miserable life and me, since her schizophrenia emerged with my birth. From that moment, my mom was never normal like other moms. I was often embarrassed of her sickness. She was fighting all the time with her family, with the neighbours, with my father, with everyone.”

Read the whole article on Tehran Bureau, The Guardian

Too Much Is Never Enough: Making Ghelye Mahi

Every time we had people over for dinner, my husband would say to me, “Tori, we didn’t make enough food.”

“How can that be?” I’d ask. “There are leftovers.” It wasn’t until we moved to Iran in 2003 for a four-year stay that I understood what he meant. A chicken leg or two is not leftovers. It’s ta’rof — good manners. It’s what the guests leave behind so you won’t think you served them insufficiently. “Enough food” means that another party can be fed with what is left over at the end of the evening.

The first time we were invited out in Iran, we were served omelets, fish, whole roasted chicken, yogurt and cucumbers, yogurt and spinach, tomato, cucumber, and onion salad, salad with iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island dressing, spring chicken kebabs, and chopped lamb kebabs. All of this was brought to the table just before midnight. Kamran whispered, “Do they think we’re cows?”

I tell you this so you won’t balk at the amount of food my friend Zohreh Sanaseri (pictured) prepared for our dinner of ghelye (ghalieh) mahi — a stew of fish, herbs, and tamarind paste. She invited three others to share the stew with us, but made enough for at least ten people.

In four years of living in Iran, I never once encountered ghelye mahi. In fact, it wasn’t until a night out at a Persian restaurant in Amsterdam that I ate it for the first time. The flavor was surprising: sharp, sour, sweet, and fishy all at once. It was made with many of the ingredients found in other stews I’d eaten in Iran, but tasted nothing like them. I searched for recipes and tried making it a few times before giving up. None was as good as my first time…

And then I ate ghelye mahi at the home of my friend Zohreh, who hails from the city of Abadan in southwestern Iran. “It was the Paris of Iran,” the eldest of her two daughters, who were born in the Netherlands, tells me. “Was,” Zohreh emphasizes. “Before the war.”

It was the war with Iraq that drove Zohreh and her family out of Iran. She settled in the Netherlands with her husband when she was just 25. “I had never cooked before in my life,” she says. “I learned everything here.”

Read more at Tehran Bureau.