In Legacy.com's Recipe Vault series, celebrity chefs and food bloggers share how recipes connect us to those we've lost
By: Linnea Crowther
2 years ago
In Legacy.com's Recipe Vault series, celebrity chefs and food bloggers share how recipes preserve our life stories and connect us to those we've lost.
How did you first get interested in cooking?
Being of Persian descent, Iranian descent, I would say cooking is in my blood. Eating good food is in my blood. It's part of the culture, so there was no way around it. Now, having said that, I wasn't in the kitchen cooking with my mom or with aunts or grandmothers when I was young, but it was happening around me all the time. A meal around the table was not something special – it's just what we did. There was no way around it.
When did I get personally interested in cooking? It was when I actually left my parents' home in Vancouver and moved to Los Angeles on my own, and I realized after a week of fending for myself that I was very hungry. Not to say that I hadn't eaten, but I hadn't had a home-cooked Persian meal. To me, that's a necessity. So I set out and did my very best to recreate those comforting foods that nourished me. It kind of took off from there, and I realized I really enjoyed it.
It wasn't so much the cooking, but I love feeding people. Passing on that love, and the hospitality and conviviality of joining around the table with friends, having friends over – it was all passed down as what I grew up with, and I realized that was what I enjoyed as well. If I like you, I'll want to feed you.
Is that what you love most about cooking? Feeding others?
Joining people around the table, yes.
Do you have any memories of the first thing you cooked, or that you cooked really well?
One of the first dishes I tried to recreate on my own when I was in Los Angeles was a stew, a Persian stew. And, of course, the rice, the steamed Iranian rice that goes along with it, and the tahdig, the crusty bottom-of-the-pot, which is just delectable. The stew I just kind of threw together with whatever was in the fridge, but that's also part of the spirit of Iranian cooking, making do with what you have and not overthinking it. So it was a carrot-apple stew, because that's all I had, carrots and apples and my ground saffron that my mom had sent.
How did it come out?
It was delicious! And I made my rice, and my tahdig worked out, and I had my tub of yogurt, and I was set!
Tell me about a recipe that reminds you of a loved one you've lost.
It's a very, very simple dish, and it's something my grandmother would prepare for me, my maternal grandmother. She was quite a character. Just full of life, and not your typical grandmother. We didn't call her Grandma – in Persian, we called her Maman Ghashangi, which means "Beautiful Mom." And that should give you an idea of her character – not wanting to be called Grandma, but Beautiful Mom.
I left Iran when I was quite young, but I do have certain memories of my grandmother. Maman Ghashangi would come stay with me on occasion when my parents would work. My mom would have various stews and soups premade and stored away in the freezer, and in the morning, she would take the stew out and leave it out for my grandma to serve me for lunch. A nourishing, well-balanced meal.
As soon as my mom would leave, my grandma would put the soup back in the freezer, and what we would have for lunch was one of her favorite things. It was essentially just a baked potato, but it was the most delicious and comforting baked potato ever. She would bake the potato and then drizzle it with olive oil, warm, and then mash it up with plenty of salt and spices. On occasion, there might be an egg either cracked onto it or mixed into it. It just hit all the comforting points. To me, that was her, it was fun – it was an act of rebellion against my mom.
When I got older, living on my own, I started making that, but I started adding my own little bits to it. So I would bake the potato and crumble in some cheese, and add some chopped-up parsley and green onion. It becomes this delicious whole meal, which I owe to my Beautiful Mom. It is really amazing.
And now I see in North America, the loaded baked potato – but this takes it to an even different level. Mashing it down, and it's that olive oil that makes all the difference. That potato needs to be drenched in that olive oil while it's warm. I sometimes even drizzle a little vinegar, because it gives it a little bit of a kick. Persians love sour things; you need something that brings a dish to life. And plenty of salt – and she would put lots of black pepper on hers. I remember not being too keen on that, but now I like it. You could add Aleppo pepper, all sorts of good stuff.
So this is still something you make pretty frequently?
Yes, if I need a quick lunch, or even a quick snack for my kids, this is what I'll go to. You have the eggs, you have the protein, and it's nutritious and simple. But most of all, it's delicious, and it reminds me of those lunches we had together.
She also read Turkish coffee cups – she was known for that, and all her friends would show up on designated days, and they'd sit around and drink Turkish coffee and she would tell their fortune. She did that for me as well, with that baked potato. It was an afternoon of baked potatoes and fortune telling.
So, all these years later, this is a recipe that brings your grandmother to mind, and you still make it frequently and think of her. Is there a recipe like that for you? What are people going to make in the future that makes them think of you?
The first thing that comes to mind is what will my children remember me for. There is a celery stew we have; it's called khoresh karaff. I hope it would bring up all the same feelings of home and comfort and love, really. We had it last night! And I'm having some for lunch today, and my children take it in their thermos to school. It's all the smells and aromas. You open your door and instantly you think – oh. You're home.
Loved and Loaded Cooked Potato
1 medium, 170-gram (6-ounce) gold potato, peeled and cut in half
1 large egg
Ground black pepper
Sumac, to taste
Parsley, chopped, to taste
Feta cheese, crumbled, to taste
Place the potato in a small pot, cover with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the potato is fork tender, 15-20 minutes.
In the meantime, cook the egg. Place the egg in a small pot, cover with water, and bring to boil over high heat. Once at a boil, turn off the heat and cover the pot for 4-5 minutes, for a soft-boiled egg with a runny yolk. If you prefer your yolk not as runny, cover for 6-8 minutes. Peel and set aside.
Once the potato is cooked, place on a plate and mash with a fork. Drizzle with a very healthy glug of your best olive oil, sprinkle with a good pinch of sea salt, and add black pepper to taste. The olive oil and salt are key here, so don’t skimp. Place the egg on top of the mashed potato and garnish with your favorite toppings: feta, sumac, parsley (anything that brings you joy!), and an extra drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy.
Originally published in May 2016