An Evening with Anthony Bourdain

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If you’ve been reading this blog for more than, oh, five minutes, you probably know that I am unabashedly inspired by/live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain. No Reservations is one of the two television programs that I watch regularly, and I’ve devoured his books.

So when I was gifted tickets for this past Saturday to a reception and dinner at E&O Trading Company to launch his new book, I was ecstatic. And what’s more, dinner was being prepared by Chris Cosentino of Incanto, Alex Ong of Betelnut and Tim Luym of Poleng Lounge.

Anthony Bourdain in person is much like he is in writing or on television – well spoken with a touch of humored snarkiness, and really tall. I was pretty nervous approaching him, seeing as how I was the first person pushed forward to get my book signed, so I didn’t chat him up as I’d intended. A few glasses of champagne later, however, I went up to him and asked him to consider visiting Iran for his show. He lit up and said it’s at the top of his list for countries he wants to visit and his crew is planning on it for the fifth season. We spoke about that and his visit to Beirut for a a while and let me tell you, I was giddy inside. Giddy enough that I went back a third time and asked him for a photo:

An Evening with Anthony Bourdain

Tony, if you’re reading this, call me, okay? We can go to Iran together. I’ll show you around the best eats. My grandmother cooks a mean ash-e reshteh!

After we snacked on hors d’ourves of fried corn fritters, stewed oxtail, seared scallops, deep-fried tripe with citrus salt, and peanut-ginger bites, a pleasantly buzzed Anthony gave a brief speech on how inside every great cook there is an old Chinese man. He made a couple of jabs at Rachael Ray and her ilk, and we were seated for dinner.

The lighting was too dim to get any presentable photos of the banquet-style food, but we were served the following:

King salmon with serrano peppers, kaiware sprouts, and Meyer lemon ponzu

Green papaya rainbow salad with kaffir lime nuoc mam dressing, pomelo, green mangoes, and toybox tomatoes

Kauai prawn rendang with spicy coconut kaffir lime sauce

Shanghainese red cooked pork belly with jasmine rice “jook”

Hot and sour braised short ribs in an aromatic broth, chilis and mustard greens

Whole roasted stuffed pig trotter with savoy cabbage and mustard

Long life braised E-Fu noodles with conpoy, Dungeness crab, straw mushrooms and Chinese chives

Celebration jasmine rice with aromatic spices and fresh turmeric

Fresh market vegetables, stir-fried Nonya-style

The company around us was great, and we were delighted to have discovered like-minded people who understand the importance of offal and stinky tofu. Afterwards we moved on to dessert, which included:

Grapefruit foam soda

Lemograss chocolate lollipops

Truffles

Mock pork belly (made of yams)

Alex Ong provided everyone with artisanal Filipino sea salt to take home, and the chefs were friendly and gracious enough to sign my menu and take photos too:

An evening with Anthony Bourdain dinner menu

It was an amazing evening. I’m still glowing and can’t wait until the next time Bourdain is in town. Hopefully next time he’ll give a longer speech and you know, take me up on my offer as his tour guide. So what do you say, Tony?

Fereni

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I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I make an exception with a lot of Iranian desserts like bakhlava and zoolbiya. Still, my favorites tend to veer towards the lighter sweets, like faloodeh. So when I tried fereni, a rosewater-inflected rice pudding for the first time a few months ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how refreshing and light its taste was. I tried making it at home recently and loved the results. Go easy on the rosewater – a little goes a long way.

Fereni

Ingredients:

1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons rosewater

1. Pour milk in a large saucepan over medium heat and add rice flour, stirring to dissolve. Add rosewater and sugar.

2. Stir constantly over heat until mixture comes to a slow boil and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

3. Remove from heat and transfer to individual serving bowls, and let cool. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Mint-Lime and Pomegranate Green Tea Sugar Syrups

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I discovered the joys of Torani syrup when I was a kid, gleefully mixing it with club soda to make Italian sodas. I’ve since learned to make the grownup version, and with homemade syrup. Feel free to play around with the flavors, and since I had a bunch of Iranian mint and green tea lying around, I went with these:

Mint-Lime and Pomegranate Green Tea Sugar Syrups

For a quick cocktail, add a few spoons to some vodka or rum with a splash of club soda. I’m planning on making a seasonal cranberry-orange syrup for Thanksgiving cocktails.

Ingredients:

1 handful fresh mint
zest of two limes, peeled in 1/2 inch-thick strips
2 bags of pomegranate green tea
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups water
1 cup sugar

1. In a medium saucepan, bring one cup of sugar and one cup of water just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add mint and lime zest, cover, and turn off heat, letting the mixture steep for an hour. Remove lid and let cool, then pour into a jar and refrigerate.

2. Repeat the process of dissolving the remaining cup of water and sugar over heat, and steep with the tea and honey for a hour. Let cool, and pour into another jar and refrigerate.

Burma Superstar

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I was at my alma mater a few weeks ago for the Iranians on the Internet conference and afterwards, I met up with a friend to pay a visit to my favorite bookstore, Green Apple Books.

As we were walking down Clement Street afterwards, we spotted a buzzing crowd around Burma Superstar and having heard a lot of good things about the place, decided to give it a try. Ever since I moved out of the Richmond district in San Francisco a couple of years ago, I’ve stumbled upon all these great restaurants that were in my neighborhood the whole time I was living there.

I checked out the menu while I waited for our names to be called. Half an hour later, we were seated. We started with the samusas, which to me tasted like a cross between Indian samosas and Iranian sambuseh:

Samusas

I had the Nan Gyi Dok (Coconut Chicken Rice Noodle Curry) and my friend had the Burmese Beef Curry. Both were delicious.

Nan Gyi Dok

Burmese beef curry

Burma Superstar gets busy and cramped, but in a warm, inviting way. The service is attentive and the food is pretty good (albeit heavy). I’ll be back for more. With all the attention on Thai and Vietnamese cuisine in recent years, Burmese is just waiting to be discovered.

Hearts of Palm Salad with Shrimp and Avocado

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I first encountered hearts of palm at Pampas Grill, a Brazilian churrascaria in the Farmers Market in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. I have no idea how I’d gone so long without coming across the vegetable, but it’s been a favorite ever since then. I used them in making what is now one of my favorite salads:

Hearts of palm salad with shrimp and avocado

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cans hearts of palm, drained and rinsed
1 hard-boiled egg, shelled and chopped
1/2 pound cooked tiny shrimp
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper

1. In a bowl, whisk olive oil, vinegar, capers, lemon juice, shallots, mustard, and salt to taste. Cut hearts of palm in half lengthwise. Lay hearts of palm in dressing, turn over, and let stand for 5 minutes.

2.Lift hearts of palm from dressing and arrange on a large salad plate. Add shrimp to dressing in bowl and mix. Arrange avocado on salad. Spoon shrimp and all the dressing over the hearts of palm and avocado. Top with egg, and sprinkle with pepper to taste.