A Weekend in Mendocino

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I grew up in Sonoma County and over the years, my home turf has become more popular: oft-mentioned in travel, food, and wine magazines and frequented by Silicon Valley-ers looking for a weekend getaway. And while I love that my stomping grounds are beloved by so many these days, things have gotten, uh, busier.

I was looking for Sonoma County in a time capsule, before the tourists. When there were more livestock than people and when tasting rooms were quiet enough to hold a conversation with the friendly-yet-tough-as-nails Jerry Garcia Band-loving winemaker who grew the grapes. I wanted farm-to-table, a rugged coast, rolling hills, and majestic redwoods.

I didn’t have to look far: Mendocino County has all that and more. There’s a cultural link between the two counties: people have long moved between the two and the region that touches is called Mendonoma for short. But Mendocino is unique in its own: more rugged, more rural and dare I say more independent.

I surprised Nishan with a weekend in Mendocino for his birthday. If you only have a couple days to spare, follow this itinerary.

Navarro Vineyards

Friday: sample some Pinot Noir at Navarro Vinyards in Philo along Highway 128. Don’t forget to try the verjus (that’s ab ghooreh for my Irooni readers)!

Glendeven Inn

Glendeven Inn

Make friends with the resident chickens and llamas at the Glendeven Inn in Little River. Then start your evening right with small bites and a drink in their lodge.

Miso-deviled eggs

Head back to Philo for dinner at the Bewildered Pig. This place is bursting with personality — and seasonal ingredients. Aren’t these the prettiest miso deviled eggs you’ve ever seen?

The fungus among us

The fungus among us. Oh, the mushrooms! Mendocino County has the best mushrooms I’ve ever tasted and this dish was among my favorites: wild foraged mushrooms tossed with loads of local greens and a bracing vinaigrette.

Mac and cheese

Creamy, runny, decadent mac and cheese.

Caramelized parsnip and shallot acorn flour ravioli

Caramelized parsnip and shallot acorn flour ravioli.

Mendocino coast

Saturday: attempt to hike from your inn to the Mendocino coast in the uncharacteristically late season rainstorm. Give up on hiking in the mud, but stop and enjoy the view first.

Taka's Grill

Make the quick drive over to Fort Bragg for lunch at Taka’s Grill, a hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant. Get the locally-caught sea urchin: a decadent treat at a relative bargain.

Mendocino Village

Gallery Bookshop

Drive back towards Mendocino Village for a fun walk around town. Stop at Corners of the Mouth, a former church converted into a health food store, and stock up on local dried porcini mushrooms. Stroll on over to Gallery Bookshop and then to Good Life Cafe for organic coffee and health-conscious treats. (In case you haven’t noticed yet, Mendocino is extremely into local, healthy fare and I am here for it.)

Mendocino Headlands

Try to explore the Mendocino Headlands in the middle of an ever-strengthening rainstorm. (Or you know, just visit when it’s sunny.)

Huckleberry spritz

Have dinner at Cafe Beaujolais, a France-meets-Mendocino restaurant. Ask for a table in the atrium so you can enjoy their garden view. Start with a huckleberry spritz made with housemade huckleberry syrup, because you know, local all day every day.

Grilled asparagus, mushroom, burrata

Grilled asparagus, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and burrata. Did I mention mushrooms? This was topped with duck cracklings and a balsamic glaze. Perfect.

Local black cod with wild mushroom agnolotti

Local black cod with wild mushroom agnolotti. MOAR MUSHROOMS. Ooh, and the beets and the cod! So many of my favorite ingredients.

Dungeness crab mac and cheese

Dungeness crab mac and cheese. This was not a mac and cheese per se. Not that I’m complaining.

Bone marrow mashed potatoes

Bone marrow mashed potatoes.

Glendeven

Sunday: enjoy one last homemade breakfast at the Glendeven Inn before checking out. Thanks chicken frens for the eggs.

Van Damme Beach

Stop at Van Damme Beach on your way out because the sun has finally come out and hey, it’s a lovely beach.

Pennyroyal Farm

You’re not ready to say goodbye to Mendocino County just yet. As you drive back towards the Bay Area, stop in Boonville on Highway 128 for lunch at Pennyroyal Farm. Say hi to the goats, try a sandwich and salad made with (you guessed it) locally-grown produce and goat cheese and sample some wine.

Okay, now you can say bye to Mendocino County. For now.

Shallot and Yogurt Dip (Mast-o Musir)

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Yogurt-based dips and side dishes factor in heavily in Iranian cuisine and none is more ubiquitous than mast-o khiar, or cucumber and mint yogurt dip. But mast-o musir (yogurt with dried shallots) is just as delicious and honestly? Nothing beats this as a potato chip dip.

Mast-o musir

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dried Iranian shallots (musir)
2 cups yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Place dried shallots in a medium bowl and cover with hot water. Let soak until softened, at least 2 hours. Drain, rinse, and pat dry. Chop the shallots finely.

2. Combine the shallots with yogurt, salt, and pepper. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve as an appetizer with potato chips, pita chips, or lavash bread, or serve as a side dish alongside your entree.

Hoisin-Chicken Nachos with Avocado

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Okay, so these aren’t really nachos. They’re more like vegetable chips plus chili-sake-tomato-avocado guacamole plus roast chicken plus a generous drizzle of hoisin. I can’t tell you if the leftovers keep well because we ate the whole thing in one sitting.

The first time I made these, I used roast duck, but leftover roast chicken is easier to come by and works just as brilliantly.

Hoisin-chicken nachos with avocado

Ingredients:

2 ripe but firm avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tomato, diced
3 green onions, thinly sliced, divided
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
3 teaspoons sake
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced roast chicken
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
2 bags Terra chips or similar vegetable chips

1. Mix the avocados, onion, tomato, half of the green onions, ginger, cilantro, sake, lime juice, vegetable oil, chili garlic sauce, and salt in a medium bowl, without mashing the avocado. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly to the surface and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Arrange the vegetable chips on a large platter. Dot spoonfuls of the avocado mixture across the chips evenly. Evenly scatter the roast chicken onto the chips next. Drizzle with hoisin sauce and garnish with the remaining green onion slices. Serve immediately.

Persian Gulf-Style Fish Kotlet (Kotlet-e Mahi)

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I grew up with the standard beef or lamb and potato kotlet, which is popular throughout Iran and has Russian origins (Iran long shared a border with the USSR). But I wonder about the origins of these fish kotlets. They’re more like Sri Lankan fish cutlets: spicy, crispy, and pillowy in the middle. Between fish kotlets, sambouseh, and dal adas in the Persian Gulf region, these dishes point to a South Asian culinary exchange. And that’s what I love about Iranian food: there are influences from our neighbors in so many of our meals.

Make sure to seek out the date molasses, as it’s a key ingredient in the sweet and sour glaze that adorns these kotlets. Date molasses can be found at most Middle Eastern grocers.

Persian Gulf-style fish kotlet

Ingredients:

1 potato, boiled, peeled, and cut into quarters
1 pound boneless, skinless fish fillets (such as tuna, salmon, or catfish), cut into small pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 serrano pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 green onions, chopped
3/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons dried fenugreek
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tamarind dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water, strained through a fine-mesh sieve
1/2 cup date molasses
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. In a food processor, pulse the potato until grainy. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

2. Place the fish, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, serrano pepper, turmeric, cumin, baking powder, green onions, cilantro, fenugreek, and chickpea flour in the food processor and pulse until the mixture is combined. Transfer the mixture to the mixing bowl with the potatoes, add the eggs, and mix well. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes and up to 8 hours.

3. Scoop up the fish mixture with a spoon and using oiled hands, mold 12 walnut-sized balls. Gently flatten each ball into patties.

4. In a wide skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until hot. Fry the patties on both sides until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes for each side.

5. In the meantime, make the glaze: in a small saucepan, combine the tamarind paste, date molasses, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cinnamon. Stir well and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Set aside until ready to serve.

6. To serve, arrange patties on a serving platter and drizzle with the glaze. Serve with flatbread or lettuce leaves and a platter of sabzi khordan to make wraps. I also like to serve these with South Indian-style Meyer lemon pickles.

Creamed Swiss Chard with Tahini

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Let’s get one thing out of the way: I can’t stand creamed spinach: to me, it tastes bland. Its one redeeming quality? A lovely, velvety texture. So when I experimented with this Swiss chard side dish, I wanted something that evoked the texture of creamed spinach but with lots more flavor, and healthier too.

Sure, there’s no actual cream in this “creamed” Swiss chard, but you won’t miss it anyway. Serve this as a side dish or as a dip alongside crackers and crudites.

Creamed Swiss chard with tahini

2 bunches green-stemmed Swiss chard (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup tahini
1/3 cup lemon juice
Salt

1. Remove ribs and stems from Swiss chard leaves and finely chop. Tear leaves into small pieces. Set stems and leaves aside separately.

2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large pot over medium-low. Cook reserved ribs and stems, stirring often and adding a splash of water if they start to brown, until tender, about 7 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add reserved chard; cook, tossing, until all the leaves are wilted and tender, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Squeeze excess liquid from mixture into a measuring glass. (You should have about 1/2 cup liquid.)

3. Place Swiss chard mixture and 1 tablespoon cooking liquid in a food processor and add tahini, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup oil. Season with salt and process, adding more cooking liquid if needed, until dip is creamy. Season with more salt if needed.

4. Serve as a side dish or as a dip alongside crackers.