Two articles caught my attention this week:
After 13 years in America, Gelareh Asayesh returned to Iran to join her family for the saffron harvest in the crocus-studded fields of the northeast province of Khorasan. In “Season of the Flower,” (Gourmet, August 2007, pp. 32-34, 112) Asayesh vividly recalls the stripping of the precious red gold stamens from the purple flowers: “During visits for tea and conversation, housewives would haul out cloth bundles, unknotting them to spill forth flowers still cool from the night. Each blossom would be ruthlessly stripped while we talked. Everyone in the family seemed adept at this task, their hands moving nimbly, stripping petals away from stamens that would join the growing bundles held between fore and middle fingers…It was the one time of the year when the garbage smelled sweet.”
Asayesh also describes Persian dishes in which saffron is a key ingredient: “…pale yellow hand-churned bastini-e-akbar mashti—saffron ice cream dotted with thick clots of cream…aromatic lamb stews simmering in heavy stone pots in dimly lit kitchens…[and] roasted melon seeds and pistachio nuts flavored with the spice.” She includes a recipe for gheimeh, Persian beef and split pea stew flavored with saffron, cinnamon, allspice and dried Omani lemons.
In last week’s New Yorker, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk recalls how American hot dogs, hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches transformed Istanbul’s fast food street fare during the 1960’s—despite edicts against eating meat of unknown origin. In “Forbidden Fare,” (The New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2007, pp. 48-50), Pamuk describes his ecstatic early encounters with the illicit frankfurter: “We’d gaze through the glass at the dark-red sauce that had been simmering all day and select one of the frankfurters wallowing in it like happy water buffalo in the mud…” For the writer, eating American street food was a major break with Islamic tradition and a step towards the “solitary individualism that modernity so often involves.”