Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tough to Tarof Salad

Last night we went to the Iranian market to pick up some spices. I am in love with two of them, sumac and dried lime. If you have never experienced these flavors before, get to an Iranian market immediately..seriously..your palate could use a little excitement.

Tarof is an Iranian custom of etiquette. Traditionally, offered food is refused three times before it is graciously accepted. This shows restraint, dignity, and respect for one's host. I am told that a typical encounter of tarof goes something like this.
Person A "would you like some potato salad?"
Person B "oh no thank you, I have already eaten"
Person A "are you sure you wouldn't like some?"
Person B"no thank you, I am full"
Person A "please, try some, I insist"
Person B "well, ok. I will have just a little.."
At which point person B, having displayed proper restraint, is free to gorge himself.

I have to admit I failed miserably at this concept last night at the market. The cashier at the store offered us some green almonds to try. I have never had a raw, whole, green almond before and I was quick to accept. Next he offered salted sour plums, and again I partook without hesitation. Next he offered some sour plums to an older Iranian man who was milling about in the store. The man refused. Again the cashier offered. At this point Christina leaned over and said "you are witnessing tarof in action". I looked remorsefully down at the second plum in my hand.

Some friends of ours who were also at the market had tried the almonds as well. As we were leaving my friend, who had a half-eaten almond in her hand, remarked "I don't think I care for these almonds.." Immediately, I swept in and lifted the little morsel out of her hand. Before she could protest the almond had disappeared on it's way to the caverns of my belly. She stood looking, amazed, at her own (now empty) hand. "well, I might have wanted to eat it still.." she said. We all fell into a fit of laughter. Some foods are just too tough to tarof!

Here is today's salad:
The dressing:
1 1/2 Tbsp sunflower oil
1/2 Tbsp cider vinegar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Sumac (yummmmm) (try this first by sprinkling it on some raw fennel, if you like the flavor add a lot to your adds color and flavor.)
1/2 Tbsp crushed dried lime
1/2 Tbsp honey
mix well and taste

Preheat the oven to 400
Chop off the top of 1/2 bulb of garlic (so that the tips of the garlic are exposed, but the rest of the clove is still nestled in it's skin)
Dice or slice thinly (whatever shape your mouth prefers) 1 bulb fennel. Set aside the tops (or fronds) for later
slice thinly 1/2 small sweet yellow onion
put all of these ingredients into a oven friendly glass dish drizzled with a few Tbsp olive oil. liberally shower the fennel with balsamic vinegar. Salt it all.
Put in the oven (for about 45 min- 1 hr..until the garlic is carmelized and mushy and the fennel is roasted and the onions are sweet)

Cut up 12 oz baby (yellow) potatoes. (into small bite sized pieces)
Put in pot of water, bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook the potatoes until tender (20 min-ish)
while that's going, cut up some fresh green beans (a few handfuls). when the potatoes are cooked, add the green beans to the boiling potatoes to blanch them (1-2 min) then pour the whole mixture into a strainer and rinse with cold water (after all, potato salads are supposed to be cold, right?)

To assemble, mix everything together and decorate with chopped basil, chopped fennel fronds and pepper. You may not need all the dressing if you pour the oil from the fennel onto the potatoes, but use your judgement. This salad is good served cold or at room temperature.

Christina's vote: "Similar to Grandma Marjorie's afternoon potato salad..but nothing like it-this is a full meal-with lots of flavor"

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