Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace: a Persian Cucumber & “Sekanjebin” Summer Drink

Virtual Midsummer Potlock for Peace | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-21

I. Taking a Stand at an Anniversary

Since I started this blog exactly three years ago, I have lived in four different houses. Early after publishing the first post, I left the apartment I shared with great roommates to move in with my ex-boyfriend. A year and half later, I moved out to another apartment with not-so-great roommates. Then finally a month ago, I moved, again, to a tiny apartment right under the Colosseum. The latter, is one of the most exciting and demanding events of my adult life. 

Home, has a always been a big theme in this blog, as I said right in the beginning (gosh, that ‘about’ page needs to be updated!). It’s an argument that occupies my mind whenever I think I’m finally settling down, and whenever I feel lost. Artists, writers and thinkers have dedicated years to work on the subject of home, and movement. I prefer to refer to them, rather than poorly attempting to elaborate this vast subject. But, again, home, it returns, and it is in a way the core of Lab Noon. 

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Lab Noon, was born as a laboratory of (metaphoric) fermentation and baking, as noon means bread in Persian, other than midday. I wanted this virtual space to be my home, no matter where I physically was. I didn’t start this blog as a pure hobby. My intentions were professional right from the beginning, although I didn’t exactly what direction my career as a visual creative and food enthusiast would take. 

Three years later, I work as a professional food photographer, and content creator for social media, and I’m aspiring to more food writing. BUT! I can’t begin to emphasize how important it is for me to keep this blog and my social media, true to myself, and my own values. As late Zygmunt Bauman said years ago, our modern societies are liquid, our reality is fluid. We are living in weird, dark times, and the most dangerous way to behave is to be indifferent. Therefore I am making a plea to all those who have a platform and an audience (which in the era of social media basically means everybody), to take a stand and make their voice heard, while respecting their niche. 

Honestly, I sometimes find it very hard to talk about food and food alone when horrid attacks and bombs and killing is on the order of the day. We can’t increase the violence by discussing the violence and sharing its images. What can do, is however to open up for dialogue; prepare a platform to talk, and to listen, especially to those who are often not heard. We can encourage the conversation. If you think this idea is bizzarre for a food blog, read this note on Food52 that was published the day after the US elections in last November. 

II: A Picnic Blog Party: Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace

On that note, I invited dozens of fellow blogger to participate in a virtual gathering and each bring something to eat or drink as IRL. Spread a cloth, set the scene, distribuite the food, eat, drink, be marry and… start a dialogue. Twenty something bloggers have joined me for the virtual midsummer potluck for peace. Some were very eager to participate but couldn’t make it in the end. Many others gave support.

There are recipes of all kind, and different origins. Salads, grills, pies, quiches, bites, desserts and drinks, there’s a glorious amount of summer recipes perfect for picnics or al fresco dining. Check out the guest recipes in the list bellow. I couldn’t have celebrated Lab Noon’s birthday in any better way, so once again, thank you everyone for coming to this virtual gathering!

My recipe is a classic Perisan drink with cucumbers and mint that you can find after the list of bloggers and recipes.
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Guests’ recipes for the Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace

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Persian Cold Soup with Cucumber & Herbs from Puglia, in Southern Italy

Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-8NOTE: The floral bowls and platter in this post are the courtesy of Dishesonly; a website where you can purchase various types of designer and craft dish-ware. Check them out! There have many pretty plates!

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Fiammetta is the type of woman I’d like to become “when I get old”; brilliant, independent, strong and unstoppable. She just turned 73, she can tell you a hundred stories about her travels around the globe since she was young, the stories of South of Italy, where her both parents were from. One from Apulia and the other from Naples. The stories of when she worked as the manager of classical musicians and arranged concerts in Italy for the Russian artists when the Soviet Union didn’t let anybody out. She speaks many languages and her recent infatuation with Iran has brought us together. Fiammetta has travelled to Iran in November 2014 and she’s been in love with my country ever since. So much so that she’s now learning Persian. My mother tongue made our paths meet; and the passion for food and culture bonded us in a not-so-ordinary friendship.  I had a pleasure to stay in her country house in the provence of Apulia in Southern Italy for the first 10 days of August. Emerged in the beautiful and unique nature of Puglia (the Italian word for Apulia), and surrounded by so much culture and history, Fiammetta and I talked a lot; I talked about Iran and she talked to me about Puglia, Naples and the stories from her parents and her childhood. We went out a lot; around the country side and the nearby small towns, and to the beach, where the Pugliese sea was Esmeralda clear blue and put the the Caribbean seas to shame. But most importantly we cooked. We talked about countless recipes, both Italian and Persian, and we were often surprised by the similarity of some of these dishes, especially the southern ones to the Iranian ones.

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Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-5

Thankfully, Fiammetta and I shared the same same taste regarding Summer food; simple, seasonal, quick and mostly vegetarian. There was an abundant harvest of tomatoes, eggplants and thin, long peppers. Plus a certain kind of cucumber that I have seen only in southern in Italy and has different names in different dialects. It’s round and green, smaller than a melon, and it tastes like both cucumber and melon! It’s one of my favorite summer vegetables that sadly I can’t find in Rome.  The tiny vegetable garden provided us with much more than we needed, therefore a lot of time was required to preserve all the veggies and prevent them from rotting. We spent two days making “conserva”, the tomato sauce the Neapolitan way. (Here you can find a classic Italian tomato sauce recipe.) Caught by the weariness and after squeezing and canning many kilos of tomatoes, Fiammetta said “L’orto fa l’uomo morto”, a saying which means the vegetable garden kills a man (for the amount of work that there is).

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The rest of the big garden around “Casina Luciana” (the house is named after Fiammetta’s late mother) is filled with many, many spectacular olive trees. There are four or five figs trees too, from which each day I picked up fresh figs. Each sweet bite on the ripe figs right under tree was an immense joy.

It’s amazing how the Apulia soil, which looks avid and dry at the first sight, can provide so much great produce. Some of the best grapes and vineyards of Italy are in Puglia which make Primitivo wine, with a dry and strong flavor. Everywhere you look, the red soil shines with the silver leaves of olive trees. The Apulian extra virgin olive oil is just as good as its wine, if not even better. The fantastic Mediterranean climate in Puglia, like Calabria and Sicily, allows almond and pistachio trees to grow and fruit beautifully. Almonds are among Puglia’s best and most characteristic produce. Their almond granita tastes divine and almond milk served on espresso ice cube is a traditional post-meal drink, both much appreciated in hot summer days.

Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-8
Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-24

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Speaking of hot Summer days, specially when we came back from the beach, we ate various ready-made food based on vegetables. After days of Italian/Pugliese meals, one evening that we had Fiammetta’s cousin over for dinner, I took over the kitchen and cooked Persian, only with seasonal and local ingredients, without really giving the authentic Persian recipe a make over.

Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-2
Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-9
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Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-5

One of the dishes was a classic Persian cold soup call “Ab-doogh-khiar”, literally translating to water-(sour)yogurt-cucumber. Other than cucumber, the soup is filled with a LOT of aromatic herbs which help the soup thicken. In the classic version black (purple) basil, mint and tarragon are used. But you can change that based on what you have on hand. Such as thyme, origano, marjoram, as long as you use mint as the base, even dry mint works. Mint, cucumber and yoghurt match so well and it’s the key element in the freshness of the dish. Continue reading

One year of Lab Noon, the Virtual Birthday Party, Friuty Birthday Cake for Summer & a GIVE-AWAY!

Lab Noon's Fruity Birthday Cake | Torta di Compleanno di Lab Noon -3Lab Noon officially turned one on June 19th. I remember how very confused, extremely tired and incredibly excited I was to launch the blog after many months of work. The blog was supposed to be written three languages, English, Italian and Persian. I decided to omit Persian after a short while. My first ever recipe quickly became an all time hit! Though now looking back I see many things that I would’ve done differently. Lab Noon's Fruity Birthday Cake | Torta di Compleanno di Lab Noon -9

It’s been an amazing year. I have said long thanks to all supporters in the invitation to this virtual birthday party. Here I want to thank all these lovely and talented food bloggers, who have accepted my invitation and prepared lovely cakes/dessert to share with you for #LabNoonsBirthdayParty. Some of these bloggers have been inspirational to me even before I started blogging and some I discovered in this one of year blogging. Some of them I have met in person or know them more personally in some way, some were pure strangers that reached me and joined the party. I am so glad I’ve known you all. Big, acclaimed ones, and new comers. I wish I could hug you one by one, and taste your cakes. Thank you everyone, really. 

Lab Noon's Fruity Birthday Cake | Torta di Compleanno di Lab Noon -11Bellow you will find a list of all the food bloggers who have taken part in Lab Noon’s vitual birthday party and their recipes. (I have tried my best to be organized and get the right link to everyone, but if you get a error please let me know and I’ll fix it). Lab Noon's (virtual) Birthday Party-1-2

Secondly, I want to thank once more Paola from Pauta Pot who generously gives these two beautiful, handmade, birdy cups as a give-away for our party. You can win these cups simply by writing a comment under this post, about the recipes and Lab Noon’s birthday. Then I will extract a name randomly and we will send you those cups! Please remember that  free shipping is available only in Europe.

The Recipes of the Guest Food Bloggers for Lab Noon’s Birthday Party (in alphabetical order)

Lab Noon’s Fruity Birthday Cake for Summer

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My idea of home made cake is something simple and rustic. Of course I would love a proper, nice & fancy cake (like many of the recipes above really put me to shame for how beautiful and perfect they are). But cakes that I like to make are simple, and very homy, filled with nutrient ingredient, so that with a sweet treat you can more than just empty calories. Recently I am always using more fruit in the batter and on topping of cakes that I make. Inspired by some natural jams and confections that use apples or apple juice as sweeteners, I have reduced the amount of sugar in my cakes dramatically and I have substitute it with apples! Both apple puree or grated apple work. Apple puree is cooked (so more time need), more smooth, but can also be much more watery. Grated apples brown easily (no matter how much lemon juice you add), some pieces could be bigger than others, but it gives a very nice texture and moistness to the cake. Continue reading