A Coffee Bundt Cake from the North for a Fertile Season, And an Award Nomination

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I. The Girl from the North and Her Secret Ingredient

On a warm Spring day, a girl with mousy hair worn in two long braids, walked down the stairs of an airplane in Rimini, in north east Italy. The hot sun kissed her pale skin, and the humid air filled her nose thrills with the smell of the sea. As she took her first steps on the Italian soil —that couldn’t be more unlike her cold, dark and quiete country— she felt as though she had finally come home. She was glowing with that light of those who have found something they had long lost when she met the dark-haired, dark-skinned, fascinating young Roman who stole her young heart away. He happened to be in Rimini by pure chance, substituting a fellow tour driver who had fallen ill at the last moment. He could hardly understand a single word she said, but he fell in love with the Fin girl nonetheless. 

More than a year later, she gave birth to a baby boy that decades later I shared a significant amount of my life with. Although our paths later drifted apart and we didn’t get the dolce vita happily-ever-after of his parents, I am eternally grateful for the numerous ways this encounter enriched my life. She evoked the love for great north in me. For a magical Finland that glows in the aurea borealis, that is home to Santa Claus and its breakfasts always smells like big coffees and freshly baked cinnamon rolls.

Although back in the seventies that handsome Roman would bring his own pasta and tomato sauce whenever they travelled to Finland, it warms my heart to say that years later we shared many Christmas and Easter meals (untouchable staples of the Italian cooking tradition) with bountiful spreads of Italian, Finnish and Iranian dishes. If this is not one those marvelous immigrant food stories, I don’t know what is.

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One of the Finnish treats that she often baked is this incredible coffee bundt cake. Traditionally the cake is baked around Christmas time, but it’s so good that you’d want to eat it all year round. The cake is dark, moist and sweet just to the right point. There is something of a mystery to the taste of this cake, if you don’t know what the ingredients are. Coffee arrives first of course, but right after that a caramely, nutty note sneaks in, sometimes so stealthily, as if it was disguised in chocolate.  There is no chocolate, rest assured. The secret ingredient that together with coffee creates the unnamed flavor, is dates. You know that feeling when you were having a nice dream, yet you can’t quite remember what you were dreaming about? That’s how the combination of coffee and dates tastes like. 

Dates are the heart of a Finnish Christmas cake! Isn’t that mesmerizing? Think of the snow, the North Pole, the berries, and dates? There must be another immigrant food story about it that we just don’t know. I also add a good dose of cardamom powder, first because the cardamom-coffee match is made in heaven in North, second because the cardamom and dates match is made in the heavens in the middle east

II. New Season, New Projects & an Award Nomination

We’re nowhere near Christmas of course, but my I have no few reasons to be celebrating. First, Norouz, the Persian new year on the first day of Spring is just upon us (annual Norouz post coming super soon). I will be moving to a new apartment at the end of April and I have many plans and projects for the new place to share with you in person,  and last but definitely not least, I am among the finalists of the first edition of Cucina Blog Award, run by Italian daily paper, Corriere della Sera. Angela Frenda —the food editor of Corriere and cookbook author— has been working hard in the past years to raise the level of the food communication to the top measures of the world. I am honored beyond words to be in the group of 18 talented bloggers, most of whom have been of incredible influence and inspiration to my work.

If you like Lab Noon, you can show your support and vote for my blog in the Best Social Blog category. 

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The award is part of the yearly food conference called Cibo a Regola d’Arte, organized by Corriere and held in Milan from March 21st to April 2nd. I also have the pleasure to hold a Persian cooking lesson during the very same event on April 1st, that you can subscribe to here. The award ceremony is on the same night where the one and only Honey & Co from London will hold a pop-up restaurant. I can’t wait to meet them and taste their food, and I am thrilled to meet and reunite with other amazing finalist bloggers such as Fotogrammi di zucchero, Two for The Bar, Betty Liu, Il Gambero Russo, Miss Foodwise (Remember my post about her book? I am taking it with me to get it signed!), Juls’ Kitchen, Con le Mani in Pasta, Gnam Box, Valdirose, Hortus Cuisine, Naturalmente Buono, Kraut Kopf and others. Continue reading

Immigrant Food Stories: A Persian Quince Stew, A Supper Club & A Cookbook from When It Rained Bombs

Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11 Quince Stew – Other photos from my last trip to Iran in August ’15

Immigrant Food Stories, a Feast of Togetherness for Dark Days

It was a rainy Saturday night early in November. There was the smell of cardamom and butter in the air. Windows were condensated after hours of boiling rice and stewing meat. The speakers of Alice’s record player were connected to my phone, that played songs of which only I could understand the words. Others were distracted from the melodic tunes by the food and the conversation. Around a long table topped with pale rose, red Autumn leaves, quinces and pomegranates, there was a cheerful group of eight people who were chatting the cold, rainy night away. With a glass of Syrah in our hand, we were feasting on the colorful and aromatic dishes, in a company that was just as vibrant and stimulating.

We were from Iran, Italy, The US and Sweden, with some German background. The food was Persian, fragrant and seasonal. This was the Persian Autumn Dinner that I hosted at Latteria Studio, as a trial for my supper club. It was only a couple of days before the US election. And I could’ve never imagined that 3 months later when I finally wrote a recap of that evening, we would be standing where we stand now.

This post is a part of the Immigrant Food Stories; the contribute many fellow food bloggers are making against hate and fear of the other, particularly to Trump’s dumb and cruel muslim ban (that thanks to a healthy judiciary system, has been halted). I am touched by these people’s stories, and willingness to narrate how we are all similar at the end of the day. Make sure to check out the links below and to look for #ImmigrantFoodStories on instagram, twitter and facebook, and please share your own immigrant food stories too!

If you have followed Lab Noon for a while, you’d know that this whole blog is a long, ongoing immigrant food story. It’s the tale of my Iranian culinary heritage combined with what I learn everyday from the spectacular food culture of Italy, where I immigrated a decade ago. What you might not know is another food story; the food stories of wars, the food stories of sanctions, the food stories of shortage, instead of abundance.

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Bombs, Coupons and a Cookbook from “Rosa

I was born in 1985, right in the middle of eight years of Iran-Iraq war. I still remember as if it was just yesterday when the bombing siren went off, and what I now associate as the most horrifying voice in the world, announced the beginning of the bombing and the minutes we had in order to run to shelters. As terrifying as the siren was, the running and hiding seemed like a big, collective game to us children. A game that our parents were often too concerned and worn out to play with us.

Food and other essentials were rationed during the war in Iran. A grocery coupon system was applied so that all families could have to them, without having to obtain their food and other goods from the black market (which was also very active). The aisles in the super markets were often half empty, and the queues in front of shops that sold with coupons were very long.

I had long forgotten about the grocery coupons and the long queues until some weeks ago, when I received a small, but heavy parcel from my mom. It was the two huge volumes of “The Art of Cooking” by Ms. Rosa Montazami, the bible of cooking in Iran. The book is a vast collection of Iranian and international savory and sweet recipes, so important that for decades it has been gifted to young brides to help them cook well in their new home. Continue reading

Persian Delight, Easy Turkish Delight/Lokum as Christmas Edible Gifts from the East & a Yalda Celebration

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I. Christmas Flavors from the East

Would a Christmas with Middle Eastern flavors sound outrageous or alternative to you? What if I told you that your Christmas at times — tastes and smells like the feasts and celebrations of the East, and it has been so for centuries? Warm spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves that evoke the spirit of Christmas, form the flavor pallet of so many ancient and modern Middle Eastern recipes. Many roast or braised meats that we serve on Christmas are enriched with dried fruits such as raisins, plums, dates and apricots; a normality in many dishes from the East.

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Winter feasts, regardless of their location or origin, celebrate togetherness in order to survive the dark. There’s often dry fruits and nuts in the festive dishes, mainly because fresh fruit was not available in the cold season. In the medieval ages spices, figs, dates, nuts, turkish delights, and even sugar were luxury goods that were imported to Europe from the Middle and Far East. So naturally, they were consumed in banquets and feasts. The medieval Christmas has left a footprint of Middle Eastern flavors in the Christmas dishes of northern Europe, and consequently, North America and Oceania. As for Italy, apart from Sicily, Naples and other Southern parts where the dominations have permanently inserted some Middle Eastern flavors to many dishes, the rest of the country does Christmas with little or no warm spices.

If you’ve followed this blog for a long time, you might remember that in Iran we don’t celebrate Christmas, but we do celebrate Yalda, a celebration of the Winter Soltice. Although Yalda is a laic festival based on ancient seasonal traditions, it is similar in some ways to Christmas, which I talked about in details here. Eating nuts, dry fruits and Turkish Delights is one of these similarities. 

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One of the sweets that we always serve on the Yalda table along with nuts, pomegranates and —oddly enough— watermelon, is Baslogh. Also known as Lokum, Rahat Lokum (راحة الحلقوم) or more commonly, the Turkish Delights. The Turkish-ness of these sweet, gooey, soft and fragrant candies however can open a never ending debate. They are common in all the Balkan region and the Middle East, and we must admit that choosing the name Turkish Delight has been an incredibly clever marketing tactic, that has opened the way of these festive sweets into the western shops and even literature. 

Turkish Delights are featured in the Chronicles of Narnia, as a sweet temptation of an evil witch that uses them to get information from a boy who loves the candies. The amazing Diana Henry (food writer and author of many books) on a podcast on Channel 4 Food Programme digs deep into the Eastern flavors for Christmas celebrations and a very interesting part of the podcast is dedicated to Turkish Delights. 

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II. Persian Delights: More Delicate, Easy Turkish Delights

No matter the name, these rose scented candies have been present all this Holiday season in my kitchen, beside my tea, all over my apron, in my travels and also in my cooking events! I knew I wanted to make a blog post about them as an edible Christmas Gift (my type of gift, remember this post?), as well as making them for the Christmas Pop up Kitchen we held on December 18th at Latteria Studio. Last weekend I went to Milan to make these Persian Delights with Alice aka A Gipsy in the Kitchen and we filmed it live on Facebook (in Italian). This post is my contribute to the virtual Yalda Celebration of the Persian Food Bloggers, so do check out other Iranian recipes for the festive season at the bottom of this post.

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There really is something fairy tale-ish about these sweets. They’re incredibly soft, yet they have a satisfying texture too. My version of this recipe is super delicate, as I have reduced the sugar amount. After many tries (including some embarrassing failures), I finally realized how to perfect the gummy effect by using a lot of gelatin sheets. The key is to use the double dose of gelatin for the amount of water in the indications, as we’re making a solid candy, not a jelly to be eaten by the spoon.  Continue reading