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The Temporary Bride, A Middle East Expert, and Omlet-e Gojeh Farangi #CooktheBooks


This time around, Claudia of Honey From Rock is the October-November 2019 host for Cook the Books. She selected The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec* and you can read her announcement here.

In any case, you have plenty of time to join the Cook the Books fun if you wish. Remember, it's the October-November selection...and it's only October 1st.

Admittedly, I read this a couple of months ago, but I read it again before posting today.


On the Page
This is Jennifer Klinec's memoir of her finding food - and love - in Iran. Klinec grew up in Canada, born to a Hungarian father and a Yugoslavian mother. Her 20s had her climbing the corporate ladder before she abandoned it all to teach cooking classes out of her flat in London. Then, in her 30s, she heads to Iran to learn authentic recipes and meets Vahid, a younger Iranian man who introduces Klinec to his mother who begins teaching her to cook.

As you can guess, Klinec and Vahid embark on a clandestine affair until they get a Mullah to grant them a 'temporary marriage' which is a socially acceptable way for them to carry on a relationship. Though that acceptance does not apply to his family and Klinec finds herself being shunned by his mother where, when she was just an eager cooking student, she was previously embraced.

I have read a lot - and I mean a lot - of culinary memoirs (Peter Mayle's A Year in ProvenceBlood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas, and My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich were just this year!), but I have never read one and thought to myself: I'd like to do that. I even told Jake that I had a retirement plan. I think I'd like to run a cooking school out of our home. Okay, I am not sure how practical that would be...or what sorts of licensing, etc., I would need. But Klinec's cooking school intrigues me.

“They come here in groups of twelve, and I teach them to cook. …They are a potluck of people – strangers, often both to me and to each other – and most are young, in their twenties and thirties. Usually they like the idea of learning to cook in such an unlikely setting. …My smile is genuine when they arrive and I take their wine bottles, putting them in the fridge, in exchange for cocktails I have made, having juiced pink grapefruits and pomegranates by hand, and crushed fistfuls of mint and ginger with honey in the final moments before the doorbell rings. …In any case, it feels almost wrong to call them classes. Nightly we gather around my long, wooden table, perfect for rolling dough or hand-stretching filo pastry, using coconut scrapers and dim sum rolling pins. We taste ‘crazy honey’ from Turkey and tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorns from China. We crimp dumplings between our finger and mix pickled tea leaves with roast peanuts and lime juice in tiny, lacquer Burmese bowls. Depending on the evening the table is laden with bamboo baskets and cleavers or metal rasps and paring knives; perhaps tiny Arab wooden presses for shaping the cookies we’ll make with ground almonds and dates” (pp. 18-19).

How fun is all of that? And, then, this: "My classes are uncompromising and authentic, probably too much so. I know some people want a  list of pastes and instant doughs, cheats from the supermarket, but I continue to be stubborn. Most of the time, the people who come seem to like what I do. Their appetite seems to be not just for the food we cook, but the stories I tell and the world I inhabit” (pg. 22.)

I love that she is constantly challenging herself to learn more about foods and techniques from around the world. If you know me at all, can you see me doing that? 

She is, however, slightly more adventurous than I am. I realized not too long ago that while I will eat almost anything from the sea, I'm more hesitant when it comes to land animals. I don't know why. And I will eat it eventually. But I just think about it a bit more. 

Here's a passage from when Vahid takes her to the tabaakhi for soup. He says, “’So the way it works is this,’ he explains. ‘We order our soup, and then we choose which parts of the animal we want and he’ll put them on a separate plate for us. We have a choice of brains, tongue, foot, or eyeballs’” (pg. 73). Then the soup comes. “Vahid opens [a newspaper-wrapped parcel] to reveal a warm stack of bread and passes the boy a handful of notes. Our soup is fluorescent yellow from turmeric and the tongue and brains are sprinkled with cinnamon and lemon juice. Our spoons slice through the meat easily and I am pleased to see that, like me, Vahid possesses a generous appetite in the morning. …He instructs me to tileet, to tear the bread into bite-sized pieces and let them drop slowly into the broth” (pp. 76-77).

Brains, tongue, foot, and eyeballs. We have had brains. Not like this photo which a friend of mine took during his travels to Bahrain several years ago.

photo courtesy Kevin Brookhouser. Bahrain, 2010.

And not like these gummy brains that I posted for Fortnight of Fright when I reviewed World War Z.


But for D's 14th birthday when we went to Home Soquel and Chef Brad Briske sent out a platter of treats that included pig's brain panna cotta with pig ear's chicharrón.


So, the kid will eat that with a smile but completely avoids mushrooms. Go figure!

Then there were sheep innards in Klinec's memoir. When Vahid joins Jenny in Esfahan, she describes the time as a “circuit of stolen moments, whispered conversations and hands snaked together. Sometimes…the man who runs the halim shop lets us monopolize a table at the back for as long as we like, eating his thick, turmeric-stained purees from a flat, Styrofoam tray. At the beyrooni shop we were less fortunate. …Thrusting warm, oily packets of sheep’s stomach fried with cinnamon and almonds into our hands, he shooed us away, forcing us to eat from our laps, perched on the steps of some ruined, forgotten building” (pp. 145-146).

I was intrigued by the seemingly disparate combinations of sweet and savory. A dish of wheat, lamb, and sugar comes to mind. When Klinec is asked to justify her request to extend her visa, the official asks her to describe some Iranian recipes she has learned. “Caught off guard, I think first about tahdig and ghormeh sabzi – but they are recipes that you would find from a cursory glance in any Iranian cookbook. Realizing I need to dig deep, I recall something special I’d made with Vahid’s mother on our last evening together – halim e gandom. It was a stiff puree of boiled wheat, crushed and whipped, fed with a steady trickle of lamb-scented broth. …The result was  a creamy, stringy mass speckled with pieces of onion and lamb, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon” (pp. 182-183).

I thoroughly enjoyed The Temporary Bride and will definitely read more books by Klinec. And, if cooking school ends up being my retirement plan, I'll let you know.

A Middle East Expert

It just so happens that on the week I finished reading this book the first time, a high school classmate was in town and we had an impromptu dinner party at another classmate's home. Ibrahim Al-Marashi may be a tenured professor in Middle Eastern Studies now whose paper was plagiarized by the British government to justify a military strike while he was a fellow at Oxford (he testified before British Parliament against Tony Blair); he may have three published books on the Middle East with one in the works; and he may have taught in universities around the world (he has just started a year in Spain). But, to me, he's just Abe!

And, given his expertise in the region, I asked him about temporary brides. His take was that it was a money grab - an opportunity to justify premarital sex on the part of the people involved in the contract and a chance for the church to make some money. Interesting. He was shocked when I told him what I was reading and that the author and her "temporary" Iranian husband were still together after five years. He commented that that was very surprising.

In any case, I also took the opportunity to ask if his mom would give me tips on how to make the perfect Tahdig. And I haven't heard from her but I did manage a version of tahcheen on my own! If I learn any tips for tahdig, I'll be sure to share them.

Omlet-e Gojeh Farangi

So for this Cook the Books, I wanted to make the Iranian equivalent of shakshuka which is called Omlet-e Gojeh Farangi.

Ingredients for 4 servings
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T harissa (you can use more if you want it more spicy)
  • 1 T tomato purée
  • 2 organic red bell peppers, cored and diced
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the flat of a knife
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 5 to 6 large organic tomatoes
  • 4 eggs
  • thick yogurt for serving, I used whole milk Greek yogurt
  • freshly ground salt, as needed
  • freshly ground pepper, as needed
  • fresh herbs for garnish, optional

Procedure
Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add in the harissa, tomato purée, diced red bell peppers, garlic, and ground cumin. Stir and cook until the peppers soften, approximately 8 to 9 minutes. Slice one tomato into wedges and set aside. Then dice the rest of the tomatoes and add them to the pan. Let simmer until you get a thick sauce approximately 10 minutes.

Make four little dips in the sauce and gently break the eggs into the hollow. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, then nestle the tomato wedges near the eggs. Continue cooking until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny, approximately another 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove from the heat and leave to set for a few minutes before serving. You can spoon the eggs and sauce onto individual plates or serve the entire pan at the table. I opted to do the latter. Sprinkled with fresh herbs, if desired, and serve with yogurt.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

In addition to #CooktheBooks, I am adding this to #FoodieReads.
Click to see what everyone else read in October 2019: here.

Comments

  1. Your write up definitely makes me want to read that memoir! I am also a big fan of food memoirs, but haven't read much about Iran. I enjoyed the Iranian bits on the Netflix version of Salt Fat Acid Heat.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you do read it, Mae. I really enjoyed the book.

      Delete
  2. I enjoyed reading The Temporary Bride too! My attempt to recreate Tahdig just resulted in a burnt pan though and I've not tried again. I think I need to actually eat the authentic dish first!
    And brains? No! Not even jelly ones!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am only just starting the memoir. Klinec is just now heading over to meet the mother. Love Shakshuka.

    ReplyDelete
  4. An excellent review Camilla, and I enjoyed the excerpts you included. The tomato omelette dish is a perfect pick, inspired by the cultural challenges of a "temporary marriage" in Iran.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love to see how the combination of tomatoes and eggs is interpreted by various cultures: the Iranian version is also nice. Great choice of recipe!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have been wanting to make shakshuka for a while. I appreciate your recipe. So glad you included the expert's take on the temporary marriage. Interesting.

    ReplyDelete

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