Very soon I will be going to California for WOF which theme this year is Arc of Flavors. I am looking forward to the conference of course but I also can’t wait to see my newly-engaged nephew and his fiancee and my niece and all my friends including lovely Amy, who as some of you may know, helped me cook my birthday party. I love cooking with Amy. Not only is she a marvellous chef (at Chez Panisse) but she is also a fabulous partner in the kitchen with the sweetest character and no ego in play; and she is very silent as she works — I am totally paranoid about noise. And to make things even better, Amy loves my Lebanese food as much as I love hers. So, when we saw the fresh borlotti beans at la Fromagerie, I told her about my mother’s fassulia (beans in arabic) bil-lahmeh (meat), and how she used to prepare it with pork skin in a tomato sauce. As luck would have it, I had received that morning wonderful pork belly from Packington Free Range farm. So, we decided to buy the beans to cook with the pork.
So, my trip to the US has come to an end. I am happy to be home although I am already missing the sunshine of the Bay Area and LA and the bustling streets of NYC. It has been a great trip. The World of Flavors conference was wonderful, my road trip to LA divine and my innumerable meals in restaurants and at friends totally delicious, except for one or two disappointments, including a dinner at Saison which I was looking forward to but it failed to live up to expectations. Still, one or two indifferent meals out of more than 30 (the other was at Tacubaya) is a low percentage. And to cap a very successful trip, I discovered a new foodstuff.
Shortly after WOF, I went back up to Napa to hang out with my wonderful friend Toni Sagakuchi who teaches at the CIA and as I sat in her drawing room, I became fascinated by what I thought was a decorative installation. Lots of funny, dark wrinkly objects hanging indvidually next to each other on a rack — the picture below is of another installation made by her charming husband, Chad, at the Hess winery where he is the chef.
Toni is originally Japanese and the installation had a Japanesy feel to it although it didn’t quite look inanimate, not that the objects were moving but they didn’t look plastic either. I kept looking at them wondering what they were until it hit me that they were edible, hung there to dry. And as I looked more closely, I realised they were persimmons or khaki as they are known both in Japan and in Lebanon. We were in full khaki season and I had also been eating them both in Lebanon and Syria (where they serve them in restaurants with clotted cream at the end of the meal).
Here is a shot of a friend’s harvest in Ain Zhalta in the Lebanese mountains and even though the khakis in the pictures go mushy, they are not the ones that are dried.
Only the Hachiya persimmons (with a pointed end) in the picture below, taken at the farmers market in Oakland, are dried.
By then, I was very intrigued. I had never seen dried persimmons before, nor had tasted them. So, I asked Toni to tell me about them and she said that she had learned how to dry them from her Japanese parents — drying persimmons is a typical Japanese tradition and the process is delicate and long; each fruit has to be tied and hung individually, and then gently massaged every day. And all the fruit she had hanging in her drawing room had come from a tree in her garden.
At a subsequent dinner with Harold McGee, he told me more about them and sent me this useful link explaining all about the method http://ceplacer.ucdavis.edu/Eat_Local,_Start_Now/Hoshigaki.htm
Toni then gave me some to taste (and some to take away), and it is incredible how flavourful the dried fruit is, and what a lovely texture it has. I am now waiting for the fruit to be covered by a white sugary powder which is the last stage.
Later in my trip, I was served this exquisite khaki at the end of my meal at Urasawa. Sadly, I was not able to discuss drying them with Hiro, the fabulous chef/owner. The counter was full and it was getting late. It didn’t matter really. What mattered was that the fruit was served at its most perfect stage of ripeness. Not too mushy for it to start losing its flavour, nor under ripe which would have made it dry on the tongue. In fact, my whole dinner at Urasawa was perfect except for the deeply embarassing moment when my card was declined, and not because of lack of funds, just because my banker had decided in all his wisdom to switch these to a fixed deposit account!!
In a few hours, another World of Flavors conference will start at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). The theme this year is street food and comfort food and as some of you know, I love street food and am constantly on the lookout for fun street food scenes wherever I go, not only to watch but also to taste, if the conditions are right that is. Regardless, I find it hard to resist anything that looks good on the street especially if I am in Aleppo, my favourite city, where you see people eating on the street throughout the enchanting souks.
On a recent trip there, I was spoiled for choice. As I walked through the vegetable market opposite Bab Antaki, I came upon a lone gentleman tucking into the best looking kebab I have seen on the street. I asked if I could snap him, or more to the point if I could photograph what he was eating and he was very gracious about my interfering with his meal. Then, right by the Bab, I stopped at an incredibly popular falafel stall where the vendor had piles of fresh mint on the table which his customers picked by the handful to stuff in their mouth with every bite of their sandwich. Sadly, I never got to take any pictures. It was just too crowded. Then there was a vendor I had never seen before who was making kibbeh sandwiches — he announced very proudly that his mother had made the kibbeh. Again no snapshots but this time because the display was not very pretty. But here are a few shots of the delicious kebabs my lone gentleman was eating.
And later this afternoon, I’m hoping to be able to take a few shots of some Adana kebabs being prepared by Chef Musa Dagdeviren from Ciya, together with Chef Necdet Kaygin and Chef Burak Epir which I will post in the next couple of days.