Sangak will never be confused with madeleines, but this humble bread is my personal Remembrance of Things Past. The smell coming from the dome-shaped sangak oven in our local Persian market always draws me to that corner of the store first, and I am once again waiting for the school bus on Pahlavi Road at the end of Kuche Semine smelling the morning’s bread from the bakery on the corner.
We have a friend from those days who has meetings in California two or three times a year and every time he visits is Persian food night. We get out our favorite cook books and make a quick list and go to the Persian market, each with a basket, and get everything we need for dinner for three, or more if any of the children happens to be visiting. I have no claim to expertise. When I left Teheran at the age of twelve I was just learning to make cake from a mix and mastering the kerosene stove. My family was one of a small community of American families who lived in Iran in the fifties. Linked by the strong bonds of childhood and sheer determination, some of us have managed to keep in touch through the years, seeing each other whenever and wherever we can. Happily, in our retirement years it has become easier to make those journeys.
So now and then we cook food we can’t spell, recapturing the textures, fragrances, and flavors of long ago. Packets of sumac, saffron, barberries, and cinnamon come out of the cupboard, along with the bag of basmati rice, and we bring in the shopping bags and take out the fresh cucumber, chives, and dill to chop, mix, and chill with the yoghurt that we call mast. We can get marinated lamb or beef kabobs or kubideh, if we feel like ground meat, ready-to-cook at the market. And we pick up a side dish from the deli section – last night we got kukuye-sabzi, a mixture of finely chopped parsley, chives, coriander, and dill, mixed with eggs for firmness, baked and ready to serve hot or cold. I have a hard time resisting eggplant dishes, like a kukuye-bademjan, but with only three people, one side is probably enough. My husband picked up a bottle of pomegranate juice, which turned out to be delicious.
We start with the rice. Last night I mixed barberries with it before cooking. About 15 minutes later, the meat goes on the barbecue. When the rice is done, I grind up a pinch of saffron with my mortar and pestle, add a bit of boiling water, and mix this with a small amount of the rice. When this turns a brilliant yellow, I make a little indentation in the mound of white rice and put the saffron rice on top for color. We bring it to the table with the kubideh and the sangak, the mast and the kukuye sabzi.
Usually I make paludeh for dessert. My favorite is a combination of Persian melon balls and sliced ripe peaches chilled in a mixture of sugar, lemon juice, and salt. I add a little rose water and crushed ice before serving. But last night I saw faloudeh in the freezer section, a treat I haven’t tasted for many years. It’s rosewater ice, Shiraz style with thin rice noodles, and it literally melts in your mouth, turning to icy cold liquid with the most heavenly taste. Later as I savored it after dinner, I thought it might taste good next time served over a few of those chilled melon balls.
We are not experts and our feast takes only about an hour to prepare. We talk about school friends and picnics, holidays and future plans, letting the smells and the tastes carry us back to a time and place we will never forget. Our madeleines.