Oe of the many wonderful things about the Easter and Passover season is that it also a celebration of spring, like a promise that the seemingly endless, relentless gray April shower days will in fact give way to tulips, pansies, sweet peas, and assertively sweet hyacinths.
I also love these celebrations because they include food, food that holds the promise of spring.
As I started to think about what I might make for Easter this year, I was invited by my friend Bita to her home in Madison for a Now Ruz celebration. The traditional Persian holiday, one that coincides with the first official day of spring in March, Now Ruz is celebrated in a wide range of countries including Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and in the United States by people who come from those countries.
Bita’s buffet, which was refreshed several times during the evening as her friends and family devoured the delicious food, included several different kinds of fish, a wide array of vegetables, sabzi polo—a rice dish made with fresh green herbs often served with fish—and kuku sabzi—a frittata-like dish packed with fresh green herbs. On the table, served on the side, was mast-o-khiar, a delicious bowl of tangy yogurt spiked with sweet raisins, mint, and cucumbers.
Dessert included these little orbs of exotic ice cream flavors—chocolate espresso, green tea, and passion fruit—covered with colorful and sweet rice wrappers called mochi. What is this, I wondered, some fabulous frozen Persian delight? Instead, it turns out, these just-for-fun mochi ice cream treats were made in Hawaii at a place called Bubbies, named after the owner’s grandmother. They can be mail ordered directly from Hawaii from the website at www.bubbiesicecream.com. Or if you need to have them right now, you can head into New Haven and visit Jake’s Diggity Dogs & Mochi Store, which always has them, or you can visit the Jake’s at the Shell Station at 49 Leetes Island Road, in Branford, which sometimes has them (call the Branford location first to see if they have them, the number is below). Other Connecticut locations include Alyssa’s Cakery in Wallingford.
Bita’s buffet served as inspiration for my Easter feast, along with some ideas and suggestions for other friends. My friend Deb, who lives down the street, was asked to bring dessert to a recent gathering. She arrived with what initially looked like an elaborate fruit pie, studded with Satsuma tangerines, fresh berries, and kiwis in the middle. When I looked more closely, I realized that instead of putting it in a traditional pie crust, she merely arranged half slices of pineapple around the edges to make it look like a pie. She served it with freshly whipped cream that had only a touch of sugar, along with some store-bought pastries, and chocolates. It was the perfect light ending to a fabulous meal that included perfectly cooked roast beef and scalloped potatoes at our friend Margaret and Vinny’s home.
When I was at my dad’s home a few weeks later, we invited my aunt and uncle over. My sister Kathy and my dad’s wife threw together a quick buffet that included chilled shrimp, roast beef and beef tenderloin served with horseradish sauce and good bread, deviled eggs (my Aunt Mary’s contribution), nuts, and a tangy cheddar, along with a triple cream cheese. We put it all out on a big table next to the couch, poured our drinks, and sat and noshed and chatted for hours. It tasted so good, and was so much fun, and easy, that I plan to borrow from it for my Easter feast.
Looking for further inspiration, I asked a few friends what they were making for Easter or to celebrate spring. Michele is making a refreshing spring pea soup from Giada De Laurentiis (the recipe can be found here: www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/pea-and-basil-soup-recipe). Carly is attempting a elaborate Italian Easter bread that calls for a long list of ingredients and multiple steps. The recipe is here: www.bonappetit.com/recipe/italian-easter-bread. She says it’s worth it. For Marissa, Easter means a beautiful Martha Stewart asparagus tart with Gruyère, which sounds fancy and looks delicious, but actually is pretty easy. Vicki goes all out with a pineapple blitz torte, red pepper soup, and easy “unbelievably good” coconut macaroons. Other suggestions included an Italian Easter ham pie, and lemon and dill chicken. Michel Vejar, who writes the Traveling Epicurean blog, will be serving ham with her homemade manicotti on the side, along with a homemade pavlova with whipped cream and berries or baklava for dessert.
As of right now, my Easter buffet will include boiled shrimp with spicy cocktail sauce (extra horseradish please!), roast beef or beef tenderloin, with horseradish sauce, bread and butter, deviled eggs (or egg salad if I run out of time and patience), nuts, cheese from the local cheese shop, and kuku sabzi with mast-o-khiar on the side. I’ll also probably include one of my other favorite spring dishes, sliced radishes topped with butter and Maldon sea salt. For dessert, Deb’s fruit pie with whipped cream, cookies (likely store bought), and chocolates. I might attempt Michel’s pavlova, or I might leave that for another day. And, of course, Bubbies!
Sources and some of these recipes are listed below.
What’s your favorite spring-time recipe? Let me know at email@example.com and I’ll include it in Food Court or another article in one of our weekly newspapers. I look forward to hearing from you!
Before making Kuku Sabzi, you might want to check out Andy Baraghani’s video at www.bonappetit.com/recipe/persian-herb-and-leek-frittata. It’ll give you a good sense of what the dish looks like, both as you are making it, and after it’s done. It includes a large, almost unbelievable, amount of herbs. But it all comes together in the end. I didn’t use dill in my first version, because I find it sometimes overpowering. I also wondered about fenugreek and some of my friends who are familiar with Persian cuisine warned me away from it, saying it has a strong odor that can linger for days on the person who eats it. Enough said. I did read that it has a nutty flavor, and so added in ground pecans in one version of the kuku sabzi, along with the aforementioned dill. And it was the best yet. I added about a half cup of the ground pecans to the rest of the ingredients before it was cooked. You also can serve ground pecans or walnuts on the side, along with the mast-o-khiar, or any plain, high-quality, full-fat Greek yogurt. Here’s the point: This is another one of those recipes that you can play with, the first time you make it, as long as you use about five eggs and about 4 ½ to 5 cups of your favorite fresh spring herbs, along with the medium onion and leek. It will be very green! But that, of course, is part of the point, with this beautiful dish that helps celebrate spring.
Adapted from a recipe by Andy Baraghani
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, finely chopped
5 large eggs
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
1½ cups finely chopped cilantro
1½ cups finely chopped dill
1½ cups finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a 10 inch skillet over medium heat.
Cook onion and leek, stirring, until very soft but not brown, this should take about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Whisk eggs, salt, baking powder, pepper, and turmeric, if using, in a large bowl.
Using a rubber spatula, mix in onion mixture, cilantro, dill, parsley, and fenugreek, if using. If you’re not using fenugreek, you can add in ground nuts, about a half cup or so, at this time, if you’d like. It’s optional as well. If your egg mixture looks thick and very green, that’s good. That is what it is supposed to look like.
Make sure oven is fully preheated. Heat remaining oil in the skillet over medium. Pour in egg mixture; spread evenly across pan with spatula. Cover and cook frittata until bottom is just set, about 10 minutes. Uncover and put it in the oven, watching carefully, until top is set; this could take up to five minutes. Let cool slightly, then slide out onto a platter. Can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature. It’s also good as leftovers straight from the fridge.
Note: Baraghani’s recipe calls for putting it under the broiler for about a minute to finish it off, instead of putting it in a 350 degree oven. I found that did not cook it all the way through, so maybe my broiler is not as hot as his. If you have a good broiler, that might work for you.
16-oz plain yogurt (Greek is best unless you prefer regular)
1 to 2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin or grated
½ to 1 tbsp dried mint
1 to 2 cups sweet raisins
salt & pepper
Dried sumac or more mint to garnish
Mix all ingredients, and adjust ingredients to taste. Top with dried sumac, or more dried mint, in the shape of a cross on top of the completed dish.
A recipe for Sabzi Polo can be found at Food and Wine, www.foodandwine.com/recipes/herbed-rice-sabzi-poloAsparagus Tart
from Martha Stewart
Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
5 ½ ounces (2 cups) Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 ½ pounds medium or thick asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at ½-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
Remove pastry shell from oven, and sprinkle with Gruyère. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over Gruyère, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350*
Line 2 cookie sheets w parchment
5 ½ cups flaked sweetened coconut
2/3 cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract (coconut extract is optional)
Use an ice cream scoop to make golf ball size doughs onto a sheet.
Bake 12-15 mins.
Cool before removing from the parchment,
You can dip an end with melted chocolate or spread chocolate on an end.
Deb’s Fast Fruit Pie
1 container of about 5 pineapple rings
1 box of blackberries
1 box of raspberries
1 box of strawberries
1 or 2 Satsuma tangerines, Clementines, or other small citrus fruit
Cut pineapple rings in half and arrange around edge of pie plate
Arrange fruit inside
Top with kiwis
Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Michel Vejar’s pavlova recipe, with a video, can be found here: thetravelingepicurean.com/homemade-pavlova-at-jacquis/, and her recipe for Greek baklava here: thetravelingepicurean.com/greek-baklava-marias/.
Mail order from the Bubbies website: www.bubbiesicecream.com.
Or get them from Jake’s, a hot dog stand at 216 Crown Street, New Haven that also sells hot dogs with 34 kinds of toppings, including 10 mustards, and four relishes. Jake’s usually stocks all 21 flavors. It also sometimes stocks some of the Bubbies mochi ice cream at its hot dog stand in a Shell station at 49 Leete’s Island Road, Branford. Call first to see if they have them in, at 203-208-2005.
They are also sold at Alyssa’s Cakery. 156 Center Street. Wallingford. Call first at 203-269-9408.