did you know there's a disease called favism?  it's quite unrelated to fauvism, and it actually can be sorta serious, but sometimes its symptoms are as mild as itchy hands after touching favas.

if i'd known about it, i might have wished for favism as a child, because it might have been the only excuse palpable enough to get me out of one of my most dreaded chores: popping and peeling piles of raw fava beans.  favas, or baghali, are a favorite ingredient in the persian kitchen, and some of our most classic (and delicious) springtime dishes are made with these epic pains-in-the-butt.  now you know why iranians have big families--so they can force their kids to peel the abundant raw favas necessary for their canonical recipes.  

i love baghali polo, which is fava bean and dill rice, traditionally made on seezdeh-bedar, the thirteeth day of the new year, which usually works out to be april first or second.  i love it most when some of the favas favas fry in a bit of oil and become embedded in the tahdig, the crisp web of rice that forms at the bottom and edges of the pot.  somehow, they caramelize without burning, and they turn soft and creamy on the inside.  it's exquisite.  

but, baghali polo, and baghala ghatogh, a fava bean stew with eggs and dill, like pretty much every other persian dish, are incredibly labor intensive and time-consuming to prepare, so i rarely make them.  instead, i find myself using favas like i learned to at chez panisse, in pastas, salads, or other vegetable dishes, barely cooked or even raw, more often an accent than the focus of the dish.  in french and california cooking, the beans are popped from their soft, accomodating sleeping bags and then plunged into boiling water before being shocked in a bowl of ice.  talk about a rude awakening.  then, they're popped out of their skins and either served as-is, or gently heated and then taken where they're needed to go.  

it must be the brutal grasp of nostalgia that keeps me from truly loving favas served in this way.  i much prefer them cooked long and slow, until they are soft and sweet, drowned with herbs and olive oil.  something inexplicable happens to them (and all vegetables, i think) when they're tended to with heat, time and a gentle hand.  but then my californian tendencies get the best of me and i always end up balancing the depth and sweetness with some bright acidity, good salt, and a handful of fresh herbs.  

balancing labor and remembrance, ancestry and geography, new and old is at the heart of the way i cook. with those things in mind, i've been making this bastardized version of baghala ghatogh with all of the sweet favas popping up at the market: sweet, stewed favas with green garlic and dill smeared generously on toast and topped with a poached egg, good oil and a showering of garden herbs.  

Fava Bean and Dill Crostino with a Poached Egg

  • Four cups shelled and peeled fava beans, or roughly five pounds of pods
  • One big bunch of dill, or two little bunches, chopped finely
  • Two white spring onions
  • One bunch green garlic
  • Good olive oil
  • Salt
  • Lemon
  • Parsley, and cilantro if you like, chopped
  • Four thick slices country bread
  • Four farm eggs
  • A little white vinegar

Pop and peel the favas.  You can either peel them raw or dip them into boiling water for a few seconds until their skins loosen and then chill them in ice water before peeling.

Clean and thinly slice the spring onions and green garlic, then stew with olive oil and a bit of water in a saute pan until tender.  Add a little salt.  It's ok if they start to color a little bit, but don't let them get too brown.

When all of that is soft, add the favas and another splash of water.  A good guzzle of olive oil and three quarters of the chopped dill.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often enough to prevent it from burning.  Use the back of a wooden spoon to smash the beans as they soften and encourage it all to turn into a paste.  Taste and adjust the salt.  Add more olive oil if it starts to look dry and pasty.

Toast the bread and, if you have one, swipe with a clove of garlic.  Smear with generous amounts of fava paste and sprinkle, if you have it, with some light, flaky salt such as Maldon.  Give the whole thing a squeeze of lemon, too.

Bring a small saucepot with at least two inches of water in it to a boil, then turn down to a hard simmer.  Add a few drops of vinegar.  Crack the eggs into coffee cups and poach.  Some people like to create a little whirlpool in the pot with a spoon before laying in the eggs, but it's not required.  I like to poach in pretty hot water, until the whites are just set.  

Remove the eggs from the water and dry the bottoms on a clean kitchen towel, then place on the toast.  Drizzle with a bright olive oil and shower with remaining dill, parsley and cilantro.  Serve immediately.  

forgive me, but i need to take a little break from all of my iranicizing. not because i'm not aware of what's going on, but because i'm too aware. it's overwhelming.

i want to catch you all up on what's been going on here for the past couple of weeks:

there were 700 or so jars of apricot preserves at yes we can, which we made at la cocina, whilst ryan farr taught handfuls of laypeople how to make emulsified sausages.

there was the couscous royale at asiya's goodbye party, where i finally met jessica, the woman behind rabbits and wrinkles.

a week later, there was an educational day of canning cherries and cherry jam for green string farm, wherein i realized that cherry jam could never be a money-making enterprise. fifty pounds of pitted cherries yielded 46 8-oz jars of jam. i don't even want to think about the math involved in that.

there was the day we went over to veller's house to kill four rabbits for our dinner celebrating the release of her book. this is the least graphic photo i had. notice the fraying nylon string veller saved from her hay bales and rigged up to the tree for hanging the rabbits to skin.

but as one might imagine, the cage the rabbits were in wasn't the most secure apparatus, so one bunny had escaped two nights before the big day. he was last seen at the liquor store down the street. we searched for him for 20 minutes to no avail, so we made do with three bunnies. as soon as we left, veller said, the smart guy showed up but she couldn't catch him.

there was my lunatic idea to cook a dinner using as many backyard and urban farmed and foraged ingredients as possible to celebrate the release of novella's book, which meant that i somehow had to find dozens of backyard farmers, figure out what and how much they'd have available the week of the dinner, set up drop-off times and make time to forage and harvest, and somehow write a coherent menu around it all. it was the most involved, challenging, invigorating and fruitful experience of my cooking career.

the dinner couldn't have been more lovely:

chris cutting into the prosciutto made with novella's pigs

novella's olives (which we served with the prosciutto)

cucu sabzi, a persian frittata (my mom's is better) i made with all of the leftover foraged herbs and greens

the second prosciutto (CL got a little carried away)

CL slicing prosciutto on the beautiful berkel slicer emilio lent us for the night

the experience of seeing those rabbits on the farm over the past several months, killing, skinning and cleaning them up, then cooking with them was something i hope all cooks have at some point in their lives. chris and cedric did a fantastic job with them. we dried sunny slopes farm apricots and made a moroccan-inspired stuffing. those are little heirloom carrots from novella's farm on the outside, with fresh chickpeas from catalan farm.

all in all, it was a fantastic night, with so many of our friends and neighbors present. the sense of community was so strong that night, with nearly every table scouring the menu for the ingredients that had come from their own yards. perhaps the most special contribution was the incredible sack of mulberries from suzanne's neighbor's yard in south berkeley. thank you, everyone, for filling that night with such authenticity and love.

and finally, yesterday there was the discovery of lola's ice creams & sundaes (via aaron), a sort of beautiful ice cream version of the moro books (not much of a surprise since they come from the same publisher). i might just have to get that for myself.

resolution updates

i just thought about what i resolved to do at the beginning of the year. it's time to check in and see where i am:

to take at least three photos a week that i am really happy with.--uh, not so much. i go through fits and spasms. plus, it didn't help that i broke my portrait lens and was a little depressed for a while after that. i replaced it a couple of weeks ago, and i'm back to taking some more photos. i also am a little obsessed with my cheapo elph's video function....

to leave california at least once.--check! i went to hawaii in may. and this week, i'm leaving again. yes!

to become familiar with the sewing machine and make something from the fabulous denyse schmidt book amber gave me we have more pressing projects to work on, but i'm still hoping we can make it up to crockett to have lex's mom give us a tutorial before winter sets in. (what do you think?)

to be more careful about what i eat. i need to eat more vegetables. --i have been soooooo much better about this. conscious produce thoughts float through my head every time i'm hungry.

to write at least two things i am proud of.--one down, one to go. and i hope to be done with the second by the first of october....

to fix the toilet paper holder.--i'm happy to say: done and done.

so i guess my record's not so bad. i've just got to pick up the camera a bit more. and the sewing machine.