Monday, April 6, 2020

Our April/May Selection: Hippie Food

Back many (many) moons ago when I was a preteen, I earned my spending money as the neighborhood babysitter. Our next door neighbors with two young boys were vegans before I knew what that meant, and in my opinion, they weren't very good at it. On their frequent nights out I had to heat up and feed the kids dinner, and it was usually some kind of weird casserole in an unappealing shade of brown that smelled funky and tasted horrible (and did not make for good diapers for the toddler at all). The neighbor would always tell me that I should eat with the children and I would beg my mom for virtually ANYTHING to take with me so I didn't have to. Since they were a meat-free household, that meant I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on my watch. Needless to say, they were not my favorite customers (those were the people down the road who always had snack food and frozen pizza available) and they gave me a deeply-rooted suspicion and disdain for anything vegetarian or vegan and foods like brown rice, tofu, seitan and sprouts. 

It took me many years to shake off my prejudices and try (some actually delicious) "hippie food" for myself. Flash forward a few decades and I leave the meat and poultry to others and eat mostly plants and fish. I've even gone through a few vegan stages although the siren call of cheese always lures me back. I cook with tofu, seitan, nutritional yeast, jackfruit, and other things I would have once turned up my nose at. These foods have become more mainstream and my local grocery stores even carry them now (although it certainly is more difficult to find some of them during a pandemic). 

Having made my own journey, and seeing how popular and even trendy these foods are is why I picked Hippie Food by Jonathan Kaufman as our April/May Cook The Books selection.

From the publisher: 
 "Food writer Jonathan Kauffman journeys back more than half a century—to the 1960s and 1970s—to tell the story of how a coterie of unusual men and women embraced an alternative lifestyle that would ultimately change how modern Americans eat. Impeccably researched, Hippie Food chronicles how the longhairs, revolutionaries, and back-to-the-landers rejected the square establishment of President Richard Nixon’s America and turned to a more idealistic and wholesome communal way of life and food. 

A slick mix of gonzo playfulness, evocative detail, skillful pacing, and elegant writing, Hippie Food is a lively, engaging, and informative read that deepens our understanding of our culture and our lives today." 

I think it will be fun to see what kind of dishes this book will inspire! I realize with everything going on with the Coronavirus, some of us may have to get creative with ingredients, and recipe ideas, but I think that actually works for this book. I plan on pulling out my Moosewood cookbooks and having some fun.

I hope everyone is taking good care out there.

Much Aloha,

Kahakai Kitchen 

The deadline for contributing your post: Sunday, May 31, 2020. 

Leave a comment below with a link to your post or email me at

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books by simply reading this selection,  taking inspiration from said reading, then cooking and posting the inspired dish. 
We look forward to having you read and cook along with in this selection period and beyond. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Pomegranate Soup: The Roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club February-March 2020 edition for which we read the novel Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran (2005).

The three Aminpour sisters, protagonists of the story, move to Ballinacroagh, County Mayo, Ireland and open the Babylon Café in the location that used to house an Italian bakery. In honor of the sisters' Persian food eatery, I will present our club's contributions as a menu, with the dishes in each section ordered alphabetically. For each, I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a quote from it — a taste: follow the link and read the author's take of the book and how the reading inspired the cooking.

Cook the Books Club's Pomegranate Soup-Inspired Menu

First Course:
Red Lentil Soup à la Tina
Red Lentil Soup à la Cathy

Second Course:
Fesenjoon (Chicken Stew with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce)
Kabob Koobideh (Ground Meat Kebabs)
Kuku Sabzi à la Claudia (vegetarian)
Kuku Sabzi à la Simona (vegetarian)
One Skillet Cabbage
Torshi Tareh (Persian Sour Herb Stew With Marbled Eggs)

Lavash Bread

Elephant Ears
Persian Drizzle Cake

Make yourself comfortable, then enjoy the meal.

"You could substitute any middle eastern family trying to run a cafe in any small town, in Ireland or the U.S. for this plot... The plot plays out predictably with the women and their Irish neighbors, the cultural differences accepted. Well, by most people. Definitely a foodie book with over a dozen recipes included throughout. There were so many interesting dishes served up in this book but the recipe for lentil soup grabbed me right away. I had been wanting to make red lentil soup for a long time."

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats prepared Red Lentil Soup

"Did you know that lentils are super healthy? I didn't but learned this in researching them for this post. In fact, this humble legume has shot up to the number 1 slot for healthy foods... Author Mehran writes about lentil soup: 'Red lentil soup, although quite seductive in scent, is as simple to make as its name suggests. In the recipe book filed away in her head, Marjan aways made sure to place particular emphasis on this soup's spices. Cumin added the aroma of afternoon lovemaking to the mixture for instance'. Now that's quite a statement... I cut this recipe in half from what was published in the book... This was totally enough to feed more than a few people."

Elizabeth of CulinUrsa cooked Fesenjoon (Social distance-adapted)

"As I was reading this novel, there was a scene in a crowded pub, and the thought went through my head, 'Why are all these people out in a group together?' Already the fears of viral spread had become ingrained in my thinking, and I have wondered when and how will I feel comfortable being with people again, touching the door handle of a store again?... There was not a single [recipe] for which I had all the ingredients at home, and, trying to minimize shopping trips, I didn’t want to venture out for anything. But I felt I could improvise enough for the fesenjoon. I have read many times about this iconic chicken stew with walnuts and pomegranates, and always wanted to make it. Despite all the changes and substitutions I made, it was fantastic!... It is often spelled fesenjan."

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla
prepared Kabob Koobideh (Ground Meat Kebabs)

"Though Mehran doesn't shy away from the traumas that can occur during political upheaval, she achieves a delicate balance of reality and sensitivity. It's quite a remarkable book that has me longing to read more about the Iranian revolution... I'm sharing my version of Iranian Kubideh or Koobideh, ground meat kebabs... Though this wasn't specifically mentioned in the book, it is something that I envision Layla packing on a picnic to go meet Malachy. And because I remember eating fresh herb salads at my Iranian friend's table, I decided to serve my kebabs with a thick herb paste, similar to Argentinian chimichurri."

Claudia of Honey from Rock prepared Kuku Sabzi (Persian herb frittata)

"In contrast to local descriptions, the background on the Iranian women, who are all of course beautiful, was interesting, their preparations to open The Babylon Cafe absorbing, together with accounts of their food and cooking, lovingly rendered, tantalizing, and well-written... Kuku Sabzi made a lovely, light evening meal with some steamed sweet potato (fresh bread or toast would also be good) and a glass of white wine. I discovered that at room temperature, the next day for lunch, the herbal flavors all came through beautifully."

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Kuku Sabzi (Persian herb frittata)

"I was particularly intrigued by the description of 'a good apple khoresh, a stew made from tart apples, chicken and split peas' (page 60 of the hardback edition), but while I was searching for a recipe for that, I read about Kuku Sabzi, a kind of herb frittata traditionally prepared for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year that is celebrated on the spring equinox... The idea is that you can use greens and herbs you like and have available. A different combination means a different flavor, so this is a recipe that can be repeated without becoming boring."

"You get to know each of the residents as well as the back story of the Aminpour Sisters.  You will love some and you will hate some but you will, definitely become involved with all of them and their lives. I enjoyed this novel very much and the food descriptions of the meals prepared in this restaurant were heavenly... I absolutely adore Persian food but as I read a common thread that ran through this small town was that all the residents were sick and tired of eating cabbage for dinner.  As luck would have it, I had planned on having this Skillet Cabbage Dinner during the week I was reading this novel and it fit in so perfectly that I had to share it."

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen
prepared Torshi Tareh (Persian Sour Herb Stew with Marbled Eggs)

"There are delicious recipes woven into the chapters of book (why I am so disappointed that I couldn't find my copy) so the overall feeling is like a mix of Like Water For Chocolate and Chocolat, only with the clash of Irish and Iranian culture. I recommend it to foodies who don't mind a touch of magic in their books... I love everything about this stew--the exotic herby flavor, the acidity, and the touch of lime 'sourness' and the jammy eggs and creamy spinach. At first, I thought the smoked fish accompaniment was a little odd but it rounded out the flavors nicely."

"I prefer that authors stay realistic... or go full on Harry Potter magic... Despite my criticism, the book was good enough and I loved that the author included recipes at the end of each chapter. I decided to make a Lavash, using the recipe directly from the book.  The Lavash was delicious... The kids went crazy over the Lavash, begging me to make more. I used my favorite spice mix in this recipe (Everything Bagel), because I knew my family would love it. This bread is best enjoyed hot and fresh from the oven."

"The amount of food in this book is staggering... There’s so many herbs and spices, Persian food, Italian food and Irish food, I just couldn’t keep up... I decided on a sweeter recipe: Elephant Ears... They were interesting. I did not roll mine thin enough so they were more doughy (read donut) than a thinly fried treat... I would recommend this book to friends (and will).  It would make a great beach read (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Mehran’s writing style is descriptive and sometimes romantic. (I mean that in a good way.)"

"I loved all the food content, the descriptions of the way that Marjan in particular nurtured those around her through her food. I liked that there were a number of recipes included in the book, and enjoyed the almost magical realism feel to it, focusing on the power of food to change the way that you are feeling. I guess I would call it magical realism lite for want of a better term... Overall, it's a readable book, without being amazing... I chose to top my cake with Turkish Delight Easter eggs rather than rose petals."

A great Thank you! to everyone who joined in this edition of Cook the Books.

I believe all the submissions I have received are presented in the roundup. However, mishaps are part of life, so if you find anything missing or in need of amendment anywhere in the roundup, please do let me know.

And now, I’ll turn things over to Deb of Kahakai Kitchen who is hosting the April-May edition in which we are reading Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman.

Arrivederci a presto!

Simona, of briciole