In Orange County, we can almost take Persian cuisine for granted. And not only restaurant-wise, though we have everything from fast-kebab takeaways to elegant dinner houses in profusion. Our real wealth is in the ease with which we can gather ingredients for preparing the food at home. This was what was on my mind as I perused Louisa Shafia’s “The New Persian Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press, $25) and began a mental shopping list to take to my beloved Mission Ranch Market in Mission Viejo. (I’ve written about Mission Ranch in Taste of Orange County before, you may remember.)
Our local abundance was significant for Shafia’s book, in fact; the Brooklyn author got inspiration for many of its recipes while staying with relatives in Orange County and participating in Persian provisioning at their favorite stores. “I can tell you that Wholesome Choice in Irvine is one of my favorite places on earth,” she told me in email, “and I’m a big fan of Mission Ranch, too. Many of the recipes in the book had their germination at those two places.”
Wholesome Choice’s popularity verges on the unreal—as anyone who’s shopped there on a Saturday morning can attest. I guess it’s not surprising that its fame is spreading nationwide. But, in O.C. there are enough Persian markets that a personal ranking can easily include not only a first place, but a second, third, and fourth as well. (A list of Orange County Persian markets appears below—find your own favorites.)
Shafia’s earlier “Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life” (Ten Speed Press, 2009) focused on the healthful and the sustainable, and she brings some of that to “The New Persian Kitchen.” With its characteristic bales of fresh vegetables and herbs, grilled meats, and yogurt sauces, Persian cuisine easily lends itself to light, whole-foods eating. But the most unique aspect of Shafia’s look at Persian cuisine is her own dual heritage—her Muslim father came to the U.S. from Iran, and her mother is Jewish American. Shafia finds some overlap in the two culinary traditions, and has interesting asides on the subject in the book.
A recipe for Chile-Saffron Fish Kebabs from “The New Persian Kitchen” follows. My family loved it when I made it earlier this summer with excellent halibut, and it came immediately to mind as I surveyed the surfeit of chiles at the farmers market last weekend. Shafia suggests trying chiles other than the indicated jalapeños, if you like. I love jalapeños, but there are so many good chiles around right now to consider. If you like heat, I think habanero would be fabulous, for instance. Rather than kebab-sized chunks, I cooked fillets of halibut with the marinade. Allow a minute or so additional cooking time if you go this route.
Chile-Saffron Fish Kebabs
In Iran, fish dishes are plentiful in the north near the Caspian Sea. But they take on a different character entirely in the south of the country near the Persian Gulf, where the cuisine is influenced by the flavors of nearby Africa, where tamarind originates, and India, Iran’s hot chile-loving neighbor to the east.—Louisa Shafia
(Makes 4 servings)
1 ½ pounds skinless, firm-fleshed fish, such as Pacific halibut, striped bass, or albacore, cut into 1-inch pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeño chiles, minced
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
½ teaspoon saffron threads, ground in mortar and steeped in 2 teaspoons hot water
¼ cup plain yogurt
Sumac (available in Persian and Middle Eastern markets)
If using wooden skewers, soak in salty water for a couple of hours before grilling. Thread fish onto skewers ¼ inch apart, leaving 2 inches of space at end of skewer. Place kebabs on rimmed baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.
Whisk together onion, garlic, chiles, lime juice, saffron (including water), and yogurt, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over kebabs and turn to coat.
Cook kebabs over hot fire, 3 minutes per side. Garnish with cilantro and sumac.
Orange County Persian Markets
Aria International Supermarket, 2505 El Camino Real, Tustin, 949-281-1880
Crown Valley Market, 27771 Center Drive, Mission Viejo, 949-340-1010
El Toro Marketplace, 23611 El Toro Road, Lake Forest, 949-588-2924
Fresh Choice Marketplace, 9922 Katella Ave., Garden Grove, 714-539-9999
Jordan Market, 24771 Alicia Parkway, Laguna Hills, 949-770-3111
Mission Ranch Market, 23166 Los Alisos Blvd., Mission Viejo, 949-707-5879
Pars Supermarket, 23762 Mercury Road, Lake Forest, 949-916-2444
Ranch Market, 24021 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo, 949-916-9500
Super Irvine, 14120 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-552-8844
Wholesome Choice, 5755 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, 714-779-7000; 18040 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-551-4111