I don’t enjoy cooking. I just want to make that clear in case anyone thought this was going to be a love letter to my rice cooker or a thoughtful piece on how food bridges cultural gaps. I’m sure it does. But you know what else cooking does? It takes up a lot of time and makes a huge mess and if you’re being honest with yourself, usually isn’t as good as you hoped.
Sometimes when I’ve watched too much Tastemade and been drunk with deranged optimism about my own ability to copy Jamie Oliver’s cashew butter chicken, I’ve just ended up either disappointed or too tired to enjoy a meal that took over an hour to shop for and make, another hour to clean up, and 2.5 minutes to eat.
I read a lot of historical fiction novels and 99% of the time all the heroine and her family have to eat is a slice of apple, a block of cheese wrapped in cloth and maybe a slice of bread some poor coal miner was generous enough to share from a week-old loaf he’s been saving for his six starving children. And she’s totally fine. So what if she probably has scurvy? She also has an 18 inch waist and doesn’t have to hear “what’s for dinner?” every night. Because everyone already knows what’s for dinner, boiled yellowroot.
Why can’t we go back to those simpler times? When you just needed food to survive.
This is blasphemy considering I’ve been raised by a Persian Jewish mother whose life purpose is cooking for her kids. My mother-in-law also lives for us bringing Tupperware to take food home after dinner at her house. Every scoop of ghormeh sabzi in your plate, every compliment about the tahdig is like a hit of crack to them and they can’t get enough. I love being at the receiving end of all their food-based love and I quietly panic at the thought of their generation dying and leaving us, the generation who swears by Trader Joe’s dumplings and Panda Express, to be in charge of passing on their legacy.
On one hand, I want to be confident and comfortable enough in the kitchen so I can make these Persian meals and carry on the tradition of “Persian mom suffers in kitchen for family.” On the other hand, I don’t. I want to keep a very low bar so when my son gets older he has no expectations of me. In fact, I want him to cook for me so I can throw a tantrum about how I don’t like it and want ice cream with sprinkles and see if he enjoys the taste of his own disgusting cherry-flavored medicine.
This is my moral dilemma. Come to terms with what joys and purpose there is to be had in cooking or give my family sodium poisoning from frozen meals. It’s a tough call. That’s why I dedicated a week of my life to watching the Tastemade live TV channel on Plex because I’m not petty and I want to be a better person. Also, it’s very relaxing to leave the channel on in the background and just enjoy the company.
Here’s the secret to watching cooking shows. Don’t force yourself to learn or do anything.
The greatest things I got out of watching Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals, Struggle Meals, and All Up in My Grill live cooking shows were some hacks for making cooking a little easier and less overwhelming. They may be obvious tips for some. So if you’re one of those people who says shit like Cooking is my only outlet and I love every minute of it and wish I could host 400 people every day, this piece is not for you, but you’re more than welcome to stick around and have a good laugh at my expense.
The Magic of the Microwave
Did you know you can microwave an eggplant? Or an aubergine, if you’re Jamie Oliver and think you’re better than everyone.
Yes, you can. I put an eggplant in the microwave for seven minutes like he said and it cooked. I didn’t have to roast it for an hour or stand there frying it to make kashke bademjan, a very simple, tasty but not that exciting Persian dish that for me personally doesn’t merit an hour of prepping an eggplant just to get one serving. If my mother-in-law was dead, she’d be turning over in her grave right now. Not only did I desecrate a classic Persian dish she loves by using the microwave, but I fed it to her son who may or may not be radioactive now.
The point is, the microwave is not just for making popcorn to watch Ted Lasso, you guys.
Sounds gross but hear me out. Or hear Frankie Celenza from Struggle Meals out. He makes a good point. A disgusting one, but a good one. While you’re cooking vegetables or meat, whatever parts you’re not using, dump them in a big plastic container and use it later when you want to make vegetable or chicken stock. It’s less wasteful and you don’t get that super guilty feeling when you throw all the heads of celery in the trash wishing you didn’t pay extra for organic. Also, now you don’t have to buy stock.
A lot of “struggle” meals (I don’t love the name of this show) are hearty and elaborate yet simple and at the end he’s like This meal costs 30 cents. Saving money on groceries so I can spend more on fun, useless things on Amazon is definitely something I’m interested in.
And one thing I’m going to invest in is a condiment package organizer. They exist.
I’m here to tell you you no longer need to hide your little packages of soy sauce, red pepper flakes, mustard, or hot sauce in the drawer of obscurity and shame. Embrace those small flagrant testimonies to your inability (or straight up refusal) to spend another minute in the kitchen when you can order out.
Yet another good tip from Struggle Meals is how much those little packages come in handy. But more importantly, to get the best use out of them, they need to be out in the open for the world to see, organized and ready for use.
The little chili pepper flakes? Fry them with a little olive oil and make a topping for whatever soup you’re having. Making an Asian marinade? There are soy sauce packages galore. I personally have a lot of sumac because of all the kabob we order. Back in the days of yore when we could actually eat at restaurants, while you were waiting for your kabob, you’d take a piece of lavash, spread butter on it, sprinkle some sumac, some slices of onions, and that’s your appetizer before the actual appetizers arrive and then your feast. It’s just not the same making that at home.
This has inspired me to branch out and find other uses for the million sumac packages beyond koobideh topping and haft-sin display for the Persian New Year.
I was today years old when I learned parmesan cheese rind does not have any waxing or coating. It’s made of – wait for it – more cheese that’s hardened in the brine (is that accurate?) Apparently you can just drop the cheese rind directly into your soup, sauce, or stew and let the cheese witchcraft transform your watery poor excuse for a pasta sauce into something of substance and taste.
I wish I knew this before I threw away the giant parmesan cheese rind my husband’s uncle smuggled for us. RIP $100 imported Italian cheese.
I used to think you had to be super fancy to make couscous. But that was the old Orly. The new Orly knows better. Jamie Oliver is a big fan of couscous. I would say it’s because his show is called Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals and there’s only so many things you can make in that time frame. Couscous is one of them and is very versatile. You’d think being Middle Eastern I’d know about this already. And you’d be wrong. That was a test. Persians don’t really eat couscous. We’re all about making 1,400 different rice dishes, but no couscous.
But this is so much easier. Take a cup of couscous and put it in a bowl. Then pour two cups of boiling water over it and cover with a plate. Ignore it, knowing full well that it will cook itself, unlike that high-maintenance, lazy, good-for-nothing attention whore brown rice.
If you want to get real crazy with it, you can leave a lemon in there while it cooks in the boiling water. You can serve it as a side or place some chicken on top and people will think you’re exotic and cool. I wouldn’t. I’d know the truth; you’re lazy but efficient.
If you learn anything from this, learn that cornmeal can be thrown on things to make them crunchy. I know, I know. All our minds are blown right now. And I mean anything. Chicken cutlets, fries, veggies even. I put it on the bottom of the pizza dough before I baked it. Just as I suspected: crunchy.
But do not – and I cannot emphasize this enough – use it as replacement for flour when frying chicken. Of all my kitchen failures, this is one of the most epic. And that’s saying a lot. I took one for the team so you don’t have to.
Chef Dale Talde, host of All Up in My Grill, will always have a special place in my heart for his kimchi mayo recipe. Full disclosure, I didn’t have any kimchi, specifically chopped up cabbage kimchi, which he used.
But I do have a new bottle of Persian kimchi my mom made, which is not called kimchi at all. It’s called torshi liteh and it’s basically a bunch of finely minced pickled vegetables and fruits. My mom lives for pickling things. Her apartment is like a scene from American Horror Story with glass jars except instead of body parts, they’re filled with cauliflower chunks, celery stalks, carrots, and whatever else she could get her hands on.
Here’s the foolproof recipe for Talde’s sauce, for which there are no measurements: “Some” mayo, ketchup, mustard, and Persian pickled vegetables (kimchi or I don’t know, horseradish? Go nuts).
I kid you not, it is amazing. And I mean In-N-Out special sauce level of amazing. I am as shocked as you are. I may not be a good cook, but I know when things are delicious. This is delicious. I hope my mom never finds out I mixed her homemade liteh with basic American condiments. She too would be turning in her grave if she was dead.
But Talde would be proud of the Persian version of his sauce. And to think I almost missed out on watching this because I have no intention of ever using this three thousand dollar grill in my backyard that the birds use as a fancy toilet.
I didn’t realize so much of cooking had to do with delusion. For example, the garlic bread you made in the oven is not “burnt.” It’s “charred.” Your pasta is not undercooked and crunchy, it’s “al dente” just like a real Italian grandmother would make. A mug is a “builder’s cup” that can be used instead of a measuring cup which is still “soaking” in the sink from the last recipe you used it for. Don’t be a prisoner of language.
One thing all these chefs had in common was that there’s no one perfect way to do anything. Take their recipes and techniques with a grain of salt. But not literally. Another thing they all have in common is they salt the crap out of everything. Honestly I’m convinced anything can be good if it’s salted enough. Forget everything else I wrote. Just stock up on salt.
Watch on Plex: