A Fresh Irani Appetiser: Noon-o-Panir-o-Sabzi and Women In Food

The Toronto air is so cold that it’s almost brittle. But it is familiar to me now. Just like the street outside my home with its pedestrian crossings or our neighbourhood Korean-owned Japanese restaurant which serves an insipid salmon roll, but a perfectly spicy kimchi soup. It is just the ticket for a cold evening.

Toronto is the place where, for the past year and a half, I have made a home with my husband and invited friends over for platters of basmati rice served with prawns drenched in fragrant coconut curry. It’s the place where thousands of dollars have been raised by my non-Pakistani colleagues at work when the floods struck Pakistan, my country of birth. The place where people are curious to know more about my culture and where I am from. The place where its people have welcomed my husband and I into their homes and their land.

I still haven’t been to cottage country, done any cross-country skiing or dived into the crisp cool lakes this summer. But I have found a café which we call ours. My husband and I walk down our street every Sunday morning to a gourmet grocery store with a corner café, and order a caffé latte in a tall glass, the kind you probably had a milkshake in as a child.

We have found a spot in the north of the city, where we like to go on Friday nights when we need an Irani koobideh kebob fix. We sit in this hole-in-the-wall on stools, eating glistening kebobs, wrapping them with torn pieces of soft lavash. Alongside the kebob sits a plump, grilled tomato, its skin papery and blistered. We wash it all down with fizzy doogh, fragranced with mint.

Oh, and I have stalked Margaret Atwood by going to her favourite food haunts, but in vain. Well, it’s not really stalking if you’re guided by a piece in the Financial Times in which the celebrity has publicly listed her preferred Toronto spots.


Gail (right) and Jodi and I (left)

I have also come to know and become friends with fascinating women, one who raises funds for the Sick Kids Foundation and zips around town on her bicycle in orange stilettoes. And two others in particular, my friends Jodi Lastman and Gail Gordon Oliver. These two ladies have inspired me and introduced me to other women who are interested in food, in the same way I am. Jodi Lastman, is one of the organisers / founders of Women In Food and Gail is the editor of Edible Toronto. Gail commissioned me for a piece in her magazine earlier this summer, about my move from Rome, Italy, to Toronto after marriage.

Last week Women In Food hosted a potluck event at Merchants of Green Coffee.


Jodi’s roasted beet with peanuts and Gail’s sweet-and-sour-chicken with cranberries and brown rice

I took an Irani dish- a platter of noon-e-panir-e-sabzi as an appetiser, which literally means bread, cheese and greens in Farsi. Bread is served alongside fresh, verdant herbs…

You take the piece of bread and layer it with herbs. My preferred herb is mint…

Then some creamy Irani feta…

Adding walnuts…

Then sultanas. At least that’s the way I eat it, you can eat yours in any order you like.

At the event, there were crostini with grilled mushrooms and globs of goat cheese; cheese-onion popovers; homemade tomatillo salsa with corn tortillas; gluten-free pumpkin muffins; duck rillettes- everything was homemade. And slippery and saline oysters were generously gifted by Oyster Boy and served alongside a mignonette sauce.


Some of the scrummy homemade dishes brought by other women at the event

Eight volunteers gave Pecha Kucha-style presentations related to why food matters to them or their latest project, while glasses of Pelee Island Winery’s merlot were passed around as the evening progressed.

Pakistan will always be a part of me, but I am beginning to call Toronto home, too.

Serves 4-6 as an appetiser

Ingredients and Preparation:
*Bread- I used noon-e-barbari, which is a leavened bread found in Afghan, Pakistani or Irani supermarkets. You can also use lavash which is a very thin flatbread. Cut it into rectangular bite -ize pieces the way I did or serve whole and let guests tear off pieces;
*Cheese- I used a soft Irani feta;
*Sultanas- I used green sweet and tart ones which are from the shindu khani grape, available at Irani or Pakistani supermarkets;
*Dried Cherries (optional)
*Walnuts- It is preferable to use fresh walnuts, but since those are hard to find, soak shelled walnuts in cold water for an hour or more, wipe dry with kitchen paper towels, then serve;
*Herbs of choice- I used mint, as it is one of my favourite herbs, but feel free to add tarragon, thyme, coriander, etc.
*For garnish on cheese: olive oil, dash of paprika and dried mint.

No set rule, eat it as you like. I place a leaf of mint on my bread, then stack it up with cheese, a sultana, a cherry, and lastly, a walnut.

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Comments

  1. What a difference a year makes. I’m so happy you have found such lovely friends there, you deserve it. xxx

  2. North of where we are, there is a BIG Irani store…sometimes we do get our kebabs and meat from there. I live in a neighborhood, which has good Sushi restaurants, which I crave for often. And the rest of the days I have kebab cravings.

    I love your platter, I have seen Irani Feta in that store, how different is it from Canadian/regular feta? The photographs are glorious, just the picker upper on this gloomy Fall day.

  3. Really loved this post, I think it’s my favorite one!

    Beautiful photos, the Women in Food event looks so wonderful!

  4. Shayma, Rome’s loss is Toronto’s gain. I am proud and delighted to call you my friend and look forward to great times together in the future.

  5. One of the most simple yet delicious snacks in my opinion– i love it with dill too!

  6. Toronto has gained a wonderful resident! It was a pleasure to read your post and learn about the Women in Food event! After reading your post I’m craving good Persian food which my town is lacking! Toronto is a fantastic foodie town!

  7. Shyama,

    I can sooo relate to the home-away-from-home feeling! :) The platter looks delish! I like the idea of soaked walnuts…. And the rest of the food looks like heaven!

  8. Beautiful post. Beautiful photos. I loved the care you took to bring this dish, its presentation, and of course, how delightfully yummy and unique. I’m honoured to have been part of such a special night. I’m the one who made the Cheese-Onion Popovers (in the centre of your beautiful photo mosaic above). I second Gail’s sentiments, you are our gain!

  9. Hi Shayma,

    I enjoyed your passionate note on food. Since you started with the Iranian appetizer, I’m guessing the next article would be about the main Iranian entrée :) , which is my area of specialty.
    If you ever thought of trying out a place that matches the quality of real Iranian home-cooked meal give me a shout.

    Cheers

  10. It’s wonderful, isn’t it, how food can connect you to a place and a people?

  11. This is just perfect Shayma – just the thing I’m having today after work. You sound like such a lovely person to hang out with, glad Toronto finally feels like home away from home!

    can’t wait to read your next post :)

  12. So happy to read that Toronto has welcomed you and you have welcomed Toronto. For you, only the best my dear, wherever that may be. I really hope we’ll see each other soon. Be it in Rome, Toronto, Paris, London….
    xxp

  13. A lovely article, and delicious looking food as always. I’ve only been to Toronto once, but just loved it, glad to hear that you are feeling at home there. – S

  14. Lovely and so simple – like so much that is good about food. When you take it back down to its parts, and the combine a few simple strong flavours, you can get something so wonderfully tasty. That is a great food philosophy. And here, put to very good use, with a great outcome.

  15. Oooh, the feta! It looks so creamy and delicious. Do you know where I can find some of that in NYC??

  16. What a feast – loving these flavour combos. And gorgeous photos too x

  17. There’s nothing better than fresh noon-o-panir-o-sabzi! Beautiful photos, as always, Shayma joon. xx

  18. My wanderlust took me to many temporary homes but I took one as my home…a place I felt my heart was at rest and at home literally! You seem to have found your balance and tranquility in Toronto…but remember its the people who matter the most. Luck has smiled on you in that you met wonderful friends.

    Good luck Spicey… and thanks for fueling gourmand’s infinite appetite!!!

  19. oh shayma! i hope to see myself in your shoes in the next year too – i feel so adrift and restless in NY sometimes. its true, though, the key is good friends. and of course, the little hangouts you can call your own! :) lovely food, as always. best, m

  20. And that’s what life should feel like when we move abroad, not that it will every become home, home, home, but it will have all those elements that comfort us to the depths of our soul on a Sunday morning, it will be sprinkled with people we can call friend, and we’ll find just that shop that has the jar of pickles we had as kids. I’m happy for you.

  21. So wonderful that you have found ladies that share your interests and whose work interests you; this platter is what I look most forward to when I go into an Iranian restaurant, and judge the wuality of the food that is coming by how fresh the herbs are or the bread.. Beautiful photo and lovely events.

  22. Friends are so important and I couldn’t be more happy for you that you are starting to feel “at home” in the place you live. As always, fantastic photos and recipes! You are an inspiration!

  23. I just realised what this reminds me of – the typical Persian breakfast of cheese and herbs. And what gorgeous presentation!

  24. hi shayma
    I am from lahore and currently living in lahore aswell.Glad to know you are from lahore also .I love what you are doing your web site is amazing and i already feel so inspired as i love cooking myself and find therapeutic and creative :)
    i will be a regular visitor on your site:)

    goodluck with everything :)

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by joan olsen and joan olsen, Jodi R. Lastman. Jodi R. Lastman said: Lovely post by the lovely @SpiceSpoon about last week's Pecha Kucha potluck and living in chilly Toronto http://ow.ly/2OeAa [...]

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