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.
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.
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…
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.