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Bottom of the Pot
Born in Tehran, Iran, Naz grew up in Rome, Italy and then Vancouver, Canada. She now lives in Los Angeles. And Bottom of the Pot is the result of cooking and eating a lot and the lively conversations around the kitchen table. Bottom of the Pot is Naz’s food journal where she shares her adventures in cooking Persian food and beyond. Her blog was the 2015 IACP Narrative Culinary Blog Winner and 2014 Saveur Awards Best Regional Cuisine Blog Finalist, and Best New Blog Finalist.
I am so happy to have Naz Deravian of Bottom of the Pot here with me today.
(*All photos below are Naz’s.)
On Food in Iran and Italy:
I was born in Iran. I left when I was quite young. I had just turned eight years old. And then we moved to Italy. It was right around the time of the revolution in Iran, but Italy was always our second home. It’s where we vacationed, where my parents met, so there was a close connection to Italy. I think Italians and Iranians are very, very similar in their love and appreciation of food. I always like to say food is just part of our culture, and I think, I could say it’s part of the Italian culture, too. It just is, it’s in our blood. It’s not something that we think about too much, we just do it. I grew up eating home-cooked meals, going out was for a special occasion, it was a treat, but it was always around the dinner table or the kitchen table, or in the kitchen. So I think both cultures share that love and appreciation for home-cooked meals. And putting the time, effort, and love into it.
We really don’t share that many similar ingredients. But I would say one similarity is the differences in regional cooking. Both Iran and Italy are very set in their regional cooking, if you’re from the north, from the south, from the east, from the west, and everyone’s very passionate about their way. And it breaks down even further, then it’s from city to city, town to town, neighborhood to neighborhood, the same dish will differ just because someone added a little bit of this spice or a little bit of that spice, and then home to home.
On the Food in Canada and the US:
As a proud Canadian, I feel the need to distinguish ourselves from our friendly neighbors to the south, our American friends. But yes, I would say it’s a North American style of eating, and approach to food. I moved to Canada as a child in the early 1980’s, and Vancouver in particular was not the cosmopolitan city that it is today. So, it was quite a culture shock to move from Iran, then Italy, and then to the Vancouver of the early ’80s for my family. For instance, finding plain yogurt was very difficult. It was either in health food stores, or in very small tubs. And Iranians, we consume a lot of yogurt, it’s not just a little container. So, I can’t speak for America, because I wasn’t here then, but I assume they’re rather similar.
On What She’s Learned from the Different Places She’s Lived:
These cultures and regions, countries, they define my cooking. I really couldn’t say I could cook without being influenced by them. I feel just as nostalgic for a Caprese salad as I do for an Iranian dish of rice and stew, and it brings back so many memories for me. A lot of these foods are linked to memories and stories for me.
Iran I would say is the soul of my cooking, and cooking in general. It’s the aromas that permeate the kitchen. Before moving into our current house, my husband now, then boyfriend, we lived in an apartment building, and there was a long hallway. And walking down that hallway, before we got to our door, as my mother was visiting, you would start smelling the aroma of the rice steaming. And right away you knew what was for dinner, and so that would take me back to Iran. And Italy, my brother and I always have this joke about put the hot water on for the pasta. You make the phone call, put the water on, it’s ready for the pasta. Vancouver, interestingly enough, is I think where I was introduced to salmon of course, and it fit in perfectly with our Persian cuisine because we love fish, fish and rice. We have many traditional fish dishes, and the salmon in Vancouver is legendary.
On What a Traditional Persian Meal Looks Like:
A typical traditional Persian meal on any given day, there will be rice, always rice. And Tahdig, which is the bottom of the pot. It’s the crispy rice under the bottom of the pot, which is why obviously my blog is called Bottom of the Pot. And there will be a stew of some kind, and then all the condiments that go with it. There will be pickles of some kind, which we call torshi, some sort of yogurt, either plain or it’s a dish called Maast-o khiar, which is a yogurt and cucumber dip. And there will be bread, and fresh herbs, fresh herbs are huge. And it’s all about creating balance in a meal. So if you have something warm, you temperate it with the yogurt, the fresh herbs aid in digestion, which we’re obsessed with. So it all works in harmony.
On Putting a Twist on a Traditional Persian Meal:
That’s what I do, not every night, but at least twice a week. We get a farm box, it’s like a CSA box every week, and that really helps me get creative, because it’s introduced me to so many different vegetables in particular. A traditional Persian stew that would just be fresh herbs, which would just be maybe parsley, and cilantro and mint, when my CSA box arrives and there’s this beautiful bunch of Swiss chard, or even kale, then that’s all going to go into that stew as well, so I will incorporate it.
On Pantry Items to Have for Persian Cooking:
Certain spices are key. Turmeric, you can make a Persian dish by just using turmeric, of course, I have to mention saffron, it’s the crown jewel of all spices. It’s the most expensive spice in the world, but really a Persian stew would not come to life without saffron, and on my blog I have a post about saffron and how to make it last longer, because it is very expensive. So how do you use it to be, economical, and still make your dishes tasty? So turmeric, you use turmeric and saffron, and you have the makings of a Persian stew. Herbs, fresh herbs, like I mentioned, parsley, cilantro, basil, fresh mint. Again, we use them in abundance, as in bunches and bunches, so not like little Trader Joe’s packets of four sprigs of parsley. There’s a little effort involved, because you have to clean it and wash it, but I would say it’s well worth it.
On Resources for Learning More about Persian Cuisine:
I feel very fortunate, in the past year I was introduced to quite a few other Persian food bloggers that I didn’t even know where out there, and we formed this community, and we do joint posts, either for Persian New Year, or other celebrations. So, if you go on my blog, and search for…you know what I’m going to do actually, after this conversation? I’ll go on the blog and make a link to all of their sites. They’re all doing amazing stuff out there.
There was The New Persian Kitchen, the cookbook that came out a couple of years ago, by Louisa Shafia. It’s wonderful, it’s modernized, she has modernized the way we cook, and it’s accessible I would say. Of course, there is Mrs. Batmanglij, Najmieh Batmanglij’s lovely book, Food of Life, which is more in the traditional realm, but you can get an idea of it. I believe Margaret Shada’s book is wonderful as well, Greg and Lucy Malouf have a beautiful cookbook out there.
I think Persian food is really starting to come out, out of the shadows, and becoming much more popular as it should, because anyone you speak to who has ever tried Persian food loves it. I haven’t encountered one person who has not liked it, and they all want to know about tahdig, the crispy rice. So, I’m really happy that it’s really starting to become more popular.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
Unfortunately, because I have two little girls now, and with my job, I don’t watch a lot of cooking shows anymore, except for when I’m working out at the gym.
I’m not a big fan of the cooking competition shows, but I still really enjoy Jamie Oliver, and online there is the Two Greedy Italians, I love their stuff, it’s Gennaro Contaldo with I forget the other gentleman’s name, but I love that. I love any cooking show that will take me to another place.
I know Ottolenghi did a couple of BBC series, I think it was called Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast. I just love that, I love traveling, and watching what people eat around the world. So those would be it.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
There are many, so I’m sure I’m going to miss some here, but Pamela Salzman, she is the one blogger that I would say we actually cook from in our household the most. Her recipes are family friendly, wholesome, whatever that means, and just fun to make, so Pamela Salzman.
My friend, Cheryl Sternman Rule, her Five-Second blog is just beautifully written, beautiful food, and also her new site called Team Yogurt, which I’m also a contributor to, but any site dedicated to yogurt, you’ll find me there. That to me is heaven, yogurt is life.
Dash and Bella, the writing is incredible, with really fun and interesting food as well, but her writing just stuns me.
Nik Sharma’s A Brown Table, Nik’s photography is pure poetry to me, every time he blows my mind with his photography, food photography.
The Wednesday Chef, she and Pamela Salzman were the very first bloggers that I reached out to when I started my blog. And they were so kind and generous, and they actually wrote back, which I did not expect, and were very encouraging. And I read Luisa’s book that she wrote, My Berlin Kitchen, and that was right before I started my blog too, and it just really resonated with me. She has this term she uses about being perpetually homesick, and that really resonated with me, because it captured, it put to words my emotions, perpetually homesick. And that’s exactly, I think why I started the blog, and how it’s been developing with the story telling, and the memories connected to the food.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
I am so new to social media. I was a hold out for the longest time, and then I started my blog. And very slowly, I do things very slowly, I like to take my time, I got on Instagram which I think I enjoy the most.
I enjoy telling stories through pictures, and seeing and traveling with people to all these different places that I haven’t been to, or have been to and seeing what they’re eating, and what they’re cooking.
So on Instagram, there is Cucina Digitale, it’s this woman who lives in Rome, I think she’s an American who lives in Rome, I love her stuff. Sami Tamimi who is Mr. Ottolenghi’s partner, they wrote Jerusalem together, I love seeing all of his stuff. It makes my mouth water, and it makes me want to get into the kitchen, which is what you really want.
There is another feed called Palestine On A Plate, I love taking a look at her stuff. Elizabeth Minchilli, she’s in Rome, she’s based in Rome. So I think I connect to the places that I’ve been to, and the type of food that I enjoy eating. And as long as it inspires me, that’s what matters most.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
It’s this little wooden spoon that I call my saffron spoon, and my saffron jar. My saffron jar and my saffron spoon that no one else is allowed to touch because it’s very precious. And the saffron jar is this little jam jar that my mom always packs for me. It has again, a lot of memory attached to it. I would say all my spice jars. I don’t have the most cohesive looking spice cabinet, they’re all random jars from probably 30 years ago, that have just been passed down from family members. So spice jars and my saffron spoon.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Eggplant and zucchini, couldn’t stand it as a child. I don’t think it was until my late teens that I started enjoying eggplant, and zucchini even came later than that, and now I love them. I could eat them all the time. So, I give my kids a break on those two vegetables, but that’s it. They have to eat everything else.
I think it’s general with eggplant. I have yet to meet a child that actually enjoys eggplant. Yes, they like zucchini, sometimes raw, they like the crunch as most children do. I made a zucchini dish the other day that I sautéed, and it really melted into the spaghetti sauce, and my older daughter who’s a little more adventurous, she enjoyed that. I have to mention another blog, Rachel Eats, British girl, Rome-based, I love her writing and all her food too.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Marcella Hazan’s, The Classic Italian Cookbook. No pictures, straight forward. When I need to cook, that’s what I need. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be all set up, it just needs to be a great recipe, and these are authentic Italian recipes. So that’s what I’m going to go to.
The Ottolenghi books, they’re all lovely, inspirational, I cook from them. What I also love about them is that we share many of the same ingredients, and I just love how it’s catapulted Middle Eastern ingredients to the masses, and I thank them for that.
We like to cook from Gwyneth Paltrow’s books. They’re convenient, they’re accessible, I like them, they work.
And then all my Persian cookbooks, another great thing has been I’ve been reading through some very old, older Persian cookbooks written in Farsi actually, and my Farsi’s, my reading and writing is not great, but this has been a great exercise, so it’s improving.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
This is a great question, because music and cooking goes hand-in-hand in this house. One would not happen without the other. So Manu Chao. If I’m working on a new recipe, if I need something for a pick-me-up to get me excited to get into the kitchen, it’s going to be Manu Chao. Other than that, we have NPR 24/7 in the background, it’s just on. And there’s a great music program on our local NPR station KCRW called Morning Becomes Eclectic. The D.J. is Jason Bentley, and he just rocks it, and I like to chop all my vegetables to whatever he’s playing. That would be it, I think.
On Keeping Posted with Naz:
Instagram, Facebook, now that I’m finally on it, and Twitter.