Monday, November 03, 2014

Kashk


You want this.
One of the first dishes that caught my eye in Plenty More was the Iranian-style pasta, but it called for a Persian dairy product called kashk -- and where was I going to find kashk? I kept flipping past that recipe. Wasn't going to happen.Then I started to feel like a lazy bum and decided to see how hard it would be to track down some kashk. Why bother with a book like Plenty More if you're not going to really go for it?

Seek and ye shall find. Acquiring kashk took nothing more than a quick internet search and a fifteen minute drive to the Jasmine Market in San Rafael where I found not just kashk, but kishk, dried limes, halvah, yogurt sodas, vast sheets of flatbread, labneh, Turkish delight, candied bergamot, baklava, reshteh, and much, much more. I’ve been back to the market twice since I “discovered” it last Tuesday.  I'm a fool for ethnic grocery stores.
an acquired taste
So what exactly is kashk

According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food, kashk is "dried buttermilk."

According to Yotam Ottolenghi: “Kashk, kash, and kishk signify different things throughout the Middle East, Turkey and Greece, but they are often used to name foodstuffs produced by the process of fermentation and then drying of yogurt or curdled milk and turning them into a powder that can later be reconstituted.”

Clear as mud.

I found a recipe for homemade kashk in The New Food of Life and it goes like this: Leave some yogurt out at room temperature for a few days until it gets sour, then mix it with water and salt, boil it, drain it, roll it into balls, and dry them on a cookie sheet.

Whatever. Here's all you need to know: the jar of kashk I bought at the Jasmine Market contains a thin paste that resembles horseradish sauce, but tastes like a creamy, cool, tangy, nutty, ultra-delicious cheese. It's one of those flavors you want back as soon as it’s gone from your mouth. I have no idea how you get this intense umami from balls of dried yogurt, but trust me, the stuff is great. If you live near a Persian market, go buy some kashk, taste it, and send me a note telling me how much you love it. 

Other than eat it with a spoon, though, I’m not sure what you should do with your kashk. One thing you shouldn't do is use it to make the Plenty More Iranian-style pasta. 

The pasta was a flop. First of all: fussy and time-consuming. Roast eggplant for an hour, cool, peel, drain for 30 minutes. Cook onions and cumin in oil, add eggplant, garlic and lime juice. Marinate dried mint in oil. Make saffron water. Cook some kashk gently for a while, cool, then cook it again with yogurt. Boil noodles. Bring everything together on plates and top with fresh mint. The resulting dish was ugly, gray, heavy, rich, tart, and gloppy.

There were many little glitches. For instance, if you put two teaspoons of dried mint in a bowl and add a tablespoon of olive oil, per Ottolenghi’s instructions, you’re not going to have “mint oil” that you can “drizzle" over the pasta. You’re going to have slightly oily mint leaves that you might be able to “scatter” if they weren’t all clumped together. But why would you want to? They're bitter. The eggplant needed more aggressive seasoning and could have done without the lime juice, given that the dish already contained plenty of acid from the yogurt and kashk. And I don’t know how 1/2 teaspoon of saffron was supposed to lend any fragrance whatsoever to a pound of pasta and almost three pounds of eggplant. It was lost and, given the price of saffron, sadly wasted.

Maybe if I hadn’t been rushing to get dinner on the table I would have troubleshot the recipe, finessed the details, plated it all with flair, and written a very different blog post. But I didn’t. I merely followed the recipe to the letter.

No hard feelings, though. If not for this troubled recipe, I would never have tasted kashk.


33 comments:

  1. I must admit that I would never be this adventurous in the kitchen without a sidekick. I love learning about this very exotic food vicariously through you. I just read the interview you referenced in your last post, and I loved it! I think she nailed the uniqueness of your blog and your abilities in her intro. Those qualities are thin on the ground these days. I knew I was not your only fangirl!

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  2. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Plenty More. I'm irresistably attracted to Ottolenghi's books, but have had so many disappointing results from recipes in Jerusalem, in particular, that I hesitate to buy the new book. (That said, for every few laborious recipes that didn't turn out right, there'd be one glorious recipe, so I guess they're worth it after all.) It's hard for me to dedicate time and money to recipes that I don't necessarily trust will turn out right, though. Can't wait to hear how more of yours turn out.

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  3. Reading this, I was reminded of one of my favorite dishes - Pasta with Turkish-style Lamb and Eggplant from the NYT in 2008, which is absolutely delicious and very easy. I am sure you could substitute the kaskh for the yogurt to great effect. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/01/dining/011arex.html?_r=0

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  4. I admire your adventurousness. Enjoy your kaskh with a spoon, until you can figure out another use! My sister just gave me your book for my birthday and I LOVE it. Part of me wants to raise chickens and goats too, but the larger part of me is just satisfied living out this dream vicariously through others like you. Especially when you recount the details with such hilarity! You now have a permanent home on my blog roll. I just made my own mozzarella following your book's recipe, you can check out the results on my cheese blog! http://cheeselearnin.blogspot.com/2014/11/makin-mozzarella.html

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  5. I really try to fight any feelings of national pride because, well, I'm just not into it. But seeing you post about kashk and doogh and all these other things got me pretty excited! Kashk is the best flavor and it is wonderful mixed into a New Year's noodle soup called Ash-e Reshteh. It's also great on a warm eggplant dip called Kashk-e Bademjoon, literally Eggplant Kashk. I should do a post on that soon but there are a lot of recipes out there for it. I don't have Plenty More yet but it's strange that he calls that dish Iranian-style pasta. Ask any Iranian what that is and they will tell you, spaghetti with a meat ragu that is mixed in, and then baked together, with a crispy crust of potato tahdig at the bottom of the pot. Inverted onto a plate and sliced into like a cake. Okay, I'll stop now.

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    Replies
    1. As someone who just had homemade Kashk-e Bademjoon for the first time—which is what's sent me on a mad KashkQuest™ across the Internet—I second this as an excellent use of kashk aside from just scooping it directly into one's face.

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  6. Interesting ... I'm about to start trying out some recipes from Plenty More and I will not put this one on my list! On a related note, did you hear the Good Food podcast about the book? That's what really made me want to cook from it.

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  7. As expensive as food and ingredients are, I feel fairly hostile toward writers who publish a book with recipes that are awful. Granted, not everyone will love every dish, but when someone as experienced and exposed to food variety as you are describes a dish the way you just did, it makes me angry that cooks/restauranteurs/ writers can be so careless as to publish something that doesn't work. Not to mention the effort! I so applaud your diligence and effort! I LOVE your writing whether the food turns out or not.

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  8. I visited one of the many Armenian markets one day after a particularly grueling trip--actually two trips in one day :( --to the DMV in Glendale. I felt like I could have spent two hours in there. Giant sheets of lavash bread as soft as pillowcases, exotic packets of nut cookies, bottles of pomegranate molasses--in fact, that was my reason for going there, I just remembered! I wanted to make the lamb kebabs with walnuts and pomegranate molasses you recommended in this blog! And they were so delicious, they restored my faith in lamb.

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  9. Great info....thank you

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  10. I never heard of kashk before. Well, live and learn. Thanks for this useful article.

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