Open Book

Three recipes from Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States

An appetizer from Iran

(Flat Bread, Cheese, and Fresh Herbs)

Buy whatever herbs are in season, and get at least three or four different varieties. Remember, this will be like a salad, so buy enough for your guests to nibble on. Purchase the herbs the day before your soiree and not a day earlier. I clean them the day I buy them and store them in ziplock storage bags with a moist paper towel to keep them fresh. Persians typically eat lavash bread, and many stores now carry it because it is used in the ubiquitous wrap sandwiches. I’ve noticed that many grocery stores catering to folks who keep kosher have this stuff. Persevere and you’ll probably succeed. Failing that, any other flat bread will do in a pinch such as a nan, the Persian wonder bread sangak, or if you absolutely must, pita bread. I counsel against this folly because the grocery store variety simply tastes like sawdust and cardboard. What’s the point?

Fresh herbs (sabzi), such as bunches of tarragon, mint, chive or scallion, crisp radishes, cilantro, or basil
½ pound (at least) feta cheese, either from goat’s or cow’s milk
¼ pound (at least) walnut halves
Lavash flat bread

Arrange your herbs in such a way that it looks artfully disorganized. Sprinkle the herbs with feta cheese, either crumbled or cubed. Finally, lavishly adorn the mound with walnuts. Lavash usually is found in a large sheet, so you should cut the bread into manageable sizes. I usually do 4x6–inch rectangles. Place the bread in baskets and cover with a towel to keep it fresh, as lavash is very thin and dries out quickly.

A main course from Cuba

Lechón Asado
(Pork Roast Marinated in Citrus Juice and Spices)

When I lived in Los Angeles, I always got this dish at the Cuban dive near my home. I have tried to reproduce that delicacy now that I live in DC, and here is my best effort—enjoy! Be sure to get the pork into the marinade the night before the shindig.

10 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon coarse rock salt
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sour orange juice (If sour oranges are not available, use ½ cup fresh orange juice and ½ cup fresh lime juice)
3 pounds pork roast

Let’s get cooking

  1. Prepare the marinade by grinding the garlic, rock salt, and peppercorns into a fine paste with a mortar and pestle. The rock salt works well here because it gives you traction for smashing the garlic. Take care to ensure that the peppercorns don’t leap out of the mortar when you start grinding.
  2. Put the garlic paste and all the other ingredients except the pork in a large ziplock bag (use one large enough to hold the roast) and whisk carefully. (Be careful not to puncture the bag.)
  3. Remove any excess fat and skin from the roast. Pierce the meat all over and add the roast to the bag with the marinade. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator, agitating it every once in a while to ensure that the marinade gets all over the roast.
  4. About 3 hours before your guests arrive, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the roast and place it (fat side up) into a roasting pan. Keep the marinade for basting as needed. Roast the pork for about 2½ hours or until the temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees. Baste the pork frequently with the reserved marinade. If the drippings and herbs begin to smoke, add a little bit of water. (Don’t add a lot of water: We want to roast this thing, not steam it.)
  5. Let the meat rest for several minutes, during which time it will continue to cook. Once it has cooled, cut the roast into thin slices to serve.

A dessert from India

(Rice Pudding with Nuts, Dried Fruit, and Saffron)

This dish is composed of gently boiled milk and soaked rice. It is of utmost importance that you do not rush the boiling process and risk scalding—or worse, burning—the milk. For this reason, I suggest you make it the day before your party, which also gives the pudding time to set. The firnee will be served with Kashmiri green tea (kahwa).

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon basmati rice, soaked in water for about 4 hours
1 quart 1 percent milk (You can use a higher percentage of milk fat, but you don’t need to.)
½ cup sugar (I use demerara or cane sugar rather than the white stuff, but suit yourself.)
½ teaspoon saffron, powdered (With a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron into a fine powder with a cube of sugar.)
¼ cup golden raisins

For garnish:
1/8 cup chopped pistachios or almonds

Let’s get cooking

  1. Clean the rice to remove any nonrice fragments and wash it thoroughly. Cover with water and let soak for 4 hours.
  2. Grind the soaked rice into a grainy paste in your blender or with an immersion blender.
  3. Bring the milk to a gentle, rumbling boil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir constantly to avoid milk solids from sticking to the bottom and burning. Be careful that the milk does not boil over the sides of your pot, and sustain this level of loving attention for about 5 minutes or so.
  4. Transfer the boiled milk to a clean pot and add the rice paste. Do not scrape the solids into the clean pot. In fact, I change pots because no matter how diligent and doting you are, milk solids do form on the bottom and they are the enemy. Not only do these solids burn, they also attract the rice solids, which also burn.
  5. Return to a medium flame and stir continuously until the mixture begins to thicken.
  6. Add the sugar, powdered saffron, and raisins. Let the mixture come to a boil, all the while stirring constantly.
  7. Remove from the flame and pour into 8 ramekins.
  8. Decorate with chopped pistachios or almonds.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap, place in the refrigerator, and chill overnight.


(Excerpted from Cuisines of the Axis of Evil by Chris Fair, ©2008. Published by Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CT.)