Persian Soul Food in Miami

 

Salad shirazi or tomato, cucumber, parsley and lemon juice salad at February’s Saffron Supper Club

Instead of lamenting the lack of Persian restaurants in Miami, writer Sara Liss and Maude Eaton, a food and beverage consultant and co-founder of South Florida Foodies, decided to explore Persian culture and cuisine by cooking some up for themselves.   

Last month, Josh’s Deli in Surfside was transformed into the Saffron Supper Club. The lights were turned down; the duck prosciutto and smoked salmon were tucked away. Candles covered the long diner counter and an infatuating aroma of nutty rice tahdig greeted dinners.

This was the second installment of a dinner series hosted by Liss and Eaton; the first was at Miami Beach Botanical Garden with chef Michael Shikany. Diners purchased tickets online and for $60, they experienced an evening of Persian music, food and literature. Between courses, Liss and Eaton explained the dishes and their ingredients.

Rice steams in the pot.

“Tahdig”, Eaton told diners, “is a true art form. It is served for special guests in Iran and is a true measure of a cook’s skill.” The bottom layer of the basmati rice dish is pressed down as it steams, so  it develops a golden brown crust around the edges of the pot. 

The rice at Saffron Supper Club was fluffy, but the clusters of golden, crispy rice were the best part, like the satisfying crust that hardens around the edges of the stone bowl in Korean bibimbap.

 

Tahdig or golden-crusted rice

Eaton was previously married to a Persian man, and so her children are half-Persian. “The culture is rich with the essence of community, sharing and, of course, entertaining,” she says, “The Persians are royals when it comes to entertaining guests. I learned this as a young wife and hostess and the joy of cooking and inviting friends to my table never left me.”

Other dishes served included a blini appetizer (topped with sheaves of salmon pastrami from Josh’s Deli, along with cream and pomegranate seeds), dill rice with fava beans and lamb, and koresht-e fsenjan, or braised chicken in a slightly tangy walnut and pomegranate molasses sauce. Catherine Hinds, the pastry chef at Josh’s Deli, made Persian chiffon cake (also known as Persian love cake)  with candied rose petals, pistachios and saffron ice cream.  

 

Persian chiffon cake (or Persian love cake) with pistachios, rose petals and saffron ice cream

Except for dessert, Eaton and Liss did most of the shopping and cooking for the meal, which took them about two days. Eaton says, “There’s not too much frying or sautéeing, as the food is all  mostly braised or grilled. So in the time it takes to braise a perfect stew, the cook can make all the delicious sides. “

In between courses at Saffron Supper Club, Liss might recite a poem in Farsi or read a passage from The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights. “For us,” she says, “it’s not just about the food but about creating an experience through the food. Sharing these stories –which are often very strange and a little unexpected–are things I would do if I were hosting a dinner at my home.”

Liss, who is the editor of Urban Daddy Miami, grew up speaking Farsi and eating many of the dishes she’s helped cook for Saffron Supper Club: “I consider myself Persian. My mother is from Iran–we are Jewish–and most of her family managed to relocate to the States in the late 1970′s. In a way, I am educating myself about the food and traditions that I took for granted growing up. I felt an instant connection with Maude and her enthusiasm for the cooking so, after talking about it, we decided to just go for it.”

Since they like to shift locations, Eaton and Liss are considering other spots in town like a rooftop in the Design District or a backyard barbecue at a boutique hotel in South Beach for future events. The “two girls in love with food and culture and especially the foods of the Middle East” plan to expand the menu to other countries in the Middle East too.  They would also like to invite chefs and bartenders to help craft new meals.

Keep an eye on their Facebook page, Saffron Supper Club, for updates on future events. Hopefully these will also include the bewitching tahdig.


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One Response to “Persian Soul Food in Miami”

  1. March 25, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Nice recap Trina! I so enjoyed the evening, the combined enthusiasm from Maude and Sara were so appreciated by all. Cheers to their continued success with more of these intimate dinner clubs.