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A Persian’s pop-up menu can be distilled into three words: not just kebabs


The green tones of spring were a tonic that saturated the dishes served in the Azizam Pop Up Dinner on Monday night, held at Konbi’s recently vacated space in Echo Park.

The meal started with sabzi khordan, a plate full of basil and other aromatic herbs with walnuts, radishes and a small rectangle of feta cheese; deputy food editor Betty Hallock and I ate them alongside freshly shelled lima beans and crispy barbari still warm from the oven.

Two triangles of baked kuku sabzi, one of my favorite Persian egg dishes, with dill, parsley, and cilantro. Fennel fronds added a licorice note to roasted whole branzino over herbed rice. To one side was more rice in the form of tahdig, the coveted crispy layer that forms at the bottom of the pot, this golden and buttery and just crispy enough.

Even the dessert slyly referred to chlorophyll. It was bamieh, a popular Iranian sweet made with tubed dough that is deep-fried and then dipped in syrup (it can be flavored in any number of ways; sour orange here adds complex tartness). “Bamieh” is the Farsi word for okra; the ridges on the small donuts mimic the shape of the vegetable.

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The delicious food had been drawn from the traditional canon celebrating Nowruz, the ancient observance of the vernal equinox, rooted in Zoroastrianism, considered the most important event on the Persian calendar. As with Easter and Pesach meals, many of the foods served during Nowruz represent themes related to a springtime feeling of renewal and abundance.

Sabzi polo ba mahi, an entrée of grilled branzino over herbed rice, with Shirazi salad at the Azizam pop-up dinner in Echo Park celebrating Nowruz.

(Bill Addison/Los Angeles Times)

Celebrating Nowruz

It was the second year that Cody Ma and Misha Sesar, who founded Azizam in June 2021, have hosted a Nowruz party as part of their pop-up. Last year they were still in takeout mode; Then I savored the soft, mushy kuku sabzi and fish with scented rice that I transferred from its take-out container to a plate, at home. Eating the food they prepared in the world was a different and more resonant kind of joy.

Azizam, which means “my dear” in Farsi, appears every month or so. In the past two years, Ma and Sesar have appeared on Melody Wine Bar in East Hollywood, Brain Dead Studios in Fairfax and on nights at Pearl River Deli in Chinatown when the restaurant is closed.

By day, Ma is a manager at Pine & Crane and Joy, and Sesar is a director at an art gallery. The couple met at a party in 2016 through a mutual friend who knew they were both of Iranian and Chinese ancestry.

They were telling me the story in a recent interview. Ma began, “It’s quite unique because we’ve never met anyone…”

“…with the same background,” Sesar said, matching Ma’s cadence and finishing the sentence.

Like many creative sparks of the pandemic era, the idea for Azizam started with bread. Ma and Sesar lived in Alhambra at the time, and the road to Iranian restaurant and market nexuses like Westwood and Irvine seemed far off in 2020. Sesar began making barbari, one of the essential flatbreads of the Persian table, and he kept doing it. the couple decided to start exploring the regional differences in their families’ recipes. Sesar’s relatives come from Tabriz, a city in northwest Iran with millennia of history. Ma’s mother moved alone from Tehran to attend university in Omaha, where she eventually opened a restaurant with a menu of Persian and Levantine dishes.

Ma and Sesar played with kofteh Tabrizi, a soft braised meatball stuffed with rice and seasoned with various combinations of herbs, fruits and sometimes eggs that can be the size of a bicycle helmet. A modestly sized version stuffed with dried stone fruit became one of Azizam’s staple foods.

Savoring the season in Persian dishes

Summer can bring kashk-e kadoo, a sauce of roasted summer squash with buttermilk cream and garnished with mint oil, walnuts and fried onions, or borani kadoo, tomatoes and pumpkin simmered with spices and served with yoghurt. They both call out barbari for swiping. A khoresh, or stew, of chicken and cinnamon-scented pumpkin chunks may appear in the fall.

It’s the seasonality of the kitchen that compels me to seek out Azizam every time they announce their next pop-up on instagram. The Persian culinary repertoire is vast and is connected to the growing cycles. Most Persian restaurants in Southern California focus on kebabs: As part of a deep dive into Persian restaurants in 2019, Naz Deravian and Andy Baraghani, both Iranian cookbook authors, told me their families in California would go to kebab houses as a treat, but that highly seasonal variations of khoresh in which cardoons, rhubarb, sour cherries, peaches, apples or quince are fused with savory ingredients remained largely competition. of home kitchens.

When Ma and Sesar started Aziszam, they jokingly included the hashtag #nosolokebabs in their posts to indicate their intention to bring dishes like khoresh more into a public space. His goal is to eventually open a restaurant, which could bring the regional and seasonal notions of Persian cuisine to a much wider audience.

For now, stay tuned to social media. After Ma and Sesar finish their Nowruz celebrations (April 2, the 13th and final day of the festivities, is known as Sizdah Bedar and traditionally calls for a picnic outing), they will return with a spring menu for Azizam. It will probably include khoresh karafs, a stew that Ma’s grandmother made at this time of year with braised chicken thighs or sometimes lamb. I too look forward to more kuku sabzi.

Misha Sesar places two plates of food on a table at an Azizam pop-up dinner celebrating Nowruz.

Misha Sesar, who founded the Azizam pop-up with Cody Ma, served dishes as part of a Nowruz celebration meal in the Echo Park space previously occupied by Konbi.

(Bill Addison/Los Angeles Times)

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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