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Articles / Nasim Alikhani is the Queen of Layers

Nasim Alikhani is the Queen of Layers

Published June 28, 2023

Plus: A week of zero cooking, zero dark Alaska, and an encouraging observation

This Week’s Marksisms

Food with Mark Bittman: Sofreh Chef Nasim Alikhani

Nasim Alikhani, today’s guest on Food with Mark Bittman and chef-owner of Sofreh in Brooklyn, has been cooking all her life, beginning early on alongside her mother in their home in central Iran. She didn’t set out to be a chef, though; she studied law in college and casually cooked for her classmates; her dream was to be a judge.

Not surprisingly, in the 1980s, after the new regime took over, Nasim’s plans changed. Women’s roles were diminished, textbooks were purged, Nasim’s mother was forced to retire because she wouldn’t conform, and all universities were closed — and certainly, women were not allowed to be judges anymore. Nasim had friends who were executed and imprisoned. She made the decision to leave Iran and come to America.

Fast forward to 2018: As a woman in her late 50s, Nasim did the unthinkable — she opened a restaurant. Sofreh has since been named one of the top 10 best of the year by the New York Times, and got Nasim nominated for a James Beard for best chef. We had her on to celebrate her new book, Sofreh: A Contemporary Approach to Classic Persian Cuisine (and you can find the recipe featured on today’s episode, Nasim’s Date Scrambled Eggs, here).

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Gloom, Dark-less Nights, and Spectacular Scenery

Photo: Mark Bittman

An unusual week because, except for a cooking demonstration (northwestern fish, mostly), I have done zero cooking. Zero.

That’s because we are on a cruise ship, the Regents Seven Seas Explorer, doing the southeastern Alaska coast. (And when you get up here, you realize that if you go to, like, Juneau and Sitka and a couple of other towns and then say, “I’ve been to Alaska,” it’s a little like visiting the Florida Keys and saying you’re been to America. There is a whole ‘nuther world up there.)

Otters! Photo: Mark Bittman

I’ve been on a few cruises as the token “food celeb,” and I will note that the level of curiosity about food (as opposed to “cooking”) on the part of passengers has increased significantly. When you get to the point in a cooking demonstration that people are asking questions like “How quickly do you think we can get to a place where regenerative agriculture is dominant?”, instead of “How do you know when fish is cooked?” you know that something is changing. That’s encouraging.

Meanwhile, gloom is the dominant weather — as I write this, it’s broad daylight, the captain has the foghorn going almost constantly, and you can’t see the length of the ship — dark-less nights are the oddest thing (we’re a bit more south now, and at some point last night I’d have called it “dark,” but the night before, it never got beyond dusk), and (when you can see them) there are water and mountains everywhere. Spectacular scenery, as anyone who’s been up here can tell you.

We’ll have a full report on our fishing adventure with Tyson Fick, our friend from Taku River Reds, in the next week or two.

Insights on Ozempic

My co-author David Katz (How to Eat), who was on our podcast recently, has a typically insightful column about Ozempic and its implications.

A Book Unlike Any Other

Fellow author and friend Bob Spitz (The Beatles, etc.) recommended the Booker Prize short-listed The Trees, by Percival Everett. It’s truly different, unlike anything you’ve read before: let’s say a mashup of police procedural, historical and current racism, the South, semi-science fiction, with a bit of the spirit of Elmore Leonard – wonderful, colorful characters. Bizarre and fun and highly recommended. Not, to put on my critic’s hat, the kind of super-careful literary work you usually associated with the Booker Prize, but that’s not necessarily a detriment.

What Do You Think of This?

Here’s another of those “I’m not sure what I think of this” stories: A vegan landlord won’t rent to anyone who plans to cook animal products in the apartment. I can accept this, as long as it’s already the norm that you can bar smokers, or people with pets. But there has to be a place where this stops. Suppose I don’t like the smell of cooking at all? Or of broccoli? Or of take-out pizza? Is that okay? Am I missing something? Feel free to discuss. And P.S., here’s a bit of different coverage of the same event from Bon App.

Good Night

We have watched nothing good that I can recommend. The sports world is asleep unless you’re interested in mid-season baseball, the NBA draft, or 53-man rosters. I’m not. So goodnight until next week. — Mark