In our cooking series Quickies, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Quickies takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.
“Eggs are like people—there are good eggs and there are bad eggs. You never know who you’re going to come across, or what kind of egg you’re going to come across.”
Naz Deravian is warm and wise. The actress, writer, Persian food blogger, and author of Bottom of the Pot is the type of cook to make everything look effortless. Her cookbook, which was released in September, is elegant and jewel-like, almost intimidating in its beauty. But just before you get suspicious of how she does everything with such ease, she’ll say something wickedly funny.
Her home in West LA is immaculate but welcoming. Upon entering, I notice a crayon-scrawled drawing of a fish affixed with Scotch tape to a large, slightly algae-ridden tank. “Oh yes,” she says. “That was… well... Freckle.” There was a scuffle, as it happens, between two of her daughters' pet fish—Freckle and Tiny—and only one made it out alive.
“Freckle was a crazy ass,” she shrugs. “Really, really aggressive… a murder fish.”
We also peruse her wall of family photos, her favorite of which features her grandmother, a continued source of inspiration in her cooking. Deravian lived in Iran as a child but left when she was eight years old, during the Revolution. She also lived in Italy and Canada before settling in California and raising her two daughters, Soleil and Luna.
Today, she will be demonstrating how to make a taste of her childhood—yeralma yumurta, or as she calls it more colloquially in her book, Smooshed Potato and Egg. Her grandmother would often make it for her as a simple treat, but it’s also a ubiquitous street food in Azerbaijan, where her mother’s family is from.
“If Iran is shaped like a cat, [Tabriz] is the head of the cat,” she says about her family’s home city. “It gets really cold in the winter and gets heavy snowfall.” For a quick meal that “sticks to your ribs,” locals love this hand-held dish of egg and potato richened with butter or olive oil, sprinkled with dried mint and perhaps a smear of feta, and wrapped in warm bread.
“I use a ton of olive oil and a good amount of salt, and feta cheese and green onions. Whatever I have on hand,” Deravian says. “If I have fresh herbs, I might use those. Sometimes I might not even put it on the bread—I’ll put it on a tangy salad if I’m feeling like it. Pepper. That’s it guys, and it’s so good.”
Even if you’re not on a snowy street in Iran, the hearty simplicity of this meal makes it ideal for, well, any time.
“I love it as something when you get back from the gym, because it fills you up. It can be a breakfast thing or a lunch thing. Maybe if you’re on the way to school or on your way to work, this might be what you grab. I have this as my personal treat when I’m alone and solo. I sit down with my cup of tea, and just enjoy.”
Sounds good to us. So, is it really that easy to prepare? As it turns out, yes it is.
Start with a medium-sized potato—she’s got a creamy Yukon Gold on hand, but a regular old Russet is fine, too. If it’s a bigger potato, you might want to cut it in half so it cooks faster. “This is a dish you make when you’re really hungry, so you don’t want to wait for it to cook,” Deravian says. Salt and boil that little guy until tender.
While we wait for the potato to cook, Deravian reflects on making of Bottom of the Pot. “We cooked everything on this stove right here. It was a little intense,” she says. “Each part of it is its own journey, right? When I think back, it was the summertime, too. It was so hot and we were making these stews.”
Thankfully, it’s in the mid 60s today—frigid by LA standards (kidding… sort of… not really) and certainly not too toasty for comfort food. (Honestly, when is it ever really the wrong time to enjoy a cheese + egg + potato combo?) When the potato reaches the last few minutes of its boiling time, she brings two eggs to a boil in hopes of nailing the timing.
“My method is—fingers crossed that it will be all good—I put the eggs in the pot, fill it with water, and then turn the stove on,” she shares. “As soon as it comes to a boil, I turn it off, put a lid on it, and start my timer [for four or five minutes].” And as we know, there are good eggs and bad eggs. Just got to do your best in this crazy world.
Once the eggs and potato are cooked and drained, it’s time for the smooshing. (“You can just call it ‘potato and egg’—we went back and forth on ‘smooshed.’”) No need for a potato masher; the back of a fork works great here.
“And that’s it.”
Now, on to what Deravian describes as the most important part: dousing the potato in fat and salt. She likes to use olive oil, but feel free to use butter. Don’t be stingy! Potatoes love salt and oil. You’ll probably end up using more than you thought you would.
Just be mindful of what kind of salt you’re using; there’s a big difference in saltiness between Kosher salt and sea salt, and the amount that works with one might not with the other. Taste and go, taste and go.
You’ll also want to warm your bread. She likes lavash, but it dries out quickly, so you’ll want to move fast after dangling it over the stove for a few seconds. In Iran, they smush, roll, and hand it to you immediately. But in this case, she simply spreads the warm, salty, creamy potatoes over the warmed lavash using a fork. (“You can use any kind of bread, too. My father in law just makes it with toast,” she says. This dish is highly customizable, and we love it for that.)
With the potato smooshed, it’s time to smoosh the egg(s)—you can use one or two.I ask Deravian for egg-peeling tips, because either peeling eggs is very hard or I am just inexplicably bad at it.
“There’s nothing to learn [about egg peeling]. There are good eggs and there are bad eggs. This one is a problematic egg,” she shrugs. OK, I feel better.
In seconds, the whole thing comes together, and she sprinkles the gooey potato-egg combination with dried mint and crumbled feta cheese, and tops it all with a generous hit of fresh ground black pepper.
“Now we dig in. It’s so good, you guys,” she smiles. “You need to be messy with this.” Our pleasure.
Follow Hilary Pollack on Twitter.