Here, the blogs you should be reading right now with recipes and tips from their creators.
The Blog: As an editor for America’s Test Kitchen, Sacha Madadian uses her blog, 729 Layers, to explore everything from pastry-making to Persian flavors.
I’d love to know more about your family background and how that influences your cooking.
My dad is from Iran and my mom is of French Canadian descent and was born and raised in central Massachusetts—an interesting combination for the taste buds. My parents cooked fresh meals every night but didn’t particularly enjoy doing so. Thankfully, they are big eaters who appreciate good food and, when we could, we loved eating out. Persian restaurants are hard to find around here, but we devoured food from other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines—lots of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese in particular. I really gravitate toward those flavors now. Iranian cuisine itself is amazingly rich and surprisingly different from that of other countries in the region. Middle Eastern flavors make their way into something I eat every day. They certainly don’t dominate on my blog, but they have a presence. My Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb Chutney are inspired by a Persian khoresh (stew). It’s also fun to incorporate these ingredients into desserts. I’m wild about the tahini ice cream. Stone fruits love saffron. Cardamom is all over the place.
How did you learn to cook and bake, and how did you make your way into food publishing?
I didn’t learn by pulling at my mom’s apron strings or by standing on my tippy-toes to help stir a big pot. I started getting into cooking, and especially baking, as a way to use my hands to do something creative and to quiet a restless mind. I mildly resented not having a romantic family-cooking history of my own but, looking back, I think it was a boon; it forced me to introduce myself to the kitchen. Once I started reading cookbooks and food science tomes, I gave them as much attention as my textbooks. I was an academic and on my way to being a lifelong one. Studying food—what I feel is a fine art—like a science made me feel like it could be an acceptable profession. I had done a fair amount of writing, and I collected freelance food experience testing recipes and copyediting food-related material. Publishing was the obvious place for me, and I was lucky that my passion won.
Many food blogs today are incredibly polished. Yours is more free-form, which I love. Working in publishing, do you ever feel tempted to make the blog more “professional”?
Perhaps that’s because I work in publishing. I believe deeply in establishing a strong voice, yet my time spent in my little corner of the Internet is an escape from the idea of being confined to just one. I develop and post recipes along with the stories that inspire them. But sometimes I’m feeling sarcastic or silly, and I write accordingly. If my blog weren’t a bit messy, it would be an inaccurate depiction of how my mind works. Posts take days (or weeks) to complete; I don’t want to adhere to an editorial calendar, because I want them to feel natural. I get to talk about the pleasure of pastry-making and the part of my brain that it tickles. I can explore things that would normally make it onto the cutting room floor.
It looks like you discovered Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s food before many of us did in the US. What do you think about their popularity here now?
It’s wonderful. I don’t remember how I heard about the Ottolenghi cafés in London, but I was immediately smitten. I hope to visit one day. Vegetable-forward, bold flavors, great pastry—that’s how I like to cook and eat. Most importantly, their popularity is a sign that Middle Eastern flavors are becoming a part of the American vernacular, and I think we can benefit from (what I lovingly call) a little aggressiveness in our cuisine. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Yotam Ottolenghi, and he’s as genuine as one would guess.
What blogs are you absolutely loving right now?
I really dig Gourmandistan, which is run by a husband-and-wife team Steve and Michelle. They care deeply about food and ingredients, and their posts are refreshingly concise but packed with wit and just enough snark. I’ve read 101 Cookbooks and Seven Spoons for years without cease. I found The Vanilla Bean Blog in 2011, and her blog has been such a gift. And of course I love reading all the Boston blogs, especially The Garum Factory, which is written by another power married couple: chef Jody Adams and writer Ken Rivard. The recipes and photos are fantastic.
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.