Alibi V.16 No.34 • Aug 23-29, 2007 

A Moveable Feast

Not for Flavor Wusses

Persian ice cream suited to bold palates

Xavier Mascareñas

“It recalls your grandmother’s perfume,” warn the makers of delicious Persian ice cream when patrons walk through the door of Mashti Malone's in Hollywood, Calif. That's the rosewater. True enough, when I took a carton to my mother-in-law after falling in love with the stuff at Albuquerque's Persian Market, she scooped a small spoonful into her mouth and remembered how her mother used to have her rinse her hands in rosewater. Though she wasn't sure it was a flavor she enjoyed having in her mouth, I can vouch for the rich, pungent bastani (Persian for ice cream), a combination of rosewater, saffron and pistachios in thick, frozen cream.

It's lucky that rosewater tastes nothing like raw rose petals. It's a tough lesson, one I learned early on when my culinary pursuits were inspired and, often, awful: Just because it's pretty doesn't mean it will taste good. Roses, most of the ones that grow around here, anyway, are unaccountably bitter. Rosewater, on the other hand, tastes the way flowers smell—delicate and sweet, almost honeyed. Quick Google research reveals it's a popular dessert flavoring in the Middle East, used as a base, almost the way we use vanilla or chocolate here.

Some of the ingredients in the pungent, floral   bastani  .
Some of the ingredients in the pungent, floral bastani .
Xavier Mascareñas

The Persian Market is the only store in Albuquerque to sell Mashti Malone's ice cream, says store owner Nakisa Odell proudly. The medium size goes for $6.99 and the large for as much as $16.99. Los Angeles, where Mashti's is located, is like the second Iran, she says. "We have a lot of Persians there." Odell's store has been open for three months and carries a variety of Persian breads, berries, spices, rices, jams and cookware.

A carton of faludeh, available by the pint at the Persian Market, is essentially frozen rosewater with inch-long vermicelli noodles suspended evenly throughout. The ice is more slushi than sorbet in texture, the noodles adding an unobtrusive, unflavored crunch in tiny doses. Odell isolates a noodle with her spoon and scrapes the ice away. "These are definitely uncooked," she says, placing the vermicelli strand between her foreteeth and snapping it in half. It's often eaten with a splash of lemon juice and sour cherry flavoring.

The faludeh is uncomplicated, perfumed and fresh. The texture is satisfying, a lighthearted counterpart to the other ice cream’s multinote flavor—rosewater tempered by earthier tones of saffron and milky sweetness of pistachios.

Odell says both are often eaten after tea, a floral dessert that complements strong black, herbal or spiced teas. Once in a while, I encounter chewy pebbles of cream in the bastani, which I delight in crushing between my molars. Now, I'm no flavor wuss. I've rarely been known to exclaim, "Oh, this is so rich! I can only eat a little of it." But ... this bastani is so rich, I can only eat a little of it.

The Persian Market, at 4401 Cutler NE is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.