Zov Karamardian is a chef.
Zov Karamardian, an Armenian born in Israel is heir to the huge variety of culinary style from the Caucasus region of the world. Her cooking incorporates flavors from Syria, Israel, Greece, and North Africa. She is as likely to prepare a typical Mediterranean pasta salad, as she is to prepare the more eastern pilafs and grilled meats, with their seasonings of sumac and Aleppo pepper. But classics like baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, spanakopita, and moussaka also make appearances in her dishes.
When Zov needs ingredients for her cooking, she has noted that New England can match the natural abundance of the Fertile Crescent (or southern California, for that matter) only in late summer. But when the tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers are available in profusion and the grill's still up and running, these are the recipes one looks for.
Moroccan salmon with charmoula sauce is thoroughly dredged in a bazaar of spices; the charmoula's liberal dose of diced tomatoes and cilantro keeps the fish moist and bright-tasting. Rosemary-garlic chicken with lemon gets marinated and grilled with its skin, for maximum flavor.
A massive quantity of thinly sliced onions, patiently cooked to gilded brown shreds of sweetness, is the secret to her mujadara, or rice pilaf with lentils and caramelized onions. Zov's version uses a more than generous dollop of sweet butter, which melds the flavors together and gives depth to the onions. For vine-ripened roasted tomato-basil soup, plum tomatoes get blasted in a 450-degree oven to concentrate their flavor before joining a broth of aromatics and potatoes.
Zov produces hot-weather food, so it's no surprise that her desserts turn toward cool, creamy comforts. Most are the usual favorites, slightly tailored. Jasmine rice pudding with fresh berries gets an elegant scattering of sliced pistachios. Luscious lemon squares offer just enough sweetness in their silken custard, to get away with what would otherwise be a withering, mouth-puckering tartness.
In other words, Zov doesn't take any chances when it comes to flavor.
According to Zov, why add just a teaspoon of lemon juice to custard when you can use two-thirds of a cup, and a handful of the grated rind while you're at it?
Zov also has a cookbook named “Zov” with portions that are as big as the flavors. You'll need to break out your largest pots for these recipes, none of which seem to be constructed to serve fewer than six people. Eight to ten is typical. These are party recipes, meant to share with a big family or group of friends. A household of only two would be dining on leftovers for a week.
"Zov" is a heavy, handsome book published outside the traditional channels. At $35, it doesn't come cheap. Every spread has four color photographs, as large as life and sometimes larger. Those with a taste for endless summer will find much to love in it; others will thankfully browse its sunlit pages during the long season when sweet, ripe tomatoes are just a memory.
- HER MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD IS BIG ON FLAVOR, By T. Susan Chang, Boston Globe. September 7, 2005