Cooking Class with My Daughters: Sharing the Flavors of My Childhood

By Elena Epstein


Chef Michael demonstrates cream puff technique for Emily and Erin Epstein. PHOTOS COURTESY ELENA EPSTEIN

Even though I have been living in Los Angeles since I was 10 and married the boy from the Valley who grew up with peanut butter and jelly and tuna salad, my favorite food is and will always be Persian. The aroma of cardamom, coriander and cumin is my childhood, my family home, my parents and my extended family.

I have shared my love of basmati rice with saffron and barberries and flavorful stews with parsley and fenugreek with my husband’s family, friends and, of course, my two daughters. I love that they love Persian food as much as I do.

When my oldest daughter, Erin, suggested the three of us take a cooking class together, and then found “Exotic Persian Flavors” at Sur La Table at The Village at Topanga in Woodland Hills, we had to sign up.

The three of us – especially in the summer months when school is out – love to gather in the kitchen. We talk, we chop and we laugh. Sur La Table was our first cooking class together and now we’re hooked. We had fun, learned some practical kitchen skills and got to celebrate “our food” in a new way. We were so inspired by our class that we cooked two of the recipes again the next day at home.

Sur La Table at The Village at Topanga offers a variety of cooking classes including Perfect Pies, Date Night: Summer in Venice, Delicious & Vegan, and Summer Pizzas on the Grill. They also offer a summer cooking camp for kids and seasonal classes for specific holidays throughout the year.

The small-group classes are held in the test kitchen at the back of the store. Our class was divided into three groups of four cooks. Equipment and ingredients were set up at our workstations and each group worked together. Our five creations included some of my favorite Persian dishes:

  • Kuku Sabzi (Fresh Herb and Leek Frittata)
  • Salad Shirazi (Chopped Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Fresh Mint)
  • Jeweled Basmati Pilaf
  • Grilled Saffron Chicken Kabobs
  • Noon Khamei (Cream Puffs with Rose and Pistachio Cream)

Because we were making an entire meal, some steps were done ahead of time by Chef Michael, our instructor. The grilled saffron chicken kabobs were already marinating when we began the class, and while Chef Michael walked us through the steps of making the Jeweled Basmati Pilaf Rice, we did not each make our own pot of rice.

These classes are ideal to try with friends ,since you share workstations and food prep. Chef Michael was friendly and fun, and his love of cooking and experimenting with different flavors and herbs was evident. Because the class is small, we could ask lots of questions and chat with Chef Michael. And at the end of the class, we enjoyed the delicious feast we cooked together.

For more information on cooking classes and summer kids & teens cooking camp, visit:

Kuku Sabzi (Fresh Herb and Leek Frittata)

Recipe Courtesy of Sur La Table

Yield: One 12-inch frittata

This herbaceous frittata is ideal to serve as an appetizer or a vegetarian main course with a green salad. The thin slices are also great as a filling for sandwiches. Feel free to adjust the combination of herbs to your personal taste.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced into half-moons

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 large eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup chopped fresh dill

1 cup thinly sliced green onions

½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

2 tablespoons dried barberries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Add 1 tablespoon oil to a 12-inch, nonstick, ovenproof skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper and sauté, stirring often, until tender, 5-8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, baking powder, cumin and turmeric until well combined. Fold the herbs, walnuts, barberries and cooled leeks into the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Coat the skillet with remaining tablespoon of oil and pour the frittata mixture into the skillet.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake the frittata until golden brown around the edges and just set, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool slightly and slice. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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