|You'd need a magnifying glass to find a female in that fruit market, and even then I don't think you would.|
I’ve now read The New Persian Kitchen and it’s a gem, a lovely, intelligent cookbook that brings us a cuisine as filtered through the sensibility of its author, Louisa Shafia. If you’re looking for an encyclopedia of authentic Persian recipes, look elsewhere. Like maybe here . This is a different kind of book, a boutique not an emporium.
And what will you find in this boutique? Shafia’s favors the simple, delicate, tart, and fresh. Her photographs are springy and bright, full of mint leaves, rosy pink rhubarb sorbet, dates, and pistachios. Her voice is gentle and courteous in a way that I consider (stereotype coming) feminine. It’s a refreshing change from the trendy “our way or go fuck yourself” style of Roy Choi and David Chang.
She’s very health oriented, offering versions of classic Persian dishes in which meat is replaced with tempeh and tofu. She limits fats, is sensitive to gluten issues, favors whole grains, and, above all, shuns white sugar.
This isn’t really my thing. I grew up on honey-sweetened whole wheat desserts and I’m not personally interested in replacing sugar with natural sweeteners, or white rice with brown. Does this detract from my appreciation of the book? Not at all. I like lots of different viewpoints in my cookbook collection and Shafia gives clear, beautiful voice to who she is. Like I said, the book is a gem.
The recipes are clear and reliable. I hosted our weekly family dinner last night and gave it a Shafia-style Persian twist. Big success. Here’s what I made:
-lamb kebabs. Marinate chunks of meat in ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Skewer and grill. Very, very tart and flavorful. Delicious. Recipe here.
-grilled lamb liver with cumin and garlic. Ah, well, what did I expect? My father and I were the only ones who ate this and I think he only did so to appear manly. You marinate the liver in cumin and garlic, then grill. Shafia’s instructions for eating: “Stuff a piece of bread with several basil leaves and a few pieces of warm liver. Season with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper.” I thought it was divine -- creamy, meaty, rich. My 8-year-old niece said the yellow jackets would probably stop pestering us once they tasted the liver.
-watermelon and cucumber salad. Put two watery pieces of produce together and you will have a watery salad. Not my favorite dish. Personal taste.
-saffron rice. Basmati rice cooked then tossed with butter and saffron. Absolutely great.
-Persian grilled corn. Dip cob in hot salt brine, grill, dip in hot brine again, eat. Not noticeably salty which was a big disappointment. I might try this again with even saltier water.
Technically I’ve cooked my Persian Kitchen quota, but I already have the peaches and chicken breasts to make another Shafia dish tonight. In fact, I must post this immediately or we won’t be eating dinner.