Monday, June 09, 2014

I'm into The Persian Kitchen

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.

16 comments:

  1. I was mostly disappointed by the book (I went into it expecting more Persian and less New), but the oat and mushroom soup is fantastic. I'm going to try those kebabs. Maybe the liver, but I'll have to find the right audience to eat it with me.

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    1. I wish you could come eat the rest of my grilled liver with me. They didn't have anything less than 1.5 pounds so that's what I had to buy and there's quite a bit left over. I think the chickens will end up getting most of it. The lamb kebabs are really good -- they do need salting at the table. The oat and mushroom soup? Really? Hmmm. I will have to consider. The soups didn't look good to me. I did love the date shake.

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    2. I wish I could come eat the liver too. The oat and mushroom soup is the only soup I've made from the book, but I loved it. Really toasty, tangy, well-rounded flavour. (I should have mentioned that I made the barley version, because steel-cut oats are difficult to get hold of where I live, but I think the flavour would work just as well with oats.)

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  2. Hi Jennifer! I just wanted to say thank you for your blog! A few months ago I noticed your book on display in my local bookstore here in Toronto, Canada. I must have picked up your book over half a dozen times to read a few pages to see what you had to say about the particular homemade recipe. Then I realized I didn't want to put it down-- I loved your storytelling, the writing, and your humor so much that I had to get myself a copy of the book. I made Isabel's chocolate chip cookies (I over creamed the butter, but the cookies were very very tasty) and I've been bookmarking some of your other recipes to try. You have me convinced that your homemade bagels are worth the effort! I hope I don't sound too creepy, but I also started reading your blog after I finished your book. I actually read it in reverse chronological order and hit your first blog post yesterday. Please keep blogging, you're doing really great work! I hope to see more books from you in the future!

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    1. Just keep reading and you will love her; she's just wonderful. I read her book, then went back and read, start-to-finish, the blog. Lovely writing, comedic bent, friendly voice.

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    2. I agree with Kristin wholeheartedly, since I did exactly the same thing and had the same experience. All my life I have heard the saying, "what's not to like?", and with Jennifer, it is absolutely true.

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    3. So nice of you all. This makes me blush.

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    4. Oh I do love all the writing! I've read the entire blog: I started from June 2014 and went backwards all the way to 2006. Such delightful writing. Thanks for being so candid, Tipsybaker!

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    5. Stephanie, do try the bagels. My husband won't eat them and there is only the two of us, but I made a dozen and topped them three different ways; sesame seeds, sunflower seeds with garlic butter and Parmesan. Heavenly. I tried to post a picture here, but .... I am another Canadian, raised by homesteaders on the prairies, and love to try things the 'old' way. I've probably tried a dozen recipes from the book and would make every one of them again.

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    6. Thanks Sherry! This place (tipsybaker.com) is the best gem I've found on the internet in a long time.

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  3. Thanks for the comment about the oat and mushroom soup, I will try it. I've made a few recipes from the New Persian Kitchen: the vinegar carrots with toasted sesame seeds ( didn't seem especially Persian but good), green herb and kidney bean stew (very good), dried lime tea and date shake. I want to make one of the rice dishes with the crusty layer (Tahdig). I agree with Jennifer that this cookbook is very pretty and pleasant in tone.

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    1. I want to make the carrot salad -- that's been on my list. I don't have dried limes so that eliminated a number of dishes. Date shake -- loved. I think tonight I'm going to make one of the crusty rice dishes. I was going to call it a day after last night's seared chicken and peaches, but I don't feel I can move on without trying the tahdig. Very intriguing and mysterious.

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  4. Hi Jennifer,

    I'm so happy to find your post, glad you're having fun with my book! I just got back from my very first trip to Iran. After twenty years of wanting to go, and two years waiting for my passport, I made it, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I ate so much good food while I was there, including lots of "jegar," aka grilled liver, and it was fantastic. If you make it again, it's tasty with a glass of red wine - or non-alcoholic beer if you're in Iran! Enjoy the chicken with peaches. I hope to meet you some time!

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    1. Hello! I am so interested to read about your trip to Iran. I will go now to your blog.

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  5. Thanks as always for your post. I made the Iranian chicken and olive salad you mentioned a couple posts ago, and wrapped them in warm corn tortillas for this GF house; they were great. And this weekend we made the poppy seed cake you linked to last post - fantastic. The only food I have ever spit out at the table, as an adult, was liver. My children laughed themselves sick. I have sympathy for your 8-year-old niece.

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    1. I'm so glad the chicken salad worked out. Didn't it have an especially memorable flavor? I used to feel as you do about liver. Then one day I was watching someone eat it, asked for a bite, and loved it. If it's on a menu, I have to order it.

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