Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & beyond Hardcover – October 20, 2014 by Sabrina Ghayour (Author), Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton (Illustrator) ( Interlink Pub Group )(Interlink Books)

I fell in love with Iranian food back in my college days--pre-revolution--when my Persian friends cooked their mothers' home recipes for me. I found it fresh, flavorful, beautiful on the plate, and full of surprises. Fast forward many years and I have accumulated a shelf full of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cookbooks, many of them exclusively Persian. I love this cuisine so much, complex yet simple, refined yet rustic--consider it one of the greats, right up there with Mexican/French/Italian--that I find a new Persian cookbook hard to resist. It is an irresistible collection.

For all you picture hounds, there is a full-page color picture of the completed dish for every recipe. That's right. (I keep Kindle for PC installed on both my laptop and desktop computers for just such books as this. The pictures look good on my Kindle Fire (the 7" one), but they look spectacular on a large HD monitor. Every little detail... You foodies know what of I speak. Sigh!)

Ingredients are given in both metric and American tsp/tblsp/ounces etc. (I read somewhere recently that the U.S. is one of three countries left hanging on to non-metric measurements. Surely we will eventually bow to the majority, but I hope it's after I'm no longer cooking. In the meantime all my new kitchen measuring cups and spoons have both standards clearly imprinted, so I don't miss out, or get confused. Just a suggestion...) The whole cookbook has been edited with the view to international distribution. But, the one thing, the only thing, I've found which wasn't "translated" for Americans is the oven temperature, which is given in Centigrade and "gas mark". But the internet is full of converters, so no biggie.

Chapters are as follows:
Mezze (appetizers,etc.)--19 recipes
Breads and Grains--9 recipes
Soups, Stews, and Tagines--12 recipes
Roasts and Grills--22 recipes
Salads and Vegetables--26 recipes
Desserts and Sweet Treats--12 recipes
A grand total of 100 and I'm determined to cook my way through all of them.

There are a number of recipes for lamb, but beef can be easily substituted, a lesson learned from an old American friend married to an Iranian who always said she was a better cook than his mother (high praise indeed). I live in a small town, surrounded by small towns, where a variety of lambs cuts are expensive and not readily available. I don't know if the author would approve; I just know it can be done. (If you're interested, the book which made my friend into a "better than my mother's" Persian cook is "Persian Cooking" by Nesta Ramazani and is still in print and available on Amazon. It's fabulous beyond words and thorough, but be warned, there are no pictures.)

Any unfamiliar spices (sumac, for example) are easily obtainable online from vendors like Penzey's (the best, IMHO). Persians are very fond of fresh herbs in quantity, nothing unusual, but if you fall in love with this cuisine, you might want to grow some of your own, quite easily done in pots on a window sill in a pinch.

Just a few words about rice cooked Persian style: It is heavenly. Fluffy, tender, toothsome, aromatic, every grain separate from its neighbor. Fixed plain or fancy, it is hands-down the best prepared rice I've ever eaten. And it reheats beautifully for leftovers. You will never fix rice any other way.

This isn't a collection full of ingredients that you've never heard of or wouldn't recognize on the grocery shelf. The recipes are clearly written, easy to follow. Techniques are simple and successful results should be well within the reach of the average home cook. This would be a fine introduction to one of the world's great cuisines. Highest recommendation!

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