Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid

Taste of Persia: A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan by Naomi Duguid is a "reason to celebrate" to quote The New York Times. Duguid has authored many books exploring various cuisines from Burma to different regions of China. Every one of her titles is in my collection and I am always thrilled to learn when she is working on something new.

Duguid has the soul of a writer managing to convey the culture and cuisine of a particular region eloquently with thoughtful words and photographs. The beautiful images of the people and their landscape captured within these pages brings me closer to understanding their passions which are so similar to mine - family, food, life. Even though the people brought to us in Taste of Persia, speak many languages and have varying religious beliefs - they still share a history of Persian influences - in their kitchens - at their tables.

While there are 125 plus recipes in this book, it is far more than a collection of dishes. Duguid's words do, in fact, deliver the cuisine of Persia, but are also wrapped in the human element of the people who have known pain and anguish and yet still find joy in their traditions of food and love of family. The lined faces of the people reflect their wisdom, the hope in the eyes of children and the care in which the cooks share their food in this title makes this far more than a cookbook - it is a deeper understanding of this area of the world delivered through food.

Half-Moon Hand Pies, Cheese-Filled Quick Breads, Topknot Dumplings, and Tart Lamb Stew with Fried Potatoes are all marked in my copy to try. Truth be told, the majority of the recipes in this book, I am eager to recreate - save a few that involve offal or tongue - as we are not yet that sophisticated in this house. 

Duguid never disappoints and even if there were not a single recipe in this title that interested me - the book is a wonderful read that brings this section of the world, that I am so fascinated by, to my kitchen - to my table.  Anyone that loves travel, Persian cuisine or stellar writing would love this book as a gift this holiday season. 

Special thanks to Artisan and the author for sharing two recipes with us. Be sure to visit our contest page to enter for a chance to win a copy of this book.

Spinach Borani - Borani Ye Esfenaj
Serves 4 to 6

The Persian dishes called borani are a genius combination of cooked vegetable and thick drained yogurt. They are generally topped with fried onions, and often with a scattering of lightly toasted walnuts. People rave whenever I serve them, especially this spinach version.

  • About 1½ cups plain full-fat yogurt
  • 2 pounds spinach
  • About 2 tablespoons sunflower or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon water

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped lightly toasted walnuts

Drain the yogurt to thicken it: Line a sieve or colander with cheesecloth or a cotton cloth. Moisten the cloth with water. Set the sieve or colander over a bowl and add the yogurt. Set aside, loosely covered, to drain for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the tough stems from the spinach. Wash the spinach thoroughly in several changes of water and drain well. Coarsely chop and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, lower the heat to medium, and fry the onion until translucent and touched with color, about 5 minutes. Transfer the onion to a plate and set aside.

Raise the heat under the skillet to medium-high and add the spinach, turning it to expose it to the hot surface. Add about ½ cup water and cook, pressing and turning the spinach, until it is well wilted and deep green, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a bowl to cool slightly.

Once the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze it thoroughly, a handful at a time, to press out excess water.

Transfer the spinach to a bowl, add ½ teaspoon salt, and mix well.

Turn the thickened yogurt out into a bowl; you'll have about 1 cup. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and the water to loosen the yogurt slightly and stir. (Save the whey for another purpose or discard.) Add the yogurt to the spinach and stir gently to mix them a little, but not into a smooth blend, leaving the mixture with patches of white and dark green. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Strew on the fried onions, sprinkle with the saffron water and toasted walnuts if you wish, and serve.

Beet Borani

You can make borani with other vegetables too. One of the most appealing is beet borani-the yogurt's slight tartness is a great foil for the sweetness of the beets. Place 6 medium beets (1½ to 2 pounds) in a roasting pan, coat with a little oil, and roast at 400°F until cooked through, about 1 hour, or boil them whole until cooked through. Let cool. Peel the beets and chop into about ½-inch dice. I have a weakness for beets with cumin or fennel, so I suggest tossing a generous pinch of one or the other into the pan as you fry the onion, along with ½ teaspoon salt. Once the onion is softened and touched with color, add it to the chopped beets. To serve, combine the beets with about 1 cup drained yogurt (from 1½ cups full-fat yogurt) seasoned with ½ teaspoon salt, without mixing them completely. Top with about 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted walnuts or, for a splashier look, with coarsely chopped pistachios.

Baku Fish Kebabs - Baliq Shashlik
Serves 4 to 6

Although sturgeon from the Caspian Sea is the classic and most highly regarded fish in Azerbaijan, you can use any firm, rich fish for these kebabs. The chunks of fish marinate briefly in a blend of lemon juice, salt, and dill before being threaded onto skewers and grilled. They make a great summer meal.

  • 2 pounds skin-on fish fillets: sturgeon or other rich fish, such as salmon or Alaskan black cod
  • About ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
  • About 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced (optional)
  • ¼ cup minced scallions (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac, or to taste

Cut the fillets crosswise into pieces about 1½ inches wide. Place in a bowl. Add the lemon juice, dill, and ½ teaspoon of the salt and mix gently to coat the fish. Add the oil and mix again. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium hot and place a rack about 5 inches above the coals or flame.

Thread the fillets onto skewers. It's easiest to use two skewers in parallel to hold the fish: Pierce 2 or 3 pieces of fish with one skewer, not through the center, but close to one end; then pierce the other end of the pieces with a second skewer, so the arrangement looks like a ladder with fish rungs. Make sure the skin side of all the pieces is facing the same way. Set aside on a tray and repeat with the remaining fish.

Place the skewers skin side down on the rack over the coals or flame and grill for 10 minutes. Turn over and grill until the fish is just cooked, another 4 minutes or so.

Cover a platter with the sliced onions and the sliced tomatoes, if using. Slide the fish off the skewers onto the platter. Sprinkle the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, the scallions, if using, and sumac over the fish.

Excerpted from Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid.

Photograph Credit: Gentl & Hyers.

 

 

 

4 Comments

  • Kristjudy  on  12/6/2016 at 4:47 PM

    What a beautiful review!!!!!

  • ToPieFor  on  12/6/2016 at 8:52 PM

    This review is inspiring me to run out and buy this book now! I love the connection of food, family, and sharing cultures. This surely brings us closer in the world, one recipe at a time. Thank you for the wonderful review.

  • Littlebirdchoc  on  12/7/2016 at 1:13 PM

    I don't have any of her books - not YET anyway!

  • Thredbende  on  12/17/2016 at 11:40 PM

    I have enjoyed cooking from the Seduction of Rice.

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