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
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
- 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
- 2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped lightly toasted
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
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
Strew on the fried onions, sprinkle with the saffron water and
toasted walnuts if you wish, and serve.
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
Baku Fish Kebabs - Baliq
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
Photograph Credit: Gentl & Hyers.