So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Cookbook of the day – A Taste Of Persia

 

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A Taste Of Persia

by Najmieh K. Batmanglij

Publisher: Mage Publishers; 2nd edition (December 20, 2006)

ISBN10: 1933823135

ISBN-13: 978-1933823133

As you are probably becoming aware, I’m a sucker for a good history lesson with my cookbooks. This one has a crackerjack one that opens the book.

Westerners normally have a very minor acquaintance with the history of the region.  They kept a little from the Old Testament and then, the next 2000+ years is basically non-existent. And boy, how that’s worked out for us recently, eh? Little do we realize that the word Shiraz is actually a town in Iran where the grape gets its name. We don’t associate such an arid region as the source for diverse things as oranges (a word actually derived from Persian origins, which is likely the reason that there’s no word in English that thymes with it), walnuts, almonds, sugar cane, basil, coriander, saffron, and other luxuries like spinach and alfalfa. Some of these items were indigenous to the region and some brought in and out in trade with India and China.

This book even has a photograph of a 4000 mortar and pestle! Yes, they were grinding pomegranate seeds millinnia before thirsty housewives discovered the Pomegranate Martini (I was going to say Cosmopolitans but many Cosmos have never seen a pomegranate due to the increasing use of artificial ingredients in grenadine.

Persia has at times included Iraq and a couple of the Russian “-stans”. It has conquered states and been pillaged by the likes of Ghengis Khan of the Mongols. There is an account in this book of the plunderer Ashurnasirpal II throwing down for 10 days with a feast for “47,074 persons, men and women, who were bid to come from across my entire country”. The book goes on to say, “plus thousands more foreign and local guests. The menu included thousands of cattle, calves,sheeps, lambs, duck geese, doves, stags and gazelles”. This was 9th century BC, btw. A feast of truly biblical proportions that never made the final King James cut.

But back to this cookbook. The cuisine of Persia (Iran) is one of fruit  and/or vegetable-laced meats stews (khoreshes), kabobs of spicy succulence, fluffy jeweled pilafs, cooling Indian-esque cucumber and yoghurt salads,  eggplants in various forms, roasted meats like lamb and casseroles.

But if you get this book for one reason only, it’s the recipe and procedure for Chelow, which is a crusty dome of basmatic rice served family style. A yoghurt/water/rice and saffron mix is used to coat the bottom of the original rice pot after the bulk of the rice has been removed and drained. After starting with this layer, the remaining rice is carefully spooned into the pot in a pyramid shape. It’s cooked under cover for 10 minutes and then cold water and oil or ghee is poured on top, a little more saffron water is added and the pot is then cooked under a cover layered with a dishtowel for 50 minutes over low heat. The pot is then carefully inverted over a plate and this is the result (courtesy of www.chubbypanda.com):

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This is one of of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. The tah dig (the crusty top) is marvelous with a crunch that elevates ordinary rice to something texturally interesting. The inside is golden and scented from the saffron (the normal perfumed quality of basmati doesn’t hurt either) of and the use of ghee makes it wonderfully buttery and just chock-full of umami, the Japanese concept for “mouthfeel” that has become the buzzword of the culinary world. It’s an impressive dish to serve – impressive in appearance and its simplicity. You can actually stuff it with various meats and fruits as well. There’s a procedure that you have to follow to get a great result and this book outlines it to a tee and it’s not only easy to follow, but it’s easy to execute and remember without having to use the book once you’ve done it a time or two.

The book is a slender volume – not at all like the huge tomes that I usually recommend. It has a nice coated stock for paper, full-page color shots of most of the recipes, and is well laid-out and attractive. For such a “small book” there’s an astounding overview of a history and culture of a region.

Now go forth and make chelow.

 

 

One response to “Cookbook of the day – A Taste Of Persia

  1. Pingback: Article in Slate about cookbooks by Sarah Dickerson « So You Want To Be A Waiter

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