Persian cuisine has a long and rich tradition. Bright with color and flavor, it is accented with pomegranates, sour cherries, pistachios, and a variety of spices, vegetables, and dried and fresh fruit. In The New Persian Kitchen Louisa Shafia, chef and cookbook author, draws on this tradition but also adapts dishes to meet the contemporary taste for fresh and healthy ingredients.
Malas, or sweet-sour flavor, gives Persian food its characteristic tart quality and marks many of the recipes here. Cucumber and Watermelon Salad is spiked with scallions and vinegar; Turmeric Chicken is flavored with sumac and lime; Shafia substitutes rhubarb for sour plum paste in a Georgian Barley Stew with Lamb. Classic dishes like Fesenjan—Pomegranate Walnut Stew — and Doogh—Salty Mint Yogurt Soda — are longstanding favorites, and Shafia covers them well. Rice has an important place in Persian cooking, and Shafia devotes a chapter to it, with a section on tahdig, the crust that forms at the bottom of the rice pot. She indicates that whole grains like quinoa, millet, and barley can be substituted for rice.
Persia, today’s Iran, had a notable cuisine before Alexander the Great conquered it, and the Greeks as well as later conquerors left their mark on its food. Shafia, the American daughter of an Ashkenazi Jewish mother and an Iranian Muslim father, provides a very brief but informative overview of Persian history and culture and the strands that make up Persian food and a guide to Persian ingredients. Lengthy sidebars give cooking tips and describe the food, celebrations, and customs of the Zoroastrians, Jews, and Muslims. She also notes adjustments to many recipes for vegetarian and kosher cooks.
With its emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, yogurt, and distinctive spicing, The New Persian Kitchen presents a nice selection of fresh flavor combinations and healthy dishes from appetizers through desserts, pickles, and drinks. Attractive color photographs and an inviting layout make it a welcome addition to any cook’s bookshelf. Bibliography, index, menus, photographs, resources.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.