The New Per­sian Kitchen

  • Review
By – May 13, 2013

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.

Discussion Questions