Book Review – A Taste of Persia

A Taste of Persia by Najmieh K. Batmanglij

Mage Publishers

 The book shelves at my local Barnes & Noble are not overflowing with Persian cookbooks.  After reading A Taste of Persia I still don’t understand what makes Persian cooking unique in the category of Middle-Eastern cooking or why the world needed this particular book.

 The 176 page book contains over 75 recipes, many with nice color photos.  The book opens with a brief introduction to Persian history and includes a dictionary of Persian cooking.  The dictionary provides detailed explanations of the ingredients and is helpful to a reader that may be unfamiliar with some of the techniques, spices and methods used in Middle-Eastern coking.  The index is practically useless and is just an alphabetical listing of the recipes rather then a place where a reader can turn to locate dishes that use specific ingredients.

 In many of the recipe’s ingredients lists there are asterisks next to both unusual and some common ingredients but there is no explanation of what the asterisk means, what they refer to or anything at all, they are just hanging there.  The ingredient lists are very long and many cooks will be turned off by the length of the lists and overly complicated instructions.

 The recipe for Stuffed Grape Leaves calls for 19 different ingredients to all be combined and rolled into a grape leaf that produces an end result that is the size of your thumb.  That sure is a lot of thing to stuff into such a small volume.  The Stuffed Peppers, Eggplant and Tomatoes also calls for over 19 ingredients and there are so many competing flavors that the whole dish becomes muddled and a waste of one hour of prep time and over one hour of cooking time. 

 Some of the suggested ingredient substitutions seem odd and there is no explanation of what these changes will do to the flavor of the dish.  In the recipe for Noodle Soup Ms. Batmanglij suggests the following substitution: either 1 ½ cups of whey, sour cream or wine vinegar.  I can’t imagine sour cream and wine vinegar being used in the same sentence let alone being interchangeable in a recipe.

 Some of the recipes call for measurements of ingredients that are just plain wrong.  The Yogurt Soup, besides using lentils, split peas, ground beef, rice, turnips, spinach and yogurt calls for a full garden’s worth of fresh herbs.  For a recipe that makes six servings of soup the ingredient list calls for two cups of cilantro, one cup of parsley, one half cup of chives, one cup of fenugreek and one cup of dill.  This soup contains almost an entire cup of fresh herbs in each serving!

 Sometimes the review blurbs on the back cover of a book provides you with a good preview of what you will find inside.  When the reviews are all from actors who frequent a bakery or restaurant then I fear what I will find inside.  This book has just one quote and that is from a review in the Times Literary Supplement.  The quote the publisher chose, as an example to promote the book, discusses the “naturalistic and mouth watering pictures”, “stresses the pre-Islamic continuity of Iranian cuisine” and that the book is “infused with food-laden nostalgia”.  Notice there is no comment concerning the recipes, ease of use or flavor of the dishes, just a literary commentary.  A cook book should provide the buyer with well written recipes that can be prepared in their home kitchen.  This book contains overly long ingredient lists, ingredient volumes that will have a cook shaking their head and directions that leave a cook confused.  I cannot recommend A Taste of Persia and suggest you look elsewhere for Middle Eastern recipes.

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