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Stylishly designed and passionately written collection of selective Persian and Middle Eastern recipes with a bold twist
on 27 December 2014
In a Nutshell:
Stylishly designed and passionately written collection of selective Persian and Middle Eastern recipes with a bold twist. Great gift for the adventurous food aficionado or even as coffee table appetizer.
• Recipes I have cooked from book: 35+ over past 6 months
• Types of recipes: mostly from scratch with multiple fresh ingredients to impress friends at a dinner party rather than everyday (but then that is exactly how this book was created).
• Skill level required: low to intermediate. Mainly dips, salads, stews and some roasts with some leeway for error. Good chopping skills essential.
• Sourcing of ingredients: a well-stocked Middle Eastern spice rack is strongly recommended. Many dishes require some more exotic ingredients, which should however be available at larger supermarkets. Some highly specialised ingredients (e.g. kashk, edible rose petals, rose water, sumac, barberry, dried sour orange peel, dried whole limes, fenugreek leaves, pomegranate molasses) will require local or online Persian speciality shops.
• Photography: mouth-watering food photography with one image for most dishes
• Metric/imperial: both
• Cost of dishes: low to medium, assuming you can purchase from local Mediterranean style shops and internet specialists rather than speciality selections of supermarkets.
• Specialist utensils required: None, but a set of good knives really helps.
• Time required: Some quick salads and dips, but many dishes require advance preparation and some longer cooking times. Also remember, Persian food is not about eating a single dish but about sampling different dishes, so you are likely to be spending some hours in the kitchen for a dinner party.
• Portion size: tends to be on the large side. Be careful if you are cooking several dishes to create variety, as each dish is almost an main dish.
This has probably been my favourite cook book this year. It appeals to my penchant for fresh and bold tastes and my love of all foods Middle Eastern. Sabrina Ghayour has done a great job in selecting a mixture of Middle Eastern favourites (hummous, cacik, börek, lahmacun, lamb biryani, chelo rice, bastilla, etc.) and some less well-known Persian dishes and has pimped their visual appearance and taste to create stunning dinner party food. For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, it is not an overview of traditional Middle Eastern and Persian dishes nor is it a story of Persian culinary history. It was written by the London gastro set for the London gastro set.
The photography is so appealing, that it is easy to get carried away with trying to do too many dishes for one meal. With many dishes using bold sweet and sour flavours (lemon, pomegranate, sumac, etc.), be careful of how you compose your menu, preferably using different tastes, textures, colours and temperatures (which is what Middle Eastern food is all about). This reminds me of a weekly restaurant review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung by a journalist who highly values balance and composition and who would probably abhor at some of Sabrina’s OTT interpretations. My recommendation is to go with Sabrina’s original recipe, even if you occasionally think she has got teaspoons and tablespoons mixed up, test the result and adjust according to your taste the next time. Chances are, you will be pleasantly surprised.
This is Sabrina’s first cook book and as a consequence, there are a few things that could be improved on.
I would have expected better advice from her publisher, who has some experience with successful cook books from Leon and Itsu, but has never done a heavy weight. With so many ingredients that will be unfamiliar to most of her readers, a separate review of some of the ingredients would be helpful review. This would also dealt with some of the confusion around amounts (her unusual decision to use Maldon salt flakes instead of normal salt – I strongly recommend the reading of Chapter 2 “The Salt of the Earth” from Robert L. Wolke’s “What Einstein Told His Cook”) and types of ingredients (rose water) spotted by previous reviewers (which I also had).
My personal challenge was the use of kashk (whey) without any indication that there is a difference between dried and liquid kashk, without instructions on how to reconstitute dried kashk (the type I had) or how much dried kashk makes up the liquid equivalent. Adding insult to injury, the aubergine and kashk recipe was the only dish I have not liked so far, as kashk appears to be somewhat of an acquired taste. That said, my wife and parents in law both liked it.
Also, as remarked by a previous reviewer, the use multi-coloured ribbon bookmarks (as used by the excellent Moleskin pocket books) would significantly enhance the usability of the book, especially when cooking several recipes at the same time.
Furthermore, an indication of preparation and cooking times would come in useful in menu planning, especially when planning a somewhat more ornate affair.
My final pet hate is Sabrina or her editor’s mixture of using pseudo-scientific supermarket package sizes (e.g. “2 x 20g packet of flat leaf parsley”) and Jamiesque “large handful of dates” amounts. Please, if you are going for accurate weight, use it where it is necessary (not herbs) and in amounts that are necessary rather than assuming that your reader is a first time cook and shopper.
None of my little gripes though are sufficient to affect my overall verdict, that this is an excellent book and I certainly look forward to Sabrina’s next book on Middle Eastern cooking.
Late 40’s male enthusiastic and regular gourmand/gourmet, cookbook collector (250+), weekend cook and baker of intermediate skill and ambition for adventurous family of 5 with broad interest in international cuisines, based in Germany. I believe cook book reviews should help you to decide whether a book is for you, not whether it is objectively good or bad.