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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 31 July 2014
I bought this book with high hopes (on flicking through, all the recipes sound staggeringly good), but with a few reservations. The one review I'd read (in a magazine) had tested a recipe and found a mistake in the ingredients, so I was a little wary. The first thing I made was hummus - absolutely delicious (although a VAST quantity for the suggested six servings) until I added the recommended 2tbsp of sea salt, which made it completely inedible. It went into the bin.

Next I made the Pistachio, Honey and Orange Flower Water Ice Cream. Very doubtfully I added the 200ml of orange flower water (three bottles of the stuff, costing £12 alone), since I'd only ever used it in teaspoon quantities in recipes before. I know ice cream always tastes completely different once it is frozen, so I trusted the recipe. It left a disgusting bitter taste that overshadowed the entire recipe, as though I'd added a pint of Mr Muscle to it!

Please read on, as not all is lost!

I was pretty annoyed about ruining these recipes, when I knew I'd followed them to the letter. I found Sabrina Ghayour's email address online and sent her my complaints. Amazingly, this lovely lady wrote back to me within a couple of hours with answers to my concerns. If you use these recipes, please bear the following in mind, and I'm sure your food will taste utterly divine:

1. Check the ingredients of orange flower water before you buy it (this is used in many of the book's recipes). I unfortunately used the Nielsen Massey orange flower water from Waitrose. This contains alcohol, and is nowhere near authentic (let's not even think about how they can manufacture an ingredient that's 40% alcohol for recipes that are mainly from Muslim countries). Sabrina recommends using genuine Middle Eastern orange flower water which contains no alcohol and can be used in large quantities. She says that all of the ingredients she uses are available from www.souschef.co.uk (and their orange flower water costs around £2 for 500ml, unlike Waitrose's £3.85 for 60ml).

2. Although the recipes don't actually state this, Sabrina says she uses Maldon sea salt flakes, which, because they are large flakes, are much less concentrated per tablespoon. If you use ground sea salt, as I did (the recipes just state 'crushed sea salt'), the recipes will be way too salty.

Since writing my first review (this is the revision), I have made several other recipes from the book, and they are dazzling. Sabrina assures me that she re-tested the recipe that the magazine found incorrect, and stands by her recipe.

I give the book three stars as this vital information was missing from the book, and I wasted a lot of time, money and effort finding out information that should have been crystal clear on the page. However, now I am a little wiser, this will be a firm favourite in future.
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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.

The Facts:
• 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.

My Opinion:
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.

About Me:
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.
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on 26 January 2015
Being male and over 40 it seemed to me rather unlikely that I would ever find myself deeply engrossed in kitchen activities, yet since purchasing this book last Christmas I have prepared some 25 dishes, all of which have been eminently edible. Last Sunday I was busy for nearly four hours making two seperate meals with four seperate dishes, well it is winter-time right now so the motorbike has remained motionless in the garage and instead I spent my time in the warmest room of the house, which I figured to be a fair exchange...

I'm guessing this book is really a general introduction to Levantine cooking, judging by the glossy photos, but for a beginner such as I these are of real practical assistance - firstly as I lack the understanding and experience to have any clue what the end result might actually look like and secondly to experience the sensation of slight incredularity that has occured when I noticed that my finished product looked just like the real thing (well actually sometimes mine looks a little better, but I can't help pretending to be nonchalently modest here). So these are a useful motivation and confidence booster.

There are a variety of regionally seperate styles included, Persian/Morrocan/Turkish/Lebanse etc. and the author clearly states that some of the dishes are of her own composition, thus the overall feel is relaxed and encourages flexibility. Some of the ingredients quite naturally are a little more time consuming to get hold of - I'm still struggling to find Fenugreek leaves and edible Rose Petals for example, however if one spends a little time contemplating the receipes that initially appeal including taking a careful note of the required ingredients this should not present much of a hindrance. Neither does one require much in the way of a kitchen - I merely use a standard electric hob and a 20 year old combined microwave/oven yet you really wouldn't be able to discerne this judging by the finished articles...

The only caveat that I would mention has been specifically addressed by reviewer Kate Preston (below) - using notably less salt than stated is a wise move, but then I have already noted there seems to be a general tendancy to use rather too much salt in recipes than is (to my mind) really required. After two weeks I progressed to thinking of alternative ingredients and checking the validity of these on the Web - for instance Salt Cod is hard to find therefore I checked out how to substitute fresh Cod in it's place - the research took me all of 5 minutes and afterwards I returned to the recipe once again, the end result was entirely satisfactory.

Last night I prepared a particular dish for the second time, only this time round I had acquired a missing ingredient that I lacked at the first attempt (Saffron) believing naively that such a small quantity wouldn't make much of a noticeable difference... After the first mouthful my wife and I both fell immediately silent, because neither of use dared to voice the opinion that this was quite possibly one of the best dishes we had ever eaten, that's quite a humbling sensation I can tell you.

The only downside is that I have gradually become serious about continuing this 'lifestyle' ad infinitum - meaning that I really ought to get a couple of decent kitchen knives - cue many hours reading on WebBlogs from professional chefs discussing knife availabilty and quality, plus the use of complementary chopping boards and knife sharpening skills. Nothing in this world exists in splendid isolation and there's a whole new world out there just waiting for an idiot such as myself to discover ! I have also very recently purchased a book dedicated to Hummus plus Claudia Roden's 'The Book Of Jewish Food' , which is a little scary as it lacks photos of the dishes (must be serious then) yet has a glorious mixture of history and cuisine mingled together.

Oh I just remembered that there is a second downside - there's little point in going to the time and trouble of doing something properly only to compromise it with inferior ingredients. Thus I have come to believe that wherever possible fresh items should be used, neccesitating frequent trips to stores. However the flip side to this is that I now also visit smaller stores that exist to cater for 'ethnic groups' in addition to the hated supermarkets. Well I suppose that it gets me out of the house and away from spending all my time behind a TV/PC screen. Real cooks already know this of course, but I had not stopped to consider this point.

End result ? Perhaps a growing realisation that eating 'properly' has more to it than merely what the body needs as fuel - there is an emotional price to pay in the form of sacrificing my otherwise intensely valuable spare time (!) in poring over a recipe, gathering the ingredients together, preparation and cooking, presentation and the singularly odd experience of sharing one's efforts with others. I was dimly cogniscent that meals were often a focal point of the (non nuclear) family structure and featured in Asian spiritual gatherings, now I begin to realise why this is so, for food can be and should have the possibility to be sacred. Mind you, having said this I see no reason to discontinue my occasional foraging visits to KFC...

I hope that I have explained why I rate this book with 5 stars - I myself find that 5 star eulogies are often a little over-simplistic and generally worth avoiding.
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on 21 May 2014
This is a fabulous cook book: dishes are thoughtfully chosen, explanations are clear, pictures are terrific, and results impressive. It makes you rush to the kitchen and cook. As an Iranian I find Sabrina's take on many traditional dishes very refreshing -- the wink and tease I mentioned have to do with the unexpected little touches Sabrina adds that wake up traditional taste buds and make them do a little flip. I love it!

BTW the reviewer who said the recipes are stolen from others is just not informed about Middle Eastern cooking. Of course Sabrina's recipes resemble others'; most of them are takes on well-known dishes carrying ID cards with traditional names. That's the whole point. She has turned sometimes fussy and sometimes too grandmotherly dishes into snappy little modern numbers without sacrificing authenticity. As an Iranian citizen of the world I feel this cook book represents me. I've already given two as presents!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 May 2016
This review references the Kindle version of this book, though of course the content is identical to the print versions. I've had the book for several months now and have cooked several recipes from it (multiple times, as below).

Summary:
Excellent Middle Eastern cookbook with a focus on (but not exclusive to) modern Persian recipes. Instructions are clear & results are dependable.

Full Review:
I picked up Ms Ghayour's book in Kindle format after downloading the free sample and liking the available content. I'll admit that I was initially drawn in by the gorgeous photography, as I already have a fairly hefty collection of Middle Eastern cookery books, and several that are specific to Iranian food.

The Kindle version features interactive tables of content (so critical for a cookery book and yet often missing, especially from older Kindle books) arranged by course (ie appetisers, mains, desserts etc) and then individually broken down with links to each recipe contained within that section. The layout is simple to use across devices (tested on iPad, Win & Mac desktop, Android).

The photos which accompany each dish are compelling and bright, without being over-styled: in essence, getting your dish to look like the one pictured is actually attainable without a Michelin star to your name. Each recipe has a photo and the book doesn't contain excess 'ingredient' photos (you know the type; the macro shots of a lemon, scattered cloves, etc etc) which makes it very usable indeed.

To date, I've made the following:

Batinjan al Rahib, a (very!) garlicky eggplant dip that goes perfectly alongside rich/fatty meat dishes, with a nice play on texture between the soft eggplant and the crisp peppers;

Cacik, a Turkish staple, fantastically fresh with loads of herbs;

Spiced Lamb Kefta, which smell as amazing as they taste, with sweet notes from the currants (try these with the Cacik, as we did all three times we made them);

Butternut Squash with Pistachio Pesto & Feta, which makes a really gorgeous vegetarian main but is (as with any recipe, of course) very dependent on excellent butternut squash (the first time it was so-so, the second time fantastic) and very ripe, sweet pomegranate;

Karniyarik, stuffed eggplant, have become a staple in our home, the flavour combination is amazing and while they take a long time from start to finish, you can make a big batch and they keep very well in the fridge for several days; top with plenty of labneh or Greek yoghurt and try to convince yourself going back for thirds is a bad idea... (it isn't);

Spice-Perfumed Shoulder of Lamb is gorgeous and so, so simple; I did find I needed to turn down the oven slightly to cook for an extra hour at a lower temperature for fall-off-the-bone texture (while retaining moisture), but this of course is a commentary on my oven rather than the recipe;

Blood Orange and Radicchio salad, a beautiful flavour combination of sweet, tart & bitter; goes very well with the lamb shoulder and would stand up well to any robust meat dish, with the hint of fresh dill really elevating it above a simple salad (do yourself a favour and track down a good pomegranate molasses with only 'pomegranates' listed in the ingredients, as often the syrups available are too sweet).

I would honestly happily pay the price of the book for just the karniyarik recipe, but I'm really pleased with this purchase, and look forward to trying many more dishes. This really is a fantastic, accessible cookery book and should appeal to a broad range of palates. As evident by the answers, comments & other reviews, Ms Ghayour is very responsive to questions that may crop up; while I've not asked any myself, I always find it reassuring when an author (or publisher) makes an effort to provide assistance.

Highly recommended.
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on 1 January 2015
I rarely write reviews but was so impressed by this book I had to write one up,some of the ingredients are not available from your local supermarket but as another reviewer has said are available online from sous chef. I went to a friends house after I'd ordered this book and she had made several delicious dishes. I asked her where she'd for the recipes from and she pulled out this book. The book arrived this week and I made a few of the dishes for a New Year's Eve meal and everyone loved them, the pistachio and feta dip was lovely, as were the Turkish kebabs, and the cumin roasted carrots. I'm very basic with my cookery and I found this book easy to follow . I highly recommend this book, and eagerly await any more by Sabrina Ghayour .
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on 22 August 2014
I have had 'Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond' by Sabrina Ghayour since January and since then I have done about 15 recipes. It is truly an amazing book. I am now using ingredients that I had never heard of before and creating dishes that I would have been too scared to try before. My favourite is the lamb tagine and I have made that about four times so far. Becoming an old hand! I would recommend this book highly. Get it now and buy it in bulk as a Christmas present for all your friends and family. I am also a social media friend of Sabrina's (we have never actually met in real life!) - and she is totally lovely to chat to on Twitter and seems a thoroughly decent person too!
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on 19 August 2014
This is a cracking cookery book. The broad bean,garlic and dill dish is worth the price of the book alone. Really, congratulations on such a good book. The recipes work also when I've been substituting vegetables grown in the garden (I am avoiding the shops as much as possible, and using stuff from the freezer) with the recipes, so for instance the lamb tagine with turnips and onions, I used some local beef , courgettes, potatoes and onions from the garden, but the spicing is spot on and the meal delicious. The recipes are not too complex and therefore approachable on a weekday night.
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on 7 January 2015
The recipes of the book, each is interesting and has its own merit to try BUT they are not Persian recipes. What a shame! the ingredients are widely used in Persian or Middle East dishes. Having read each recipe a few times, I dare to say they are created by Ms Ghayour, herself using her experience of having the Persian & Middle East meals and her gown initiative and vast experience of cooking. Well done Ms Ghayour. For those readers who have never tried a proper persian dish or cuisine, this book is still OK. But myself who has had Persian dishes for life, would return the book.
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on 11 September 2014
Really enjoying this book, everything turning out beautiful although I am resisting to put as much garlic in as stated.
First time that the finished article looks like the pictures, which are clean and clear. Not too many ingredients in each recipe and once you've got a few of the ingredients, you can do about everything.
Am I happy with the book.....certainly am.
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