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on 24 September 2017
For all of you out there who want to get into Persian cooking, this is it!

We are not exactly spoiled for choice with books on Persian cuisine. Maybe this is because Najmieh's book is so good that no one else could even come close? The price is steep, yes. But you get two in one: you get the recipe part, which over the years has grown so much that you may have difficulty deciding which dish to cook first; then you get an extensive essay about Persian history and culture. For me, these have always been intertwined and I firmly believe that one cannot truly master the cooking without understanding the history, culture and geography of a people, which are the roots of a cuisine. Najmieh is an exile Iranian lady, full of pride and love for her country and roots, and it shows in this book.

Persian cuisine is one of the oldest civilized cuisines in the world. Of course, it has been gifted with Mediterranean foods by the country's conquerors, like the armies of Alexander the Great from Greece; the Turkic tribes from Central Asia; seafaring traders from Arab countries long before the dawn of Islam. (Which cuisine hasn't drawn on foreign influences?) But it has, in turn, influenced more peoples with its own culinary gifts, foods and most namely cooking techniques. Nan-e barbari, for example, may have originally been left behind by Central Asian tribes in a more rudimentary form, then enhanced to perfection by the Persians (yes, a tandoor is Persian!) and finally "exported" by Persia's own armies in a much more refined form on their conquest through Afghanistan, Pakistan, and all the way into northern India. And so have the khoreshes and polos (polo = pilau).

But enough of this now. I can, of course, pick holes in this book:

1) Ingredient lists are almost endless. I mean it. Sure, it is better to grind spices for immediate use, and this is what the recipes call for with each of the polos and khoreshes calling for up to a dozen different herbs and spices, but I cannot imagine that Iranian people do this on a daily basis. Thankfully, Najmieh gives us three different recipes for Advieh, the Persian spice mix -- one of these is always suitable for use instead of gathering together a huge array of different individual spices, but you will initially have to find out just how much of which Advieh to use for which dish instead. You can also pass on the garnishes, which are used in Iran only for special occasions. That will make things a lot easier!

2) Portion sizes are enormous. When a recipe specifies it serves 4 to 6 people you can easily assume it serves at least 8, if not more. A 3 course Persian meal (chelow, khoresh, and a starter, accompanied by bread and a condiment or two), if you assume portion sizes as stated are correct, can easily amount to 2000 calories in one sitting! But this is Middle Eastern and Turkish tradition: always prepare plenty of food, case unexpected guests may arrive (and there is nothing as embarrassing than leaving them without enough food! I have a few Iranian friends, and none of them are even remotely chubby...)

3) Najmieh is a purist, for whom cooking rice and baking bread is a form of art and her love and respect for her native cuisine dictate that she wants you to learn how to cook these things to perfection, so preparation is sometimes a bit fiddly and involves a lot of dedication, time and conscientiousness, or special utensils (such as a baking stone), which most of us do not often have. (While I list this as a negative, it is really a positive as it teaches you how to get things done as closely to tradition as possible!)

So be prepared for a challenge!

Another notable thing is that if you want to get involved with Persian cuisine, you have to like sour and extremely sweet. Barberries (zereshk), sour cherries (albaloo), sour grape juice, and pickles (torshi) are everyday fare for khoreshes and polo, while desserts -- like anywhere else in the Middle East and Turkey -- demand a sweet tooth bar none. (I do not have much of a sweet tooth, barely ever venturing beyond dark chocolatey and lemony things; though I found that sweet treats like sholehzard (Persian rice pudding) are quite nice once I halved the amount of sugar...)

Ingredients here in England are quite easy to obtain. If you do not have a Middle Eastern store or supermarket near you, you can order them in pretty decent quality at "A Taste of Persia" (they also sell Iranian-make rice cookers, case you get hooked -- they are not bad at all...). Persian cooking is not chili-hot; even dishes from the Gulf Coast are manageable for more delicate palates. Fresh herbs are used with abundance, so keep cilantro, parsley, dill weed, tarragon and basil in stock at all times. Also pomegranate molasses, which is not as concentrated as the Lebanese stuff, more liquid instead. And saffron (I know... expensive!)

The book was originally written for the American market, but conversion into metric has been done accurately so the recipes should work out nicely for those who do metric. As for myself, I find cup measures are a lot quicker than going by weight, but the maths is spot on! Like in all Muslim countries or regions, the cuisine revolves around meat, but Najmieh gives vegetarian options for many of the recipes. I myself am not a vegetarian, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these alternatives, but they are there.

I can only hope that once you have a bit of practice, you'll agree with me that this is the only book you'll ever need to recreate authentic Persian flavors.
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on 28 June 2004
Having never even been to a Persian restaurant, practically married into an Iranian family & having a partner who extolls the virtue of Persian cuisine at a moments notice, I ordered this book with a view to seeing if I could pull off a full persian meal.
This book is fab - the recipes are incredibly easy to follow - even for a complete novice like me.
My only gripe about it is that where the bloomin heck am I meant to find things like persian limes, lavash bread & sumac in deepest darkest Berkshire??? The book could do a better job of giving some realistic alternatives.
Still - my persian cooking is now legendary to my in-laws so it can't be too far off the mark!
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on 28 May 2000
The food of Iran is rich and varied and embraces some of the most sophisticated dishes to be found anywhere. This beautifully produced cookbook provides recipes for a wide range of mouthwatering creations for every occasion, from quick starters and snacks to robust, slowly cooked stews and exotic desserts. Readers may find some of the ingredients called for, such as angelica, barberries, unripe grape powder, sahlab, and quince blossoms, hard to find, but most staples are readily available at Middle Eastern groceries and well stocked supermarkets. There is much pleasure to be derived from merely looking at the stunning illustrations, which is reason enough to want to own this book.
Also recommended: "Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen", by Sonia Uvezian. This is a cookbook unlike any other and indispensable reading for lovers of Middle Eastern cuisine.
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on 10 August 1999
This is the best cookbook I own. Its layout is clear and simple. The recipies are easy to understand and clearly written. It is the most complete book I've ever seen. New food of life explains how to prepare fresh spice mixtures for it's own dishes, includes variants for different ways of preparing each dish, contains nice photos which help for presentation ideas, contains conversion tables for ovens, weights and measures as well as historical notes and even a list of Persian markets in the US. This is easily one of the most valuable cookbooks you will ever buy. It's definitely worth the money!!!
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on 5 November 2017
This was a birthday present to myself. I had been looking at this book for a long time. It is expensive and I was reluctant to spend the money. But I am so glad I finally did. My ex was from Iran and so I used to eat lots of Persian dishes, but never got the hang of cooking very many of them at the time. Now I am literally working my way through lots and lots of the recipes - they are simple yet complex, in the sense that the ingredients are simple e.g. I made chicken in an orange sauce and apart from onion and spices that was all it contained - and very enjoyable it was. The complexity is because there are stages to most of these dishes, and the cooking takes time. Not a quick fix but something to be done when you have a few spare hours.
Also the book contains all sorts of poems and little tales - and some fantastic traditional Persian pictures. Well worth the money.
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on 12 March 1999
EVERY and I mean EVERY cook should own this beautiful book. I have given this book out as a gift to a myriad of friends and they all have enjoyed it and found dishes to delight themselves and company with. This book is a must for the urban hip consumer.
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on 18 March 1999
I have gone through the book and I found it a very essential reference for Persian food lovers (like myself and my husband). But, although this book has some very nice photos about some of the cooks on it, it REALLY needs more since, you know, a picture worth a thousand words. Also, it would be better if each photo was put in front of its recipe.
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on 1 February 1999
I was very impressed by the large number of recipes contained in this volume. It was also nice to read about the various holidays and their accompanying foods. I think the author did a great job offering such a variety, I found every Persian recipe I ever wanted all in this one book. The layout is very nice and the food is excellent!
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on 8 March 2016
Very disappointed as not user friendly! I don't know what is wrong with having actual weight of ingredients in receipes that she used cup/ 1 1/4 cup/ 33/4 cup instead and in the conversion chart it only converts cup to ml not gram!
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on 28 June 1998
I loved this book. Although I had already had tried another author's work, I found this author's recipes excellent as well. I especially liked they way she also touched on the history and ceremonies, it made the food much more alive. It is an excellent basic book for anyone who plans on cooking for Persians or non-Persians.
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