To be fair, it’s that time of the year. A lot of publications time their cookbook releases to coincide with the holiday season, hoping to make it onto Christmas wish lists (more about mine next week).
In a world where it seems like less and less people are reading, and more and more bookstores are closing, cookbooks seem to be prevailing. A recent article in Marketplace cited that cookbook sales are up 25% this past year. That’s good news for us foodies, and especially good news for us cookbook authors.
I’ve been a food blogger for a really long time, and I’ve been a cookbook author for not quite two years. I love being a food blogger–I love the creativity and I’m obviously incredibly passionate about the topic. But being a cookbook author–it’s an exclusive club–is special. There’s something about holding your book in your hands, looking at the photos of your recipes… it’s magic.
So, as a cookbook author, I take reviewing other people’s cookbooks pretty seriously. I usually test at least a minimum of 3-5 recipes before I tender my (humble) opinion.
Which brings us to today’s cookbook review.
Naz Deravian has a local connection. She lived in Vancouver for quite some time, so she has some pretty serious roots here. Her recently published Bottom of the Pot is my first foray into Persian cooking.
I often say how lucky I am to live in Vancouver, where pretty much any culture’s ingredients are readily available. I have a small Persian market in my neighbourhood, where I often buy my produce, but across the bridge in West/North Van is where you’ll find the bulk of our local Persian population. Persia Foods in West Van is a regular haunt of mine, and any ingredients I needed for testing these recipes I easily found there.
To me, Persian cooking has a sumptuousness to it. A richness. It includes precious ingredients like saffron, roses, pomegranates, dates, pistachios…. There is an ancient mystery to it, a history of stories, that this girl who was raised on boring bland English food finds incredibly exotic.
The book reflects this. The photos and the food styling are gorgeous. Rich, sumptuous feasts, exploding with colour and studded with jewel tones leap off the page. And, after all, we do eat with our eyes first, right? A huge trend with cookbooks these days is ones that almost serve as a coffee table book, a piece of art that you may never actually cook out of, but look at longingly.
The other thing I love about this book is how Naz weaves in her personal stories with the recipes. As a child, her family escaped from a politically-charged situation in Iran, and eventually ended up in Canada as refugees. In many ways, this cookbook qualifies as a food memoir, along the same lines as say, Elizabeth Bond’s Lunch in Paris. These are recipes that are deeply connected to cultural and personal heritage, and that makes them all the more richer.
The book is fairly Vegetarian-friendly. I found lots of recipes in here that I was excited about making.
Okay! So! Let’s talk about the actual recipes. I made 4; two desserts and two savoury.
If Persian cooking is defined by one dish, I would have to argue that dish is Tahdig, or crispy Persian rice. My first experience with this was quite recent, and came through watching Samin Nosrat’s Netflix doc Salt Fat Acid Heat. In the final episode, her mom (Persian) comes over and makes Tahdig. And thus an obsession was born!
The ingredients are simple: rice, water, salt, saffron and butter. BUT the method is time-intensive and there are many steps. The recipe takes up a full three pages in the book! I was pretty convinced mine would be a fail, but it turned out pretty well. And there’s something about the crispy edges of the rice, mixed with the fluffy white basmati that makes this a magic dish. I will be making this again.
To go with our tahdig, I made Khoresh Seeb-o Havij, or Vegetarian Apple Carrot Stew. Here’s one thing I love about the food from this part of the world: they have no fear of mixing the sweet together with the savoury. This recipe, for example, which features warming spices of cumin, tumeric, cinnamon, coriander, allspice and cardamom, also includes sweet-tart apples and raisins. Protein comes in the form of chickpeas. I liked this recipe a lot, though I did perform one modification: I removed a couple scoopfuls and pureed it, then added back into the pot to make it a bit saucier.
I also tested the Shir Berenj, or rice pudding. I found it a bit odd that the recipe didn’t call for any sugar. Rice pudding was a dessert staple in our house growing up, and I’ve also enjoyed Kheer, which is the Indian version. This version didn’t call for any sugar in the recipe, but you add it, as needed, before serving. It just wasn’t quite sweet enough for me.
Finally, I tested the Bastani-e Gol-o Bolbol or Flowers and Nightingales Ice Cream. I mean, with a name like that… how could you not?? A friend had mentioned to me a local gelato joint that sold a saffron and rosewater ice cream that was dreamy, so I decided to give it a go.
The ice cream itself was super rich and creamy (it’s made with a touch of cream cheese), and the colour is stunning! However, I think rosewater might be a polarizing flavour. As someone who didn’t grow up with it, I’m finding I’m adapting to it slowly.
Overall, I love this book. I love the stories, the photographs, and learning about new ingredients, recipes and cultures. I do not, however, think that this is a book for beginners. I’m a pretty advanced cook, and I found the four recipes I made to all be pretty complicated and with a lot of steps. I’m sure there are simpler recipes in the book than the ones I chose, but overall, I think this is a cookbook for more advanced skills.
Secondly, we’re lucky to live in a large city with a big Persian population so getting the specialized ingredients wasn’t super challenging, but if you live in a smaller town, you might not have as much luck (though thank goodness for the internet in that case!).
Having said that, Bottom of the Pot is worth the buy, even if you never make a recipe from it (though you should!). The stories and photography alone make it worth the buy, but if you have the slightest curiosity about Persian cooking, then you really need this book in your life and in your kitchen.