Good Food Revolution : Hello Mika… so, what with travel bans and all that, your choice of book is quite fitting… Taste Of Persia by Naomi Duguid.
What are your reasons for selecting this particular book?
Mika Bareket (Good Egg) : No political agenda occurred to me, but damn right it should have. I’m simply a fan of Ms Duguid’s catalogue of books and recipes, which have greatly widened my culinary language with relative ease. She is a warm, encouraging teacher. I was particularly excited for this collection because Persian food is an enticing mystery to me, and just what I’ve been craving during these colder months.
GFR : I really enjoyed her previous book on Burma, and was very much attracted to her storytelling. Is this book in similar vein?
MB: Very much so. She immerses herself in the culture, particularly that of home cooks and street vendors, and acts as our conduit to local tastes and traditions. There is a great sense of conviviality in her interactions that she shares with her readers. Also, she is never shy to add her own, non-traditional alterations and additions, which encourages us to experiment too.
GFR: As she mentions, and I paraphrase, cuisine heeds no borders. With this in mind, which of the countries covered do you feel influenced the cuisine of Persia the most: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and/or Kurdistan.
MB : Oof, it’s not for me to say. Geographically, Iran is the largest region and has minority populations of all these surrounding cultures. It must be fascinating to note the overlapping influences in Iran where these cultures converge. But Georgian-influenced recipes seem to pop up a fair bit in this book. That said, the majority population of southern Georgia is apparently Armenian. So it seems impossible to say who’s to thank for this bounty of yumminess, really.
GFR : Are there any particular ingredients or cooking methods that are prevalent throughout the book? Anything that really stood out for you?
MB : Many of the recipes are very simple and require few ingredients, but time is a key ingredient. There is much slow simmering and resting time required. Pomegranate molasses and walnuts pop up in a number of recipes, as do copious bunches of herbs, coriander and mint in particular.
GFR: In Burma : Rivers Of Flavor she outlined how to build a Burmese pantry to give you the base ingredients for many of the recipes, something I really enjoyed. Is there a similar approach here?
MB : My copy of Burma is on loan, so I can’t make a direct comparison. But there is a section at the front of Taste of Persia devoted to key ingredients and frequently used condiments and sauces, plus an extensive glossary at the back. In general, this book frequently encourages accompaniments such as fresh herbs and fried onions, or more complex additions (recipes provided) such as a walnut sauce or a chile paste called Ajika. I appreciate this way of personalizing a simple meal.
GFR : How exotic do the ingredients get?
MB : Nothing much that a trip to your local spice shop couldn’t support. A little sumac here, some fenugreek there. Where ingredients may be tricky to find (i.e. barberries), the kind author makes suggestions for substitutions. I was a little stumped by a recipe asking for broken jasmine rice, though. So I took out my aggression on a bag of unbroken Jasmine rice with a mallet.
GFR : And when it comes to the difficulty level of the recipes, where would you say this book stood?
MB: The difficulty here is in trusting your sense of taste, and adjusting a little at a time to get the right balance.
GFR : Any personal favourites that you would recommend we give a shot?
MB: The Pomegranate Ash is a winner. I made a batch (sans meatballs) and used it as a soup one day and then a sauce for steamed vegetables the next. I’ve got my eye on her cabbage rolls stuffed with beans and tart fruit. Vegetarianism continues to prevail in my home.
GFR : Thanks so much, Mika!
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s looking forward to getting his hands on a copy of this.