Because you likely find most of your recipes online, you can be choosy when it comes to your bookshelf. These are the cookbooks with the recipes we’re most excited about; they’re beautiful, accessible, and prove the printed word isn’t dead after all.
The Book: “The New Persian Kitchen”
The Cuisine: A fresh take on traditional Iranian food. As written in the introduction, “‘The New Persian Kitchen’ takes this reverence for fresh food as its starting point, drawing on traditional Persian ingredients”—citrus, rose water, quince; fresh and dried fruits in meat, rice, and desserts alike; pomegranates, saffron, and pistachios—”and health-conscious cooking techniques, to create a new Persian cuisine that’s part contemporary America and part ancient Iran.”
The Author: Brooklyn-based food writer and recipe developer Louisa Shafia, whose first cookbook, “Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life,” was a finalist for the IACP’s best “Health and Special Diet” book of the year in 2010. She also runs a website of the same name. Basically, she’s all about healthy food. Healthy and tasty food.
Why It’s Worthy: It took home the prize at last night’s Piglet Party posted by Yahoo Food-favorite food site Food52. That means it beat 15 other cookbooks in a tournament that ran for three weeks, during which each was judged by a prominent food personality (chef April Bloomfield is a particular fan of “The New Persian Kitchen”). And that’s all well and good, but what about its utility for the home cook? The recipes tend to have hefty ingredient lists, but they’re easy to follow, and Shafia’s guide to Persian ingredients will put you on the right foot. At once a cookbook and an anthropological work, she tucks notes on culture throughout the text (what’s the difference between “Persian” and “Iranian,” for example?) and each recipe contains a similarly informative, delightfully written introduction.
Go-To Recipe: This isn’t so much of a show-stopper as it is a game-changer. Shafia writes. “A plate of fresh herbs is served at most Persian meals, often taking the place of a salad. Serve this dish as an appetizer, or do as the Persians do and leave it on the table throughout the meal.” We love this idea.
Fresh Herb Platter
Serves 4 to 6
8 ounces feta cheese
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt, such as Maldon salt, fleur de sel, or kosher salt
2 bunches whole fresh herbs, in any combination: spearmint, basil, cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, dill, chives, marjoram 1 bunch scallions, quartered crosswise, roots removed
2 cups walnuts (see Note below) 6 radishes, trimmed and quartered
Lavash or other flatbread
1. Drain the feta and place it in a medium bowl. Grind the spices coarsely, if desired. Heat a small skillet over high heat. Add the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds, and shake the pan continuously until the spices start to release their aroma, about 2 minutes. Immediately transfer to a bowl and pour in the olive oil. Add a pinch of coarse salt. Swirl the spices in the oil and steep for a few minutes. Pour the mixture over the feta. You can even work it in with your hands, gently crumbling the feta, if desired.
2. Wash and dry the herbs. Trim the stems, but leave them intact. Place the herbs on a large platter in a few fluffy piles. Place the walnuts on the platter, along with the radishes and lavash. Transfer the feta to the platter and garnish it with coarse salt.
3. For a single serving, pick up a few stalks of herbs. Tear the flatbread into a manageable piece and stuff it with the herbs, walnuts, a small piece of cheese, and a radish or two. Fold and eat like a sandwich.
Note: To remove bitterness from the walnuts, place them in a bowl, add boiling water to cover and a pinch of salt, and soak from 1 hour up to overnight. Before serving, drain and rinse until the water runs clear.
Reprinted with permission from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia (Ten Speed Press, © 2013). Photo Credit: Sara Remington.