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Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies

de Najmieh Batmanglij

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A collection of 330 recipes accompanied by stories of how the food fits in to Iranian festivals and ceremonies.
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New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies by Najmieh Batmanglij (1997)
  arosoff | Jul 10, 2021 |
Food of Life—the title is a translation of the Iranian blessing “Nush-e jan” uttered at meals in the same way we might say “Bon appetit!”—is now in its fourth edition and celebrating its own twenty-fifth anniversary. I suppose every cuisine has its modern “bible,” the book that defines the food and the culture for a new generation of cooks in their up-to-date kitchens. Julia Child gave French cooking to the English speaking world. Marcella Hazan taught us how to really cook Italian. Irma Rombauer taught American cooking to the American cook, who had thought she already knew what she was doing, but was mistaken. Claudia Roden gave us Mediterranean and Jewish cuisine. Madhur Jaffrey gave us Indian. Food of Life does for Iranian cuisine what all these cooks have done for their own countries and culinary traditions. It is a standard on the Iranian cook’s shelf.

But should it be a standard on anyone else’s?

Well, if you’ve ever blown four bucks on those little tubs of hummus in the grocery store, or if at any point last summer you did shish-ke-babs on your Weber grill, then I’d say yes.

Cookbooks that seek to introduce an entire culture to new audiences have many roles to fill. They have to actually work as a useful cookbook. They have to give an accurate picture of a traditional way of life that is most likely foreign and mysterious to their readers. They have to overcome barriers of language and barriers caused by the unfamiliarity of techniques, equipment and ingredients. They have to explain the simplest of procedures and take care to spell out the most basic indicators, because they cannot trust that the reader knows, for example, the difference between oil, butter, and ghee in cooking. They have to do this, any yet not be so demanding about authenticity that a home cook with only the produce at her local supermarket at their disposal will simply throw up her hands in frustration.

And the cookbook must do all of this while at the same time infusing its recipes with all the love, joy and exuberance that a person feels when sitting down at a fully laden table, surrounded by friends and family. A travel writer can take a beautiful picture and describe a wonderful scene to make you want to visit a place. But a cookbook writer has to make your mouth water.

In all these things, Food of Life is an astonishing success. Open the book to any random page—say, perhaps, to the recipe for Caspian-Style Fish with Walnut and Pomegranate on page 212: There you will find a full-color, full-page photograph of the dish on the right, while on the left is the recipe laid out with ingredients grouped by each step, measurements in English and metric, clear step-by-step instructions, followed by a series of possible variations. In the margin are prep times, cooking times, serving sizes, and the cook’s own notes, which in this case states that the fish in the picture is a John Dory, but that if you’d prefer you can use fillets instead of a whole fish, only be sure to layer the fillets with the walnut filling, and cut the baking time from thirty minutes to fifteen.

And, because the author’s purpose is to introduce the reader to Iranian culture, in the margin you will also find the Persian name of this dish, written both in Arabic script and Roman letters: Mahi-ye tu paor ba anar. And at the end of each recipe, the author never fails to offer the standard blessing: Nush-e jan! Read full review
1 vote southernbooklady | Nov 26, 2012 |
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A collection of 330 recipes accompanied by stories of how the food fits in to Iranian festivals and ceremonies.

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