Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan, written by Naomi Duguid, features the amazing cuisines from Iran through the Caucasus with almost 125 recipes along with incredible stories and photographs. Discover Naan-E-Barbari (Barbari Bread) from Iran, Basuts Dolma (Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Beans and Tart Fruit) from Armenia, Birinji Zerde (Golden Rice) from Kurdistan, Jirs (Mini Dumplings) from Azerbaijan, Kharcho (Beef Stew with Onion and Tomato) from Georgia, and so much more.
Naomi Duguid is a writer, photographer, teacher, cook, and world traveler based in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of multiple award-winning cookbooks including Burma: Rivers of Flavor, Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas, Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia, Seductions of Rice, Mangoes & Curry Leaves, Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World, and Beyond the Great Wall. Her articles have appeared in Lucky peach, Food & Wine, and she is also a contributing editor to Saveur Magazine.
Chapters are divided based on food group: Flavors and Condiments, Salads and Vegetables, Soup Paradise, Stuffed Vegetables and Dumplings, Fish, Grilled Meat and Poultry, Stovetop Meat and Poultry, Rice and Other Grains, A Taste for Sweet, and A Wealthy of Fruit.
Duguid begins with a brief background on each of the countries, the current borders, and the people within them. For those unfamiliar with the area, there is a map of the region that once made up the Persian Empire. For those inspired and wanting to experience the area firsthand, Duguid also includes travel notes and tips. You will learn about the differences in pantry staples and spices among the countries and the importance of ingredients such as rice and wheat. You will also learn the best ways to work with some ingredients such as pomegranate (including making your own pomegranate molasses) and saffron.
One of my favorite parts of the book are the descriptive stories of Duguid’s travels- from searching for saffron, her experiences in Iran, life in a Yazidi village, the history of the Assyrians, Persian poetry, the Shah Chirag in Shiraz (one of the holiest sites in Iran), Zoroastrianism and its impact on the empire, and the honey bees and wine of Georgia (Georgians may have been the first people to know winemaking).
The location photography is provided by Naomi Duguid with the studio photography by Gentl & Hyers. Many of the recipes includes a beautifully-styled photo of the finished dish. There are also plenty of gorgeous photos featuring Duguid’s travels with the local people, food, and scenery. Measurements are provided in US Customary. The name of the recipe is listed in English and its original language where applicable.
This book is a great pick for those wanting to explore the cuisine of Persia. Every recipe I tried turned out perfectly with no changes needed to the cooking time or spices. There are recipes for all seasons, including autumn with Khapama (Armenian Thanksgiving Pumpkin Rice) and Shislik Hinduska (Azeri Turkey Kebabs). Bakers will enjoy the variety of breads and grains. There are also plenty of options for seafood lovers, vegetarians, and meat enthusiasts. Duguid includes a list of pantry basics including dried herbs and spices. Most of the ingredients are readily available in the average American supermarket, but a few may require a trip to a specialty market featuring Middle Eastern/Central Asian products. Some that may be more difficult to find include cardamom, fenugreek, sumac, pomegranate molasses (becoming more available- and a recipe is included), chickpeas, tamarind pulp, dried marigold petals, allspice berries, nigella, emmer wheat berries, rice flour, rose water, and chickpea flour. Recipes range from simple to more complex.
Khinkali are topknot dumplings from Georgia’s mountainous regions. They are filled with seasoned lamb (or beef, veal, or pork) and can be served with a sour plum sauce, garlic-vinegar dipping sauce, or another favorite sauce.
A basic dough is cut into circles, filled with the lamb (or other meat/vegetarian options), then pleated and twisted at the top to seal and form a thick handle. The dumplings are meant to be eaten by hand. Duguid states that to eat, you pick up the dumpling by the topknot handle and bite a small hole in the side to suck out the juices that accumulated as the meat cooked before eating the rest of the dumpling. The thick, tough handle is generally set aside instead of eaten to save room for the best part of the dumplings.
Duguid also offers a recipe for vegetarian Khinkali made with mushrooms for fasting times like Lent.
I paired the Khinkali with a Garlic-Vinegar Dipping Sauce and shared that recipe below.
I also made Prasi Pkhali (Georgian Leek Pâté), Fesanjun Khoresh (Classic Pomegranate Walnut Chicken Stew), Birinji Rash (Kurdish Black Rice), and Gata (Armenian Puff Pastry Cake).
Prasi Pkhali is a delicious leek spread from Georgia. Leeks are simmered until soft and processed with walnuts, garlic, and spices to made a coarse paste. It can be made up to a day ahead of time (and is recommended to help the flavors blend) and is served with crackers, bread, or even lettuce leaves.
Fesanjun Khoresh is a Pomegranate Walnut Chicken Stew from Iran. This was not my first time making Fesanjun and it was quite a treat to make it again. Pieces of chicken are simmered in a thickened walnut pomegranate sauce with cinnamon. It is a perfect warming stew with an intense sour flavor. Duguid also includes instructions to make Duck Fesanjun.
If you enjoy the pomegranate walnut flavors in Fesanjun Khoresh, then Birinji Rash will be another favorite. Birinji Rash is a Kurdish Black Rice (with a dark brownish color). Short grain rice is simmered in a rich pomegranate water with shallots and walnuts to create a creamy side dish with a deep flavor.
Gata is a rich and buttery puff pastry cake from Armenia. I loved that it wasn’t overly sweet, but is quite rice with a stick and a half of butter in the dough, another stick folded in to create the puff pastry crust, and an additional 6 tablespoons in the filling (this does make two large cakes- Duguid mentions Gata can be made into other shapes and often into individual puff pastry rectangles). The slices are a perfect accompaniment for tea or coffee and I loved the light cardamom flavor in the filling.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Artisan in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Khinkali (Georgian Topknot Dumplings)
Adapted from Taste of Persia
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup water
1 pound ground lamb, beef, veal, or pork (or a mixture)
1/2 cup chopped scallion greens
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
Generous grinding of black pepper
Garlic-Vinegar Dipping Sauce:
10 medium crisp, fresh garlic cloves (3 tablespoons paste)
Pinch sea salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
Finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
To make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Mix in the water to create a dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Transfer to a bowl and cover or in a sealed plastic bag for at least 30 minutes and up to 6 hours.
To make the filling: In another bowl, mix together the lamb, scallions, cumin, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Cover and set aside or refrigerate if not using within an hour.
Half an hour before serving the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, decrease heat to a simmer, and cover while preparing the dumplings.
Cut the dough into four equal pieces. On a floured surface, flatten one piece of dough using a rolling pin or by stretching with your hands. Create a thin oval about 10 inches long. Use a 4 inch circle cutter or the rim of a glass or bowl with a knife to cut out circles, cutting them close together. Gather the scraps and re-roll to get another 1-2 circles.
Place 1 tablespoon of the prepared filling in the center of a circle. Pull up a piece of the edge, then a piece next to it, pleating as you go, around the circle to cover the filling. Pinch together 1/2 inch of the gathered edges at the top, twisting to seal. Set aside on a floured surface and repeat with remaining circles. If the work area is dry, cover the prepared dumplings with plastic or a lightly dampened cloth. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
Bring the pot of water back to a boil. Add a batch or two of the dumplings (5-10) at a time and stir lightly to keep them from sticking the the bottom. Allow to cook until they have floated to the top, then continue to boil for another minute, about 8 minutes total, until the filling is cooked through. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and serve immediately with desired dipping sauce on the side.
To make the Garlic-Vinegar Dipping Sauce: using a mortar or a small food processor, mash the garlic cloves and salt into a paste. Transfer to a small bowl and mix with vinegar, water, and sugar. Season with cilantro and serve with the dumplings.