Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, written by Najmieh Batmanglij, features the incredible cooking of Iran in 330 recipes along with the traditions and history surrounding the cuisine. A few highlights include Tabriz-Style Meatballs (Kufteh Tabrizi), Onion Soup (Eshkeneh), Apple Khoresh (Khoresh-e Sib), Sesame Brittle (Mama Jim Jim), and Barbari Bread. I will also be sharing her recipe for Almond Sanbuseh (Qotab) following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Mage Publishers in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Najmieh Batmanglij was born in Tehran and is currently based in Washington, DC and Los Angeles. She teaches Persian cooking, consults with restaurants around the world, and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier.
Najmieh wrote her first cookbook, Ma Cuisine d’Iran, after fleeing to France during the Iranian Revolution. Food of Life was her first book in English after emigrating to America and it has now been followed by six more books such as Joon: Persian Cooking Made Simple and Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey. I reviewed her latest book, Cooking in Iran, last year: Yazdi Cupcakes and Cooking in Iran.
Food of Life
Food of Life was originally published in 1986 and this newest edition has been expanded and updated to include more vegetarian options, detailed history of Persian cooking, new techniques, and a total of 330 traditional and regional recipes! Najmieh states, “Food of Life is the result of thirty years of collecting and testing recipes and creating new techniques for cooking Persian food in the West. Its intended audience are those new to Persian food and culture, those who enjoy having creative fun in the kitchen, and gourmet cooks.”
In this massive book (640 pages!), you will find not only hundreds of recipes, but also so much about the culture and history that has shaped the food. I especially appreciate the closer look at mealtime traditions, the history that extends over nearly 4,000 years, and traditional stories/poems. I also love the detailed guides surrounding special occasions such as Nowruz (New Year), weddings, and seasonal festivals.
Najmieh has beginners in mind every step of the way. She has included a few tips on getting started and there is an entire section on how to make and store basic ingredients. The glossary of food and techniques with descriptions and uses will also be helpful for those new to Persian cooking along with the list of menu ideas for any time of day and season.
Chapters are divided according to course: Appetizers & Side Dishes; Soups, Oshes & Porridges; Dolmehs & Vegetables; Kukus & Egg Dishes; Meat, Chicken & Fish; Rice Dishes, Chelows & Polows; Braises & Khoreshes; Desserts, Pastries & Candies; Breads; Preserves & Pickles; Hot & Cold Drinks; and Snacks & Street Food.
Most of the recipes are accompanied by a half to full-page photo of the finished dish. There are also a few step-by-step photos on specific techniques such as preparing rice, lavashak, and baklava. Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric. Titles are written in English and Persian. Each recipe comes with notes, serving size, prep and cooking time, helpful tips, notable ingredients, and variations.
Almond Sanbuseh (Qotab)
To pair with the review, I made Najmieh’s Almond Sanbuseh (Qotab, قطاب)! A soft and flaky yogurt-based dough is cut into circles, filled with a sweet almond (or pistachio/walnut) mixture, and fried until light and golden. They are served with a dusting of confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, ground pistachios, and crushed rose petals.
After folding the dough over the filling, seal tightly by simply pressing together the edges with a fork to crimp. The photos in the book show a rope-like edge on the Qotab, so I did this as well to close and create a more decorative design. To do this, pull a small piece of the edge out slightly (take care not to tear the dough) and fold back over towards the pastry, starting from one end and finishing at the opposite side.
I made the Qotab (Qottab, Ghotab) with the homemade dough, but Najmieh has also included the option to form the pastries with a thawed ready-made puff pastry and baking in a 400˚F (200˚C) oven until golden brown, 15-20 minutes.
The Almond Sanbuseh are best served immediately, but they can be stored for a couple of days refrigerated in an airtight container.
Looking for more savory Sanbuseh options? Food of Life has additional recipes for Safavid Pistachio and Lamb, Chicken and Cabbage, and a Vegetarian Potato Filling.
Rose water is created by collecting the liquid from distilled roses. I have been able to locate it in markets (make sure it is culinary rose water) with Middle Eastern and South Asian ingredients and on Amazon (for a higher price): Cortas Rose Water.
Dried rose petals can be found in some markets featuring Middle Eastern and South Asian ingredients. Check the packaging to make sure it is food-grade. I ordered the Damask Roses used in these photos from ZoZo Baking in Simi Valley, California.
I also made Saffron-Flavored Steamed Rice with Golden Crust (Chelow), Peach Khoresh (Khoresh-e Hulu), Window Cookies (Nan-e Panjerehi), and Iced Coffee (Café Glacé).
The Saffron-Flavored Steamed Rice with Golden Crust (Chelow) is the first recipe in the rice chapter. Making rice with tah-dig (the wonderfully crispy golden crust on the bottom) always makes me nervous since I can’t see the results until flipping over, but Najmieh’s instructions were spot on and so easy to follow. The steamed rice was light and fluffy to create an amazing contrast with the crisp crust. I can’t wait to try the other rice crust variations such as lavash, potato, and milk.
Najmieh has included a variety of Khoresh recipes for every season. To take advantage of summer, I was drawn to her Peach Khoresh (Khoresh-e Hulu). Chicken thighs (there is a vegetarian option too) are browned with onions, then simmered with peaches and spices until tender. It was perfect for pairing with the Chelow.
I recently got a rosette mold and tried it for the first time with these Window Cookies (Nan-e Panjerehi). Traditionally, these cookies are made using a square mold. The heated mold is dipped in an egg-based batter and fried until golden. The resulting texture is light and crisp with a dusting of powdered sugar.
Introduced from Belgium, this Iced Coffee (Café Glacé) is such a refreshing way to cool off during the summer. A chilled coffee mixture is served with vanilla or coffee ice cream and whipped cream. It continues to be a favorite on hot days.
Food of Life is an incredible pick for those interested in Persian cuisine and culture. The recipes have been created with the home cook in mind. The instructions are written in an easy-to-follow format with plenty of options. There is a great variety of starters, soups, stews, meats, bread, desserts, vegetarian dishes, sides, drinks, and everything in between.
Many of the ingredients can now be found in larger American grocery stores. A few items that may require a Persian or Middle Eastern market include grape molasses, rose petals, saffron, rose water, dried Persian limes, mahlab, orange blossom water, and pomegranate molasses.
Almond Sanbuseh (Qotab) Recipe
Excerpt from Food of Life
Almond Sanbuseh (Qotab)
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup (240 grams) plain, strained yogurt or sour cream
- 1/2 cup (110 grams) ghee or (120 milliliters) oil, plus more oil for frying
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) milk
- 2 1/2 cups (300 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour sifted, plus 1/2 cup (60 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour for dusting
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup (80 grams) unsalted ground almonds or pistachios or walnuts
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 1 tablespoon rose water
Dusting and Decoration:
- 1/2 cup (65 grams) confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 cup (40 grams) ground raw pistachios
- 2 tablespoons dried rose petals crushed
To make the homemade dough:
- In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks until creamy. Add yogurt, ghee, and milk, and mix for 2 minutes.
- While the machine is running at low speed, gradually blend in 2 1/2 cups (250 grams) of the sifted flour and baking powder. Increase speed and knead for about 5 minutes to produce a dough that does not stick to your hands (add more flour if necessary). Place the dough in a Ziploc bag, seal, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling:
- In a bowl, combine the ground almonds, sugar, cardamom, and rose water, and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
- Dust a cool, floured surface. Knead the dough for 1 minute and roll it out to a 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick sheet.
- Use a cookie cutter or the open end of a glass, dipped in flour, to cut out 3 inch (7.5 cm) diameter circles of dough.
- Fill each circle with 2 teapsoons of the almond filling. Fold each circle into a crescent shape and close the edges with your fingers. Use a fork to crimp around the edges of the dough to double seal the filling inside.
- In a medium-sized shallow pot, heat 2 cups (480 milliliters) oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.
- Carefully place batches of the sanbusehs in the hot oil (do not crowd the pot) and fry each side for 2 to 3 minutes until lightly, golden brown.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the sanbusehs and place them on a sheet pan, lined with parchment paper.
- When they are cool enough to handle (but still warm), dust them on both sides with confectioners' sugar and sprinkle with pistachios and rose petals.
- Arrange the pastries in a pyramid on a serving platter and serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator in a covered glass container. Nush-e Jan!