From the Land of Nightingales and Roses: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen, written by Maryam Sinaiee, features a collection of spectacular seasonal recipes along with an insight into the festivals, traditions, and history surrounding regional Persian cooking. Highlights include Ghōttāb (Almond Turnovers), Kabāb Kūbīdeh (Ground Meat Kebab), Fālūdeh Shīrāzī (Rosewater Sorbet with Rice Noodles and Lime), Āsh-e Māst (Herb and Chickpea Soup), Polō bā Kadū Halvāī (Jeweled Butternut Squash Rice), and Dolmeh-ye Kalam-e Malas (Sweet and Sour Cabbage Rolls). I will also be sharing her recipe for Kalāneh (Kurdish Scallion Bread with Brown Butter) following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Interlink Books 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.
Maryam Sinaiee was born in Tehran, Iran and studied ancient Iranian languages at Tehran University. She moved to London in 2011 and left her career as a foreign correspondent and political analyst to focus on her life-long passion for food and food writing. Her blog, The Persian Fusion, is now one of the most popular Persian food blogs in English. This is her first cookbook.
The recipes are divided according to season, beginning with spring and the new year (Nōrūz). They are then arranged within each chapter from soups/appetizers to desserts/drinks.
Maryam begins with personal childhood memories and how her extended family helped develop her love of cooking with the beautiful meals they created. She then shares the basics of Persian cuisine and how it varies depending on the region: “Today Iran is home to several distinct ethnic groups speaking different languages and boasts a very sophisticated cuisine with considerable variations defined by culture, geography, and climate.” As someone relatively unfamiliar with its history, I especially appreciate Maryam’s level of detail with the emphasis on festivals and favorite foods for each season (the Persian calendar is situated around the seasons with the year beginning in March and the new year celebrated on the spring equinox), notable flavors (sour/torsh, sweet/shīrīn, and sweet and sour/malas), influences from nearby cultures, and even the balancing of ingredients according to teb-be sonnati (medical tradition).
The beautiful photography and styling are also provided by Maryam. Every recipe is accompanied by a vivid, full-page photo of the finished dish (especially helpful if you are unsure on how a specific dish is supposed to look when completed). I love the inclusion of the family photographs for that personal touch. The titles are written in Farsi (romanization of the Arabic script based on the phonetic representation) with the English translation below. Maryam noted that some of the dishes have more than one name based on the language or dialect, so she has included the most common. Measurements are listed in US customary and metric. Each recipe includes a headnote with background information, personal stories, serving size, possible substitutions, and menu ideas.
This book is a great pick for those interested in Persian cuisine. The recipes have been chose to highlight the seasons and the regional cuisines of Gilan, Mazandaran, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Hormozgan, Khuzestan, and more. Most come together easily while others are generally saved for special occasions such as Nōrūz (the new year). Many of the ingredients are readily available in the average American grocery store. Having a market nearby that focuses on South Asian/Middle Eastern items will be helpful for locating Persian yellow lentils, nigella seeds, Persian soup noodles, fresh vine leaves, saffron, barberries, cardamom pods, mūsīr, dried limes, sumac, rosewater, tamarind paste, dried rose petals, and fenugreek. Substitutions have been provided when available.
Kalāneh (Kurdish Scallion Bread with Brown Butter)
Kalāneh comes from the mountainous Kurdish regions in the west of Iran. Traditionally this flatbread is filled with pīchak (a wild springtime plant in the onion family), but Maryam has substituted with the more readily available scallion (or chives or wild garlic) and made them a smaller size to fit in a frying pan on a home stove compared to the sāj (large, convex griddle over an open fire).
After forming the basic dough, it is allowed to rest for at least 30 minutes before dividing into walnut-sized pieces to help the gluten develop and make it easier to handle. Each piece is then rolled into a thin circle and filled simply with thinly sliced scallions. It is folded over, crimped or pinched along the edges, and cooked briefly in a heavy frying pan until heated through with golden spots scattered across each side. The Kalāneh are finished off with a brushing on each side with browned salted butter and served immediately. While they are best served fresh, the Kalāneh will keep for 1-2 days wrapped in paper towels and placed in a plastic bag. Just heat briefly in a low oven before eating.
Be careful when browning the butter for brushing. You want it to just become golden with a nutty fragrance. There is a fine line between perfectly browned and burnt.
I also made the Sōhān Asalī (Caramelized Almond Praline), Khoresht-e Porteghāl (Chicken in Orange and Saffron Sauce), Eshkaneh-ye Piyāz (Egg and Onion Soup with Walnuts), and Kateh (Steamed Rice).
Sōhān Asalī is Maryam’s favorite new year treat (and now mine as well). For this particular recipe, slivered almonds are coated in a caramelized mixture with saffron and honey. Spoonfuls of the coated almonds are dropped onto a nonstick sheet, topped with pistachios, and allowed to cool. She recommends folding the crushed caramelized almonds into ice cream or using as a topping for cakes and other desserts. I actually intended to try it with vanilla ice cream, but they were so addictive that we had no leftovers.
Khoresht-e Porteghāl (Chicken in Orange and Saffron Sauce) comes from the region around the Caspian Sea. Chicken legs are fried until golden and simmered in an orange saffron sauce until cooked through and the sauce is reduced. It is served with cilantro or parsley and chelōh or kateh. This one was Chad’s favorite.
Eshkaneh-ye Piyāz (Egg and Onion Soup with Walnuts) comes from the winter section and is such a warm, comforting soup. This Azarbaijani version has an onion soup base with poached eggs and walnuts. I served each bowl with a dollop of yogurt, fresh mint, and torn flatbread. Maryam also mentions pairing it with sabzī khordan and torshī (vegetable pickles).
I made the Kateh (Steamed Rice) to go with the Khoresht-e Porteghāl. The measurements were spot on for cooking the rice until just tender and forming that beautiful golden tahdig (crust) along the bottom. She also includes a recipe for chelōh.
Kalāneh (Kurdish Scallion Bread with Brown Butter) Recipe
Excerpt from From the Land of Nightingales & Roses
Kalāneh (Kurdish Scallion Bread with Brown Butter)
- 2 1/2 cups (11 ounces, 320 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2/3 cup (160 milliliters) water room temperature
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 80 grams) salted butter
- 2 bunches scallions thinly sliced
- Put the flour in a bowl and add the salt. Stir well to combine. Make a well in the center and add the oil and half of the water while mixing until a very soft dough forms. Stop adding water as soon as the dough stops sticking to your hands. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes or until soft and pliable. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean dish towel. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and cook until it begins to brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Lightly flour your surface. Take walnut-sized pieces of the dough and roll into paper-thin circles. Cover half of the circle with the scallions, leaving a rim just under 1/2 inch (1 cm). Fold in half over the filling to form semicircles. Crimp or pinch the edges together to seal. Place on a clean dish towel dusted with flour and cover with another dish towel while you prepare the rest.
- Place a heavy frying pan over low heat. It's hot enough when a drop of water thrown in it sizzles. Place a couple of the flatbreads in the pan and cook until the underside is dotted with brown spots. Turn over and cook the other side. Remove from the pan and place on a baking tray in a low oven to keep warm while you cook the rest of the flatbreads.
- Reheat the brown butter and brush the kalāneh generously on both sides with it. Serve immediately.