Persepolis: Vegetarian Recipes from Persia and Beyond, written by Sally Butcher, showcases a flavorful assortment of over 150 vegetarian recipes with inspiration from the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the Caucasus. Many are favorites from her London shop and café, Persepolis. Highlights include Su Boregi (Spinach and Almond Pie), Halim (Eggplant Porridge with Brown Butter and Cinnamon), Halloumi with Sesame and Honey, Tavče Gravče (Macedonian Baked Beans), Mechouia (Tunisian Barbecued Pepper Salad), and Gozinaki (Georgian Honey Walnut Brittle). I will also be featuring her recipe for Keskul-e-Fugara, a Turkish Milk and Almond Pudding, 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.
Sally Butcher is a food blogger, writer, and proprietress of the Persian food store and café, Persepolis, in London with her husband. In addition to Persepolis, she has also written Persia in Peckham: Recipes from Persepolis, The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes from Veggiestan, New Middle Eastern Street Food: Snacks, Comfort Food, and Mezze from Snackistan, and Salmagundi (I reviewed this book in 2015).
Chapters are divided according to course: From the Bakery: Breads and Savory Pastries; Breaking Fast; Light Bites and Snacks; Cold Appetizers, Mezze, and Salads; Soup and Other Hot Appetizers; Main Courses I: Grains and Beans; Main Courses II: Bakes and Casseroles; Pickles and Preserves; Desserts and Sweet Treats; and Drinks, Hot and Cold.
After running their shop, Persepolis, for 16 years, Sally and her husband slowly expanded the store to hold a café, 1 table at a time. They now have 9 1/2 tables and the café has become a test kitchen for trying out new recipes and flavors. Much of the inspiration comes from her customers from around the world.
Sally actually begins the book’s introduction with the phrase: “To boldly go where no eggplant has gone before…” From Homemade Hummus Chips made with chickpea flour to Khoresht-e-Laboo: a Beet (to be honest my brain automatically saw this as beef hotpot and I had to take a second to re-read) Hotpot with vegetables and spices, there are so many new and rediscovered ways to work with these non-meat ingredients (without the reliance on tofu). Vegetarian dishes are showcased in the best of ways with an exciting use of spices and cooking methods along with humorous and informative stories to go along with the recipes.
The vibrant photography is provided by Yuki Sugiura with food styling by Valerie Berry. Many of the recipes are accompanied by a full-page photo of the finished dish. The measurements are written in US Customary and Metric. Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, tips, variations, stories, and serving size.
This book is a great pick for those looking for unique vegetarian dishes with an international flair. All the recipes are vegetarian, but many are also vegan and/or gluten-free. The dishes range from quick and easy to longer simmering stews with multiple ingredients. Many of the ingredients are readily available in the average supermarket, but a few may require some searching. Harder to find items include specialty cheeses, sumac, phyllo, orange blossom water, rose petals, semolina, saffron, millet grains, pomegranate molasses, pomegranate lavashak, chickpea flour, asafoetida, golpar, Aleppo pepper, Marmite, harissa paste, dried lavender, tamarind paste, and rose water.
Keskul-e-Fugara (Turkish Milk and Almond Pudding)
Keskul-e-Fugara (Keşkül-ü Fukara, Fukâra Keşkülü) is a creamy and indulgent Turkish rice pudding. The name actually translates to “beggar’s bowl,” the bowl used by dervishes to collect donations.
The base of the pudding comes together easily with a combination of rice flour, ground almonds, sugar, and milk. It is simply cooked on the stove until thickened, transferred among individual serving bowls, and refrigerated until chilled. For some additional color and texture, almonds, pistachios, and coconut flakes are sprinkled over the tops right before serving.
I toasted the nuts and coconut flakes in a 350˚F oven just until fragrant and golden brown to really bring out the flavor. This Keskul-e-Fugara recipe uses coconut strictly as a topping, though I have also come across others that mix coconut flakes right into the pudding as well. You can also use some creativity in how you design the tops of the puddings with the nuts and other additions.
You can make your own rice flour or use premade (not sweet rice or mochiko, just plain rice flour). Rice flour is available in the gluten-free baking section of larger supermarkets, in Asian food markets, or online.
I also made Sfinz (Libyan Breakfast Doughnuts), Borani-ye-Esfanaj (Yogurt with Spiced Spinach), Watermelon Gazpacho, and Persian Rose Tea.
Sfinz are Libyan savory doughnuts that can be served in a variety of ways. Our favorite was the interesting technique of cracking an egg into the indention of the frying doughnut to allow it to cook in the hot oil along with the dough. They can also be served with date syrup or honey and whipped cream or cheese and hararat, a sweet and hot spice mix with cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, and chili powder.
Borani-ye-Esfanaj is a wonderfully spiced Persian dip. Creamy, strained yogurt is blended with cooked spinach, scallions, and a few spices. It is finished with a drizzle of olive oil and served with warm bread.
I made the Watermelon Gazpacho towards the end of summer. This dish comes together easily for a quick and elegant option for entertaining. Watermelon flesh is blended with bell peppers, mint, and spices, then topped with diced vegetables. It pairs perfectly with crispbreads.
This Persian Rose Tea also comes together easily and is a great way to use up any extra rose petals you may have on hand (I bought a bag on Amazon a few months ago and am still working my way through it). Boiling water is steeped with Earl Grey tea leaves, cardamom, and rose petals. It has also been perfect for our sore throats from the many many times we have been sick this winter (my daughter started preschool and my son started Kindergarten- they have been so kind in sharing).
Keskul-e-Fugara (Turkish Milk and Almond Pudding) Recipe
Keskul-e-Fugara (Turkish Milk and Almond Pudding)
Excerpt from Persepolis
1 1/4 cups (4 1/4 ounces, 120 grams) ground almonds
2 3/4 cups (650 ml) milk, cow or otherwise
3 tablespoons rice flour
Scant 2/3 cup (4 1/4 ounces, 120 grams) sugar
Scant 1/2 cup (1 3/4 ounces, 50 grams) slivered almonds and pistachios
1/4 cup (1 ounce, 25 grams) unsweetened coconut chips
Start by blending the almonds with just enough of the milk to make a paste.
Next, add a splash of milk to the rice flour, again so that a smooth paste is achieved. Pour the rest of the milk into a saucepan, add the sugar, and heat gently. Once it is close to boiling, tip a little onto the rice flour, stirring well before pouring the whole bunch back into the pan. Beat in the almond paste, and bring back to near boiling point, stirring constantly in the same direction, or until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and divide the mixture among 4 pretty pudding bowls, before chilling well.
Serve decorated with the nuts and coconut.