Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan, written by Naomi Duguid, features the amazing cuisines of Iran and through the Caucasus with almost 125 recipes along with incredible stories and photographs. A few highlights include 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. Following the review, I will be sharing her recipe for Khinkali (ხინკალი, Georgian Topknot Dumplings).
Disclosure: I received this book from Artisan in exchange for my honest review. All opinions and statements 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.
Naomi Duguid is a writer, photographer, teacher, cook, and world traveler based in Toronto, Canada. Her articles have appeared in Lucky peach, Food & Wine, and she is also a contributing editor to Saveur Magazine.
Taste of Persia
Naomi begins with a brief background on each of the countries, the current borders, and the people who reside within them. For those unfamiliar with the area, there is a map of the region that once made up the Persian Empire.
You will learn about the differences in pantry staples and spices among the countries and the importance of ingredients such as rice and wheat. I especially appreciate helpful tips on the best ways to work with some items such as pomegranate (including making your own pomegranate molasses) and saffron.
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.
One of my favorite parts of the book are the descriptive stories of Naomi’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 when applicable.
Khinkali (Georgian Topknot Dumplings)
Khinkali (ხინკალი) are topknot dumplings from Georgia’s mountainous regions. They are filled with seasoned lamb (or beef, veal, pork, or a mixture) and can be served with a sour plum sauce, garlic-vinegar dipping sauce (recipe included), 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. In this version, they are boiled until tender and the meat is cooked through- about 5-7 minutes. I enjoyed the Khinkali with a generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, cilantro leaves, and the garlic-vinegar dipping sauce.
The dumplings are meant to be eaten by hand. Naomi 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.
Avoiding meat? Naomi also offers a recipe for vegetarian Khinkali made with mushrooms for fasting times like Lent.
Looking for more recipes from Georgia?
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. Pieces of chicken are simmered in a thickened walnut pomegranate sauce with cinnamon. It is a perfect warming stew with an intense sour flavor. Naomi 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 quite rich 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- Naomi 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 especially enjoyed the light cardamom flavor in the filling.
Taste of Persia 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. Recipes range from simple and easy to more complex.
Most of the ingredients are readily available in the average American grocery store, but a few may require a trip to a specialty market featuring Middle Eastern/Central Asian products. Some items that may be more difficult to find include cardamom, fenugreek, sumac, chickpeas, tamarind pulp, dried marigold petals, allspice berries, nigella, emmer wheat berries, rice flour, rose water, and chickpea flour.
Khinkali (Georgian Topknot Dumplings) Recipe
Excerpt from Taste of Persia
Khinkali (Georgian Topknot Dumplings)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for surfaces
- 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 sea salt
- Generous grinding of black pepper
Garlic-Vinegar Dipping Sauce:
- 10 medium crisp fresh garlic cloves (3 tablespoons garlic paste)
- Pinch sea salt
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Pinch sugar
- Finely chopped fresh cilantro optional
To make the dough:
- Place the flour and salt in a bowl, add the water, and mix well. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes, until smooth.
- Alternatively, place the flour and salt in a food processor and, with the processor running, add the water through the feed tube. Process just until the dough comes together, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. If the dough is still sticky, aadd more flour to your work surface and knead it in.
- Seal the dough in a plastic bag and set aside for at least 30 minutes, or up to 6 hours.
To make the filling:
- Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl and knead well to blend them together, then cover and set aside (refrigerate if the wait will be longer than an hour).
- Half an hour before you want to serve the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cover and keep at a simmer while you prepare the dumplings.
- Flour your work surface and turn the dough out. Cut it into 4 pieces. Flatten and stretch one piece of dough, or use a rolling pin to roll it out; you want a thin oval about 10 inches long.
- Use the rim of a jar or bowl that is about 4 inches in diameter as a guide and cut out circles with a knife, cutting them close together. Pull the scraps together, roll out again, and cut out another circle or two.
- Fill the first circles: Place a generous tablespoon of filling in the center of one circle. Pull up a bit of the edge and then another bit next to it, pleating the second one over the first, and continue around the circle until you have created a pillow with a gathered top. Pinch the top 1/2 inch below the top edges of the dough and twist to seal the topknot well. Set aside on a well-floured surface.
- Repeat to fill the remaining rolled-out circles of dough. (If your kitchen is very dry, cover the shaped dumplings loosely with plastic wrap or a slightly damp cloth.) Then stretch or roll out a second piece of dough and make more dumplings.
- Once the first two batches are shaped, bring the pot of water back to a vigorous boil and toss in the dumplings. They will sink to the bottom and rise again after 5 to 7 minutes; once they have floated up, boil for another minute. Meanwhile, roll out the other pieces of dough and shape the rest of the dumplings.
- Lift the cooked dumplings out of the pot with a slotted spoon and serve immediately in individual bowls or on a serving plate. Serve the sauce of your choice on the side. Cook and serve the remaining dumplings.
To make the Garlic-Vinegar Dipping Sauce:
- Mash the garlic to a paste with the salt in a mortar or small food processor, or finely mince and mash with a spoon.
- Place in a small bowl, add the vinegar, water, and sugar, and stir to blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Stir in the coriander if you wish.