Cooking in Iran: Regional Recipes & Kitchen Secrets is a massive collection of over 250 recipes and 400 beautiful photographs following Najmieh Batmanglij’s journey across Iran within 730 pages. A few highlights include Potato Kuku with Saffron Syrup Glaze (Kuku-ye Shirin-e Mashhadi), Duck Kabab (Kabab-e Ordak), Rice with Lamb Rib Chops (Dandeh Polow-ye Ilamati), Black Carrot Pickle (Torshi-e Gazar), and Date + Walnut Cookies (Kolompeh-ye Kermani). I will also be sharing her recipe for Yazdi Cupcakes 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. 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, her first cookbook in English, Food of Life, after emigrating to America, and six more books followed. I am reviewing the second edition of Cooking in Iran, released in March 2020. The first edition was published in 2018.
Cooking in Iran
Najmieh spent months traveling ten thousand miles across Iran starting in Tehran (where she spent her childhood) and moving outwards throughout the regions to highlight the culinary specialties and notable flavors of each area. She has broken the book down into incredibly detailed sections based on these individual regions and paired the recipes with her personal experiences. I especially loved learning about the diverse climate, differences in cuisine (even the regional homemade spice blends), and the history behind the food.
For those unfamiliar with the area, Najmieh has included a map of Iran with regions and notable cities. She states “for this book, some provinces have been combined into regions based on cooking styles and ingredient preferences”: Tehran, The Caspian, Azarbaijan, Qom, Qazvin, Hamadan, Arak, Bread, Kurdistan and the Tribal Region, Isfahan, Kashan, Khorasan, Yazd, Kerman, Fars/Shiraz, Khuzestan, and The Persian Gulf, Sistan + Baluchistan. There is also a full list of the recipe contents at the end of the book with page number for easy reference.
Along with the recipes, Cooking in Iran is packed with over 400 photographs of not only the food, but also the people, markets, sites, and historical photographs. There are even a few step-by-step photos to demonstrate techniques such as stuffing grape leaves, forming Tabrizi meatballs, and flattening date + sesame bread. The titles are written in English with the Farsi name underneath (Romanized). Many of the recipes include headnotes with background information, personal stories, tips, serving size, prep and cooking time, variations, and menu ideas. Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric.
I have been wanting to make Yazdi Cupcakes (کیک یزدی, Cayk-e Yazdi, Cake Yazdi) for a while and seeing this recipe was the push I finally needed to try! Named after the city of Yazd (the capital of Yazd province in the center of Iran), these light cupcakes/muffins have a hint of sweetness paired with an amazing combination of rose water, cardamom, and optionally saffron. They are especially perfect served alongside hot tea.
Oil (or ghee), sugar, rose water, vanilla, and honey are well-blended in a stand mixer, followed by the eggs and yogurt to create a creamy mixture. Sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cardamom are gradually mixed in until combined with no streaks remaining. Be careful not to overmix. The batter is divided into lined muffin tins (about 3/4 full- leave 1/4 inch on top) and baked in the preheated oven until deeply golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature before serving and store in an airtight container.
I topped the Yazdi Cupcakes with ground pistachios, but have also seen them with sesame seeds. The saffron is an optional addition. If desired, sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron over the rose water and allow it to dissolve for a few minutes before mixing into the batter.
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.
I also made the Saffron Omelet with Rose Petals (Khagineh-ye Tabrizi), Lettuce + Yogurt Salad (Borani-e Kahu-ye Kordi), Rice Steamed in Date Molasses (Shireh-ye Korma Polow), and Persian Gulf Date + Coconut Balls (Bontu).
Najmieh adapted the recipe for this Saffron Omelet with Rose Petals (Khagineh-ye Tabrizi) from a family in Tabriz. A rich egg yogurt batter is cooked until golden and firm, then served drizzled with a saffron orange syrup and sprinkling of rose petals, walnuts/pistachios, and ground cinnamon.
The Lettuce + Yogurt Salad (Borani-e Kahu-ye Kordi) is a simple salad perfect for pairing with meatballs or kababs. Shredded romaine lettuce is lightly coated in a garlicky yogurt dressing with mint, lime, and olive oil. There are also a few variations such as using celery, cucumber, and sumac.
Najmieh first tried Rice Steamed in Date Molasses (Shireh-ye Khorma Polow) in Bandar Abbas alongside spicy seared fish an onion cucumber coriander pickle, and a platter of green herbs. Soaked basmati rice is simmered in water, salt, cardamom, and date molasses until all the moisture has been absorbed. For a final, delicious touch, oil and saffron-soaked rose water are drizzled over the top and the rice is steamed for another few minutes before serving.
The Persian Gulf Date + Coconut Balls (Bontu) are a fun and easy snack. A date mixture with cardamom, cinnamon, tahini, almonds, and walnuts is blended in a food processor until combined. They are formed into balls with orange blossom water-coated hands and rolled in shredded coconut and ground pistachios.
Cooking in Iran is a great pick for those interested in regional Persian cuisine. There is an incredible range of diverse recipes from drinks, soups, and salads to meats, vegetables, breads (so many wonderful types!), desserts, and everything in between. I am particularly excited to try the variety of rice crust variations for making the perfect golden crust (tah-dig). Some dishes come together quickly with minimal effort while others require a longer list of ingredients and more time to create. Having a market nearby with Middle Eastern and South Asian ingredients will be helpful for locating items such as rose petals, saffron, dried barberries, grape molasses, labneh, cardamom, rose water, orange blossom water, date molasses, nigella seeds, sumac, chickpea flour, tamarind paste, dried fenugreek leaves, dried Persian limes, and fenugreek seeds.
Yazdi Cupcakes Recipe
Excerpt from Cooking in Iran
- 1/2 cup (110 ml) oil or ghee
- 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) rose water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 eggs room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120 g) whole plain yogurt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 2 cups (240 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (20 g) ground pistachios
- Place the oven rack in the center and preheat oven to 400˚F (200˚C). Line 2 muffin pans (capable of holding 12 muffins each) with paper cups.
To make the batter:
- In the mixing bowl of a electric mixer, blend the oil, sugar, rose water, vanilla, and honey. While mixer is running, add the eggs one by one. Add the yogurt and continue to blend until creamy.
- On a piece of parchment paper, sift together the baking soda, baking powder, salt, cardamom, and the flour, and gradually add it to the egg mixture. Blend- do not over-mix.
- Pour the batter into lined molds, leaving 1/4 inch (6 mm) on top. Decorate each cupcake with some ground pistachios.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean.
- Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and allow to cool completely before serving. Store in airtight glass containers. Nush-e joon!