Cooking in Iran
Najmieh Batmanglij was exiled from Iran 39 years ago. She was living in France where she did not speak the language or have proper documents—and above all, she was pregnant. Out of a nostalgia and yearning to connect with her roots, she wrote her first cookbook, Food of Life, as a kind of love letter to her children. She wanted to share with them all the good things she had experienced growing up in a traditional family in Iran.
Over the years, Food of Life has been called “the definitive book on Persian cooking” by the Los Angeles Times and “the Persian cookbook Bible” by Iranians and others. Food of Life was followed by six more cookbooks including Silk Road Cooking, which according to the New York Times, read like “a good novel—once you start it’s hard to put down.” But as she worked on these books at home in America, a fantastical dream took hold—a craving to revisit Iran and celebrate the specialties and traditional dishes of each region.
The challenges that faced her—emotional, political, and logistical—were daunting, but she felt she had to do it. She knew from her Silk Road research trip to China twenty years earlier that, under the bulldozer of modernity, Iran too would soon lose many of its traditional ways, special cooking techniques, and small artisanal workshops. Najmieh was determined to capture and preserve them before that happened.
After five years of overcoming obstacles, meticulous planning, and ten thousand miles of traveling the length and breadth of Iran—cooking with local cooks, visiting workshops, and developing recipes—Najmieh’s dream has been realized with the creation of Cooking in Iran: Regional Recipes and Kitchen Secrets. This book is a distillation of those past five years. It is an authoritative exploration of a cuisine whose cultural roots are among the deepest of any in the world.
Najmieh takes us with her on an extraordinary culinary journey: from the daily fish market in Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, where she and her host buy and cook a 14-pound grouper in a tamarind, cilantro, and garlic sauce, to the heart of historical Isfahan, in central Iran, where she prepares lamb necks in a yogurt, saffron, and candied orange peel sauce topped with caramelized barberries. Traveling north to the Caspian Sea, she introduces us to the authentic Gilaki version of slow-cooked duck in a pomegranate and walnut sauce, served over smoked rice; and the unique flavors of a duck-egg omelet with smoked eggplant and baby garlic. Lingering in the north, in tribal Kurdistan, she treats us to lamb-and-bulgur meatballs filled with caramelized onions and raisins in a saffron sauce. Dropping south, to Bandar Abbas on the coast, she teases our palate with rice cooked in date juice and served with spicy fish, while in Baluchistan she cooks spiced goat in a pit overnight and celebrates the age-old method of making bread in hot ashes.
At every village and off-the-beaten-track community, Najmieh unearths traditional recipes and makes surprising new discoveries, giving us a glimpse along the way of the places where many of the ingredients for the recipes are grown. She treks through the fields and orchards of Iran, showing us saffron being picked in Khorasan and pomegranates in Yazd, dates harvested by the Persian Gulf, pistachios in Kerman, and tea and rice by the Caspian.