When first I heard that Greg and Lucy Malouf were planning to release a Persian cookery book, admittedly I was somewhat sceptical. Well I am Persian myself afterall and the idea that a Lebanese man and an Australian woman were putting together a book on Persian cookery, just didn't sit right with me at the beginning... even if they do happen to write some of my favourite cookery book titles to date!
Once you see the book (All 337 pages of it) you will see that it is not just a simple cookery book but a journal of travel, culture, tradition, history and cookery of a country that most people can only associate with whatever Islamic threat is trendy that day or perhaps the movie '300' or, if we are lucky, Persian Carpets (Cats and Caviar). But there are a great many culinary secrets from Persia that have not yet been shared with the world; Exotic ingredients, spices, fruits and nuts that have impacted the cookery of many countries and cultures such as the Mughal Empire of India as well as Morocco and many Arab countries throughout the middle east.
The great thing about Saraban is the sheer extent of travelling that Greg and Lucy did in order to create this beautiful book. They explored Iran from the north down to the south and spent time in restaurants, homes and saffron fields exploring all that this mystical country has to offer. By their own admission, they learned things they never would have thought they would have during their time in Iran. The book contains a unique collection of regional recipes, the variety of which you will never see in any other Persian cookery book. The images are strikingly beautiful and give readers a rare glimpse at what modern day Iran is really like; politics aside, it is the land of plenty. Perfect summers and snow-white winters, wonderful produce in every corner and rich in culture as well as historical wonder with the Persian Empire being one of the largest and farthest spreading Empires ever to exist in history.
I met the lovely Greg and Lucy last week at Fortnum and Mason; they were doing a talk and cookery demonstration for a select group of food lovers. I was nervous for them as many members of the audience were Iranian and we can be pretty harsh judges but what does need to be said is that what Greg and Lucy are doing to the raise the profile of Persian cookery and draw attention to the diverse flavours, ingredients and culture of Iran, is a fantastic thing that deserves applause. Iran is not within the comfort zone of many people and by encouraging people to explore Persian food, they champion the country and traditions of a country filled with plenty of friendly, hospitable people. The dishes being made for the audience included 'Ash-e-esfenaj ba koofteh' (Spinach soup with meatballs), classic Persian rice with 'tahdig' (Basmati rice with crispy, golden rice crust) and a completely unfamiliar dish from the north of Iran 'Mahi-e-mast-o-gerdu' (Yoghurt baked fish with a walnut crust). If you want to know more about these and all the other wonderful, regional and unique dishes of my beautiful country, then you will have to order yourself a copy of Saraban and sit back one weeekend and take it all in.
Saraban - By Greg and Lucy Malouf, should be the next book to add to your collection. It's beautiful, vibrant and brimming with stories and recipes that are unlike anything you will have ever seen before. Persian New Year (Ayd-e-Nowrouz) falls on Sunday March 20th this year, so perhaps you can polish up on a few recipes and celebrate with the rest of us and say "Ayd-e-Shoma Mobarak!"