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reviews

Food of Life:
Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies

New, 25th Anniversary Edition!

EXPANDED, UPDATED & REDESIGNED

Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, May 11, 2013: "Her most beautiful [cookbook] yet."

Vogue (May 26, 2011):
"This summer's most coveted tome...the saffron-scented pages of
which are guaranteed to create luscious new sense memories—
and inspire future dinner invitations.

Alice Waters (April 4,2011): "Divine cookbook...stunningly beautiful...cannot wait to put it to use!"

Los Angeles Times (March 29, 2011): "A classic cookbook made even better...Gorgeous expanded edition."

The Washington Post (March 2, 2011): "In exile," in America, she was quoted, "you become so much more conscious of your culture, and ours is so beautiful." She saw the book as a love letter to her sons, who she figured might never see the Iran she knew. Last year, Zal the filmmaker, 30, and Rostam the indie rocker, 26, encouraged her to update the book for their generation. So their mother added recipes and series of instructional photos, lots of tips and an expanded glossary of ingredients. She came up with vegetarian alternatives and substitutions, testing the 330 recipes at least three times each. The result: a handsome 25th anniversary edition supplemented with more stories of tradition, more poetry and Persian illustrations. Batmanglij was able to translate many 16th-century Persian recipes and bring them to life. "My other books have had my mother's recipes. These are my recipes," she says.

Library Journal (March 18, 2011): One can experience Persian cuisine without entering Iran—Persian American chef Batmanglij presents an outstanding and complete reference for Persian cooking and culture. Novice to expert cooks will appreciate the succinctly detailed ingredients lists and instructions to prepare rich Persian appetizers, soups, vegetables, meat, rice dishes, braises, desserts, breads, preserves, drinks, and snacks. The recipes—accompanied by tips, glossaries, and Persian-English/English-Persian ingredients translations—result in sumptuous dishes. Readers can glimpse the author's Iranian heritage from her personal anecdotes and short narrative of Persian history....Batmanglij's clear and detailed instructions will encourage cooks to prepare Persian meals.

Los Angeles Times: "The definitive book on Persian cooking: not just a recipe collection but a fond introduction to a culture and a fascinating cuisine."

The Washington Post: "A jewel of a book."

The New York Times: "Too delightful to miss."

Chicago Sun-Times: "A stunning cookbook."

USA Today:
"A beautiful introduction to Persian cuisine and culture."

Booklist: "Modern Iranian cooking fits perfectly with today's lighter eating styles. Recipes are presented in an easily followed style."

World of Cookbooks: "Persian-Iranian cuisine can have no better introduction than this book."

The Toronto Star: "A fabulous new cookbook.... The glossy tome-an array of elegant recipes peppered with lavish color photos of food; Persian miniatures and artwork-is the result of 12 years of painstaking research."

Publishers Weekly: "Effectively weaves Iranian cookery with ancient Persian legends and poetry and descriptions of traditional ceremonies and holidays."

The Baltimore Sun: "[Mrs. Batmanglij] has been careful to keep the recipes authentic."

Middle East Studies Association Bulletin:
"For those who find ethnic cookbooks a bit daunting and pretentious, here's one that holds true on what it promises, plus much much more.... suggests in book form what Babette's Feast and Like Water For Chocolate did through film.... this book will meet if not surpass your expectations."

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Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey

Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, May 11, 2013: "One of my favorite cookbooks."

The New York Times, December 08, 2004
"...Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey (Mage Publishers, $35) is like a good novel — once you start, it's hard to put down. It is ideal for those who like to read cookbooks as much as cook from them.

The author, Najmieh Batmanglij, who was born and raised in Iran and lectures at cooking schools, begins by describing the ancient network of trading routes stretching from China to the Mediterranean. As Ms. Batmanglij explains, along with the trade in silk, ivory and other goods came cooking techniques and ingredients that enriched and transformed local cuisines. Beautifully illustrated with photographs of food, people and places from along the Silk Road, the recipes include notes about their origins and ingredients.

The recipes also pack a punch. I served Levantine pilaf in pastry at a party and felt a genuine thrill as I cut into the golden dome of phyllo encasing a filling of vermicelli and rice flecked with apricots, almonds and raisins and seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom and rosewater...."
[more]

Smithsonian Magazine, June 2002


The Washington Post, June 2002

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From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian Table


Robert Irwin, Times Literary Supplement, January 25, 2007

"The issue of the Islamic prohibition of wine-drinking and the widespread disregard of this prohibition among Muslims looms large in Najmieh Batmanglij’s From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian table, a lavishly illustrated book which presents a history of wine-drinking in pre-Islamic and Islamic Persia, followed by an account of the Darioush winery’s current production of Shiraz and other wines in California’s Napa Valley, while a third section provides a selection of recipes chosen to go with particular wines.

One verse in the Koran appears to approve of wine: “We give you the fruit of the palm and the vine from which you derive intoxicants and wholesome food” (sura 16:69). However, the orthodox Muslim view is that this verse was abrogated by other Koranic verses. But heavy drinking had been an important part of the court culture of Sassanid Persia prior to the Islamic conquest, and the aristocracy went on drinking in Muslim Iran. Kaikakavus, a Persian prince from Gurgan, wrote a guide to aristocratic conduct which contained the following advice: “Wine drinking is a transgression; if you wish to commit a transgression it should at least not be a flavourless one. If you drink wine, let it be the finest – so that even though you may be convicted of sin in the next world, you will at any rate not be branded a fool in this”. There is, moreover, a remarkably rich body of wine poetry in Persian, as well as in Turkish and Arabic literature.

As Batmanglij notes, Muslims who wished to drink alcohol gave a variety of excuses. Wine was being drunk as a medicine. It was alleged that the Koran only forbade over-indulgence in wine. Wine that was diluted or boiled was acceptable. The ban applied only to wine and not to arak, beer, or fermented mare’s milk. Dick Davis, the eminent translator of classic Persian texts, has contributed an excellent chapter on “Wine and Persian Poetry” in From Persia to Napa in which he points out that the heroes of Firdawsi’s great epic, the Shahnama, drank heroically. He also discusses the metaphorical employment of “wine” in Persian Sufi poetry to signify ecstasy. Though many Sufi poems have survived in which this is indeed the case, Davis is rightly doubtful about the automatic translation of wine as some figurative reference to a spiritual experience. “Sometimes, and perhaps usually, a cigar is just a cigar – and wine just wine” according to Davis, paraphrasing Freud. In particular, Davis is sceptical about the wholesale assimilation of the fourteenth-century poetry of Hafiz of Shiraz into the mystical canon: “My own feeling is that he is almost always writing about what he says he is writing about, wine and carnal love, and that his occasional hankerings for a more secure and spiritual world safe from the vicissitudes of earthly life, are just that – occasional hankerings”."

Winestate, November/December 2006
"This is much more than just another coffee table decoration about wine and food, or both. A lavishly illustrated volume, it is the third book written by Najmieh Batmanglij in her passionate promotion of Persian cuisine and, in this case, the rich and - despite Tehran's strict Muslim regime - continuing Iranian love affair with wine.

Batmanglij and her wine enthusiast husband Mohammad fled post-Islamic Revolution Iran as refugees and now live in the US. She has spent 25 years traveling, teaching cooking and adapting authentic Persian recipes to Western tastes and techniques.

Persia is one of the cradles of wine grape cultivation, with the city of Shiraz one of its earliest centers of production, and Batmanglij traces this illustrious history in fascinating verbal and pictorial detail. She then moves half a world away to California’s Napa Valley, where another iranian-American, Darioush Khaledi, has re-created the architecture of the ancient Persian ceremonial capital of Persepolis in building a spectacular winery.

The final section of the book contains 80 delectable recipes, seasonal menus and a guide to Persian hospitality both past and present. And there are two special sections by guest authors - one discussing the Persian links between poetry and wine, and the other suggesting how to match wines with Persian cuisine. In all, a wonderfully complete package."

Wine & Spirits Magazine, December, 2006
"Iran is not famous for its winemaking, and we've yet to see a sommelier in a Persian restaurant anywhere, but Najmieh Batmanglij's latest book sets out to change that. Batmanglij is a culinary ambassador of sorts, already having written four Persian cookbooks that read like encyclopedias of the very old but relatively unknown Persian cuisine. So it is fitting that she examines the even lesser known tradition of Persian winemaking and wine drinking in From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian Table. Part cookbook, part history lesson, and as meticulously thorough as her other books, this book traces Iranian viniculture from ancient times to Napa's Darioush winery, which is styled after Persepolis. The emphasis on history, illustrated with plenty of classical Persian art and a section on references to wine in Persian poetry make From Persia to Napa appealing to the bookish set. But it's also great for readers who like to eat and drink, too: More than half the book is devoted to food, with wine notes and pairing advice supplied by Burke Owens, a longtime Persian food buff and the associate director of wine at COPIA, the American center for Wine, Food and the Arts. And for those already familiar with the cuisine, Batmanglij's recipes include a good number of more unusual Persian dishes, like pistachio soup (paired with a pinot gris or viognier), or a dessert of quince baked in pomegranate juice and grape molasses (for zinfandel, grenache or a sweet Sherry)."

The Library Journal, Sept 15, 2006
"The popular author of well-respected cookbooks like New Food of Life and A Taste of Persia has turned her attention to the tradition of wine at the Persian table. Contrary to popular belief, wine has been featured in Persian literature and history for thousands of years. Shiraz, which many people associate with the wines of Australia and France, was an ancient Persian wine-producing city. This work will interest a wider audience than a general cookery book owing to its introduction carefully tracing the history of wine as it relates to Persian culture; there is a thoughtful chapter on wine in Persian poetry. The recipes, ranging from appetizers to desserts, specify both the preparation and the cooking time, a useful inclusion for the home
cook. Batmanglij also provides a list of contacts for hard-to-find ingredients. The book's large format and lavish illustrations make it an attractive addition to larger public libraries and perhaps academic ones,
too.-Shelley Brown, New Westminster P.L., B.C."


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A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cooking

The Atlantic Monthly's web site
ran a feature on A Taste of Persia.

Publishers Weekly: "Rose petals, angelica powder, barberries, and dried Persian limes are among the unusual elements that will awaken Western palates."

Times Literary Supplement:
"The Persians cultivated and disseminated to the rest of the world "the walnut, pistachio, pomegranate, cucumber, broad bean and pea . . . as well as basil, coriander and sesame." In "A Dictionary of Persian Cooking" at the back of the book, Batmanglij makes similar claims for almonds, fenugreek, quince and saffron. Some readers may well be suspicious of such broad claims to Persian priority, which might be thought to smack of gastronomic imperialism. However, the Larousse gastronomique and Alan Davidson's recent Oxford Companion to Food not only support most of these claims, but they even add to the list.. . . Batmanglij's photographer has succeeded in producing more naturalistic, mouth-watering pictures"

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Persian Cooking For a Healthy Kitchen

Washington Times:
"A lavish collection of recipes and photos that will inspire you to plunge into Persian cooking, to want to learn more about this ancient cuisine. . . . I don't know when I've been more tempted to hunger by the images of food. . . . You'll want to rush to the kitchen."

World of Cookbooks:
"All recipes for main dishes fall within the current health goal of limiting calories from saturated fats to 25% of total food intake. She has substituted for unwanted fat by fortifying flavor, and while retaining traditional quality, recognition, and taste she has, if anything, given the food a more enticing look. This is a book of discovery . . . these are low-fat recipes that will definitely arouse and satisfy your taste buds."

Booklist:
"Healthy variations have been developed by Batmanglij for nearly 100 traditional Persian dishes. The book is a feast for the eyes and an inspiring invitation to sample Persian cuisine, with full-page color photographs illustrating the recipes and a French flair enlivening their presentation. . . . Easy to follow instructions make this a fine introduction to Persian cooking."

The Herb Companion:
"A 4,000 year-old cuisine adapted and updated for today's low-fat, high-flavor demands. . . . Each dish is lavishly presented in striking photographs."

Houston Chronicle:
"As colorful as a Persian carpet."

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najmieh batmaglij