If you’re anything like me, you will spend hours of your life ogling cookbooks on the shelves of Waterstones and other booksellers. And it was during one of these cookbook fests that I spied upon ‘The Saffron Tales’ by Yasmin Khan (Bloomsbury, 2016). Initially it was the cover that really stood out, all turquoise-y and gold and Middle Eastern looking, but when I picked it up and saw it was recipes from Persia, I was even more intrigued. One look at Yasmin’s recipe for Roast chicken with pomegranate and za’atar glaze, and I was determined – anyone trying to prise my copy from me would be rugby tackled to the shop floor.
(Using Yasmin’s recipes. From clockwise, Roast chicken with pomegranate molasses and za’atar spice; Persian rice ‘Chelow’; Red cabbage, beetroot and date salad.)
If you haven’t come across Za’atar before, it is glorious Middle Eastern spice blend which usually consists of thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds and salt. I absolutely love it. Partly because it’s a wonderful mix of flavours and partly because it brings back happy memories of time spent in Israel.
About eleven years ago we went there on holiday and it was in Jerusalem that I was introduced to the Israeli custom of dipping bread into Za’atar spice as a snack. The story goes like this. We had been on our feet for a couple of hours and it was midday. We had four children with us at the time; our three sons who were 5, 7 and 9 and our baby daughter who was ten months old. It was August and our Israeli friends, seeing that we were wilting a little in the sun, stopped at a busy street market to buy us some chilled water, some baguettes and za’atar which was being sold in little pots. Our friend Dona then proceeded to break up the bread and hand it out and we all tucked in enthusiastically. Being in that stunning ancient city with the colours & aromas of the street sellers and the wonderful diversity of the crowd all hustling and bustling, it was an extremely special moment. For this reason za’atar isn’t merely an ingredient to me but more a reminder of a deep craving inside to return to that Middle Eastern blissful and otherworldly beauty.
All the more so for Yasmin Khan. In her own words, her inspiration for writing The Saffron Tales ‘comes from her desire to share the Iran she knows and loves, a celebration of a side of Iran that never makes the headlines but is central to the story.’ She explains how ‘armed with little more than a notepad and a bottle of Pomegranate molasses, she traversed more than 3000 kilometres of the country’s rugged landscape searching for recipes and stories that captured modern Iranian life.’
And all her hard work and exploration has really paid off, for this is the kind of book that you keep returning to. Some of the recipes are ‘for dishes which have been cooked the same way for thousands of years, others are modern interpretations of Iranian classics and others still, take inspiration from Persian ingredients.’*
So along with the chicken I chose to try three other recipes, the Red cabbage, beetroot and date salad, the Persian rice and the Burnt Aubergine and walnut dip. And they were all lovely. The chicken was crispy & juicy with a salty fruity, tang; the cabbage and beetroot salad was fresh and delicate and the rice soothing. The burnt aubergine dip however transported me straight to the realms of the divine and it was so easy to make. I had it with bought packaged flatbreads, I can only imagine how good it must taste with fresh flatbread (unleavened bread) made according to Yasmin’s recipe. (Please see my picture of it at the top of this blog post.)
Have you ever made any Persian/Iranian dishes before? If so I’d love to hear from you. If you would like to buy Yasmin’s book ‘The Saffron Tales – Recipes from the Persian Kitchen’, you can buy it here.
*Quoted from Yasmin Khan’s introduction for ‘The Saffron Tales’ cookbook, Bloomsbury 2016.