March 20, 2013
If you were a fan of Louisa Shafia's Lucid Food, you'll want to preorder her soon-to-be-published cookbook, The New Persian Kitchen (Ten Speed Press). Warm and effusive, Shafia guides you through a cuisine that is most likely foreign and unlike anything you've ever cooked or eaten before. The news coming from present-day Iran can seem particularly disheartening but the culinary heritage that lives on, and even thrives outside the country's borders. Shafia's own background (she's half Iranian) helps make the book more evocative and that much more personal. And fans of Lucid Food will be happy to know that there is continuted emphasis on quality ingredients, flavor, and health. Shafia took some time to answer questions about Persian food, what the key ingredients are, and shared recipes from her upcoming cookbook that are appropriate not only for Passover, but for Norooz and Eid Ul-Fitr, as well. Epicurious: How did being a mix of religions and nationalities (Persian/American, Muslim/Jew) affect the way you viewed food? How did both parents with their different backgrounds instill a love of food? Louisa Shafia: Well, between a Muslim and Jew, we never ate pork, and having multicultural parents meant that there was never any chance I would be served a "real" American meal of, say, fried chicken and mashed potatoes (one which I yearned for, secretly). But aside from my teenage junk food binges on McNuggets and donuts, I remember loving the food we ate at home, and it's the way that I still cook today. From my mom's background, there were typical Ashkenazi favorites like fried matzoh, latkes, borscht, dill pickles, and bagels with lox. But my mom was a true gourmet cook who emulated Julia Child and Craig Claibourne, and took the family on what were essentially eating tours of Europe when I was still a child. From my dad's side came all of the healthy eating habits that shaped my cooking style, like eschewing meat for fish and chicken, eating lots of fresh vegetables, as well as beans and grains, and favoring fresh fruit and nuts over sugary sweets. Of course, with his Iranian upbringing, my dad loved all of the vibrant foods of his heritage, including flatbread, tart yogurt, fluffy saffron rice, charred and juicy kebabs, fragrant and complex Persian stews like eggplant and tomato bademjan, and mouth-puckering torshi pickles. I feel lucky to have had such a diverse grounding in food, because it has given me a sense of comfort with "exotic" Persian ingredients like rosewater, saffron, and dried limes. It has also given me a boundless curiosity when it comes to tasting and experimenting with new foods. (Read the rest of the interview with Louisa Shafia and get recipe tips, after the jump.) Epi: You write that pomegranates "are perhaps the most iconic of Iran's native foods." What other iconic foods or ingredients would make up a well-stocked pantry or fridge for an Iranian cook? LS: There are some essential seasonings that you always want to have on hand,...
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