This is the second half of the RoodonFood interview with author Louisa Shafia on her new book New Persian Kitchen. Post interview there is a killer recipe for Turmeric Chicken with Sumac and Lime.
Here is a link to part 1 which includes a great recipe for a Sweet and Smoky Beet Burger in case you missed it.
So far I’ve tried the Fesenjan, an excellent pomegranate and walnut stew. Your versions were perfect for the American palate. What are some of your meat-based favorites from the book?
I really like the Lamb Meatballs with Mint and Garlic (p. 88), the Lamb Kebabs in Pomegranate-Walnut Marinade (p. 95), and the Grilled Liver with Cumin, Garlic, and Fresh Basil (p. 96), which is my take on a well-beloved Iranian street food.
If there was to be a dish to cross-over to restaurants everywhere what would it be? For example, a chain restaurant might these days have teriyaki or curry chicken. What would be the Persian dish?
I love this question! Just imagining a Persian dish going mainstream here in the United States is exciting. I think the Pomegranate Walnut Stew, called fesenjan in Farsi, could easily become a classic. It’s made with chicken, and Americans love chicken! The only ingredient that’s out of the ordinary is pomegranate molasses, which you can now find at Whole Foods, so it would be very easy for a restaurant to reproduce.
You have an interesting background of Persian and Askenazi Jewish (Jewish ancestry from places like Germany and Eastern Europe). Has the latter influenced your cooking? Is there overlap between the two cuisines?
My mom’s heritage is Ashkenazi Jew, and her ancestors came to the U.S. from Poland, Austria, Germany, and Russia. She cooked classic Ashkenazi dishes like matzo brei and borscht, but she is a gifted natural cook, and was a devotee of Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and Julia Child, so we got to enjoy really beautiful French food a lot. She also experimented with Chinese and Mexican cooking, and of course, Persian food. I helped her in the kitchen from a really early age, and that’s where I got my sensibility and palate. And I still love those Ashkenazi dishes.
Maybe it’s not so surprising if you look at a map, but there is a lot in common between Persian and Eastern European food. Iran is separated from Eastern Europe only by Turkey, so there was a lot of cultural exchange over the millennia between the two areas. I noticed that Hungarian food in particular shares a lot with Persian cooking, such as thick yogurt, pickles, meat stews cooked with fruits like apricots and plums, a love of sour ingredients like sour cherries, and the use of seasonings like dill, cinnamon, coriander, and caramelized onions.
My friend Amir really wants to know a good place for kalaam polo. Have you tried any Persian restaurants in NY? If so, which do you recommend? Any other non-Persian recommendations?
I think kalaam polo (rice with cabbage) is more of a homey dish, because I’ve never seen it in a Persian restaurant, but I’d like to try making it! Here in New York, for Persian food I like Ravagh at 11 East 30th Street.
I also just helped open an adorable Persian-style café called Café Nadery which has a menu of light dishes, mostly from The New Persian Kitchen. It’s got a great vibe, and they hold all sorts of cultural events, so I encourage people who want to learn about Persian culture to go check it out. It was a really fun place to be when Iran qualified for the 2014 World Cup soccer games—of course, I was in the kitchen, but I heard lots of screaming when Iran won.
There is a recipe in the book for a Georgian barley stew with lamb you had while in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Is that your variation of kharcho soup?
Yes, this is my version of Georgian kharcho soup. Kharcho is traditionally made with sour plums and rice, but there is a Persian stew made from rhubarb and lamb, known as khoresh rivas, so I kind of combined the two ideas and came up with this. The result is a hearty stew thickened with barley, flavored with allspice and coriander, and finished with a healthy dose of tart lemon juice and fresh green herbs.
turmeric chicken with sumac and lime
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 bone-in chicken thighs
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3/4 cup water
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 juicy limes, halved
Sumac, for garnish
In a small bowl, mix the turmeric with 1 tablespoon salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with the spice mixture, turning to coat both sides.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Brown the chicken well on both sides, about 7 minutes per side. Pour in the water, then add the garlic, stirring it into the water. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and cover. Braise the chicken for 25 minutes, until the inside is opaque. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, turn up the heat to high, and reduce the cooking liquid for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until it’s slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and pour the sauce over the chicken.
Dust the chicken with sumac and pepper, garnish with lime halves, and serve.
Use whole portobello mushrooms in place of the chicken, or use 1 pound firm tofu, well drained and cut into slabs 1 inch thick. You will need a little extra oil for searing than what is called for in the recipe.
Reprinted with permission from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”
Food Photography credit: Sara Remington © 2013