Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories
Sometimes a cookbook author is an unofficial ambassador for good food and culture. With heartwarming stories and tantalizing recipes, Naz Deravian is our guide to all things Persian. Persian food and flavors are de-mystified in this beautiful book.
Deravian allows us a peek into her life with stories of her wedding day, the first time her father prepared a bowl of Koresh or the traditional Iranian farewell of splashing water on departing travelers. Her stories are wrapped around recipes resembling the tidy Dolmeh or grape leaf packages. Much like an ambassador, Deravian welcomes us into her world where each bite is savored and every sip soothes the body and soul.
Bottom of the Pot is a clever combination of warm family stories and exotic recipes. We travel from Iran by the way of Italy and Canada and finally end up in the United States, and throughout our journey we keep our eyes (and nose) on the unmistakable aroma of chelo or Persian steamed rice.
The title of the book refers to the Persian love of rice, especially the preparation of tahdig with its heady golden, crispy rice, potatoes or bread encrusted at the bottom of the pot. As Deravian describes it, “Tah translates to “bottom” and dig means “pot.” Keep in mind, tahdig-making is not a science but an art form. “There’s nothing more delectable than everyone gathering around one pot, digging in with a wooden spoon and scraping out the crispy grains.”
Like a good book, the story begins with a Prologue or the Journey Home and ends with an Epilogue or Until We Meet Again. In between we are introduced to a variety of intriguing Persian foods and many, many stories. For Deravian, cooking is a form of meditation and the perfect moment arrives when your taste buds tell you to use more of something. This is the hala khosh mazash kon moment or “now make it delicious” moment. This is when your innermost cooking instincts kick in and you add a little something to bring a dish to life, to give it that mouth-watering character.
We enter the world of Persian cooking and learn all about the Persian Palate. Persian food is fresh and lively with the pucker-inducing taste of limes, lemons, yogurt and pomegranate molasses. Bunches of fresh green herbs like mint, fenugreek, cilantro, and parsley are essential in all Persian foods. And then there are the spices, the touch of warm saffron, the sweet fragrance of rose petals, and the secret of salt.
Recipes such as Zeytoon Parvardeh (Pomegranate Marinated Olives), Kashki Bademjan (Eggplant Dip with Kashk or fermented yogurt) and Sour Cherry and Feta Crostini are featured in the Mazeh or appetizer section of the cookbook. Now that your taste buds have come alive after an appetizer or two, get ready to dive in the comforting Aash or Soups recipes. A simmering pot of aash and a container of yogurt are always part of the Persian table, ready to restore order and balance to the body and the world at large.
Aash is a thick, rich stew and the recipes showcase tomatoes, fruit, barley, lentils, butternut squash and even a magical Wish Soup where a wish is stirred into the soup in hopes it will come true. So sit down and enjoy a bowl of aash, swirled with creamy yogurt or fried onion-garlic-mint, and hope your wish comes true.
Not in the mood for soup? How about some Persian rice or other grains? The most famous and delicious Tahdig rice recipe is revealed here with beautiful photographs and detailed directions. If your recipe doesn’t turn out as gorgeous as the one pictured, Deravian, says, “even though Iranians hold very strong feelings about what traditional Persian food should taste like, smell like and look like, the spirit of Persian cooking itself is quite forgiving.”
Persian cooking is a cacophony of flavors, all bursting into a beautiful symphony in your mouth and nowhere is it more evident than in a bowl of koresh or Iranian stew. Koresh is considered the soul of Iranian cooking with complex layers of spice and flavor. There are plenty of stew recipes to tempt all kinds of palates from the Spicy Tamarind Fish and Herb Stew, the Vegetarian Apple Carrot Stew to the Sour Chicken Stew.
The Naan or bread section offers some comforting options such as Oven-Baked Pirashki or stuffed bread. But the Kookoo or Iranian Frittatas and Egg Dishes are a truly warming blend of creamy eggs with fresh herbs, potatoes or tomatoes. Scrambled eggs with dried mint and yogurt may seem like an odd combination but the resulting breakfast dish is delightful paired with Barbari Bread and a cup of black tea.
Be sure to try a recipe or two from the Meat, Fish & Vegetables section of the book. Learn how to stuff an eggplant or roll grape leaves in the Stuffed & Rolled part of the book. Rolling grape leaves or making Dolmeh Barg requires patience and is the perfect group activity.
Persian cooking relies on age-old traditions, including one of keeping the body in balance by using the right amount of hot/warming foods with cold/cooling foods. So with this in mind, many Iranians drink various fruit juices and sharbats or concentrated syrups. The sharbat is usually a mix of fragrant flower and fruit essences, brightened with something sour and sweetened with honey or sugar. Along with a cooling sharbat, guests are always welcomed with a cup of Persian chai. Rose and Lime Sharbat, Persian Chai and Turkish Coffee are some of the recipes in this section of the cookbook.
A piece of Baghlava Cake or slice of Persian Halva or some Poached Quince is the perfect ending to a spicy meal. Find these and more in the Sweets portion of the book.
In the end, this is a cookbook and so there is an appendix and sources for Iranian ingredients that will be particularly useful to the home cook wanting to try something new.