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Book review: The Legendary Cuisine of Persia

Book review: The Legendary Cuisine of Persia

The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, by Margaret Shaida (Grub Street, £25)

"Persian cooking is inextricable from the greatest of all the Persian arts: hospitality," writes journalist and author Gregory Lima in the foreword. He's not wrong. And that, along with the downright deliciousness of Persian food, is likely the reason for this book's enduring appeal.

The original edition of The Legendary Cuisine of Persia came out in 1992 and it has remained in print ever since. But this year Margaret Shaida's highly acclaimed cookbook has a new look and fresh photography (by Regula Ysewijn), so its rich culinary history and mouthwatering recipes can whet the appetites of a whole new generation of foodies.

British-born Shaida married an Iranian and went to live in his home country in 1955. In her 25 years there she learned the intricacies of Persian cooking from her mother-in-law as well as other family members and friends.

The book's 300-odd pages are crammed full of recipes. There are countless variations on the Iranian mainstays of fragrant, herby stews, jewelled steamed rice, hearty soups, juicy kebabs and tangy preserves. Throughout, Shaida informs readers of the roots of this delicate and aromatic cuisine, and this really sets The Legendary Cuisine of Persia apart. Shaida spent five years researching the book, and it is as much a historical tome as it is a cookbook.

Chefs who are interested in food history will find it in abundance here. Shaida outlines how major events in the country's past were unable to destroy its food culture, with conquerors often ending up devouring the cuisine and taking it along with them.

Will this help you cook Iranian food? Probably not, but it demonstrates the cuisine's massive influence. These are recipes that were refined and passed on, and while the term 'legendary' can be misused, in this case it is spot on.

By Janie Manzoori-Stamford

If you like this, why not try
Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid
Jewels of Persia: Exotic Dishes from the Ancient Land by Sharon Marie B-Nejad
Saraban: A Chef's Journey Through Persia by Greg Malouf and Lucy Malouf

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