I am so excited to finish the Food of Life series with an interview with the author herself Mrs. Batmanglij! It was very exciting to try the three recipes and feature them here on MPK. Enjoy the interview!
My Persian Kitchen Interview – Food of Life, 25th Anniversary Edition
Mrs. Batmanglij thank you so much for being back for an interview on MPK. The current edition of “Food of Life” is simply amazing. What was the inspiration behind this 25th anniversary edition?
When Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies was first published in the early 1980s, my sons were toddlers, and I thought of my book as a love letter to them. Now, as adults, they told me, “Mom, welcome to the 21st century.” And they helped me redesign and restructure Food of Life for today’s cook, and for their generation.
What sets this edition apart from the previous editions?
The 25th Anniversary Edition has 640 pages, 50% more than the previous edition. I have redesigned it so that almost every recipe now has a photo of the finished dish facing the recipe. I have also included step-by-step photos for the preparation of some of the classic dishes. Most recipes now also have a vegetarian option. Overall, the new edition has more photos, more stories (including some of my food memories growing up in Iran), more poetry and more recipes. I have also included quite a few recipes adapted from sixteenth-century Safavid cooking, as well as an overview of the history of cooking in Iran since ancient times.
Are you planning on doing a book tour any time in the future? If yes, could you please share your dates with us?
I had a launch and some book signings in March and April. For now, I am not planning anything further until the autumn. I will let you know when I next plan a tour.
I am often asked about creating vegetarian versions of traditional Persian recipes. I found the “Vegetarian Variation” in this current edition to be brilliant. What inspired you to include the variations?
My oldest son Zal is a vegetarian and I am almost a vegetarian myself, or rather a fishetarian. As you may know, The New York Times selected my Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey (which was first published in hardcover in 2002) as one of the 10 best vegetarian cookbooks of 2007. So I have been working with vegetarian recipes for a while. In that book, I placed Iran in the center of the Silk Road, looking both East and West, and proposed that cuisines of these regions have a great deal more to offer than kebabs. For economic reasons the natural cuisine of many of these ancient countries has been vegetarian for thousands of years—meat is an added luxury. You can still see this influence on Italian cuisine where the meat is often served on its own as a separate course, usually without any vegetables, which are eaten before. To achieve a vegetarian option in Food of Life, I restructured my recipes so that you could simply eliminate the meat step, or replace it with nuts, beans, bulgur, tofu, etc.
Martha Stewart has previously featured Persian recipes in her cookbooks, magazines, and show. It was very exciting to see you on her show. Can you please share your experience on the show with us?
First of all, I enjoyed myself on the Martha Stewart Show. I was glad to be able to present my concept of a Persian dish to a broader audience. I found Martha’s energy to be was very positive. I was particularly energized by her genuine love of Persian food, and I was proud and honored to be invited on her show.
The Baghala Polow, Rice with Fresh Fava Beans and Lamb Shanks that you prepared on Martha’s show had a couple of new elements: mixing saffron with rosewater and pouring the mixture over the rice while it steams. Is this an old technique or your own?
Saffron diluted in rose water or orange blossom water has been practiced in Iranian cooking since ancient times and continues in many parts of Iran today.
What’s your most favorite Persian ingredient to work with?
I love to cook with rose petals, saffron, barberries, and pistachios. I have also been using more turmeric, and more cardamom in my cooking.
I am often asked during interviews, and by those who are just discovering our cuisine, which recipes should they first start with. What would your answer be to the same question?
I recommend that they use Food of Life as a guide, the recipes have been tested and they are easy to follow. I suggest they begin by reading “A Few Tips Before You Start Cooking,” where I talk about using: oil, or butter; salt; the skillet, the pot, and heat; and seasoning to taste before serving. Begin with any of the yogurt dishes (boranis). I recommend “Yogurt, Cucumber and Rose Petal Dip” (Mast-o khiar), served with hot flat bread. In summer, they can add water and ice and turn it into a wonderful cold soup. This is simple, tasty, and has a lot of nutritional value because it has walnuts, rose petals and raisins, and is great for vegetarians. Then I suggest “Pistachio and Pomegranate Meatballs” (Kufteh-ye pesteh) or “Chicken Kabab” (Jujeh kabab). For the rices they can start with “Smothered Rice” (Kateh) and serve it with any of the khoreshes they like, preferably using seasonal ingredients bought from a farmers’ market. Persian cookies are delicious, not difficult to make, and generally nutritious. What’s more, many of them are gluten free.
To become a good cook, you need to be brave, and to keep making recipes of the dishes you like. Keep in mind, practice, practice, practice! Finally, don’t just make recipes but use Food of Life to do as Iranians do: get together to cook, to laugh, to tell jokes and stories, and to recite poetry.
Food of Life series recipes:
Rice with Fresh Fava Beans