newpekMany, many years ago, when I lived in California with my first husband, we would often go to a Persian restaurant located in Palo Alto. The food was simply outstanding, and the atmosphere perfect.  A quiet place, beautifully decorated, and with a menu full of dishes that sounded magical to us, two Brazilians with no experience in that type of food.   We would usually ask the waiter to pick something for us. One day he served us a braised lamb over rice with fava beans that completely awed our taste buds.  I remember the fresh dill sprinkled all over it. And I also remember that I hated fava beans, but would gladly spend each day of my life enjoying that rice.  Persian cooking can perform miracles.  In those days, I had no way of knowing that the man I would marry many years later was also under the spell of Persian food.  Phil had a friend from Iran who often invited him for dinner and prepared tahdig, best described as “rice with a crust”.  Like my lamb dish with fava beans, that rice stayed forever in Phil’s memory as one of the best things he’s ever had!  With all that in mind, when I read this review on Louisa Shafia’s book it took me 95 seconds to order it.


(reprinted with permission from Louisa Shafia – The New Persian Kitchen)

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
2 pounds skinless chicken legs or breasts
2 teaspoons salt, plus more, to taste
2 yellow onions, finely diced
1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground
½ cup pomegranate molasses
2 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
1 cup peeled and grated red beets
Pomegranate seeds and fresh mint leaves for garnish

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and add oil. Lightly season chicken with salt and sear until well browned, 6-7 minutes per side, then transfer to a plate.

In the same skillet, sauté onions over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Add walnuts, pomegranate molasses and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir to coat the onions. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and return chicken to stew. Cover and cook 25 minutes.

Stir in beets and cook, uncovered, until stew is thick and beets are tender, 15-20 minutes. Adjust salt to taste.  Pull out chicken pieces with tongs and cut into halves or thirds, if you like. Put a few pieces of chicken on each plate, along with plenty of sauce. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and mint.


to print the recipe, click here

composite-001It was not easy to choose a recipe to highlight this great cookbook. You’d think I would pick either that magical lamb or a tahdig from our past, but I could not find fava beans, and tahdig is a bit intimidating for a first timer.  Indeed, according to Louisa herself, tahdig is the type of dish that requires practice. Your first won’t be your best. So, I opted for this amazing chicken concoction. Once you make it, you’ll realize why it is usually reserved for special occasions.  The intensity of flavors is hard to describe – it is sweet, sour, the walnuts give it body and texture, and the beets offer the most gorgeous color ever!   Don’t even think about omitting the beets, by the way. First, you won’t detect their taste. Second, remember that Persian cooking perform miracles…  😉  I could not find fresh pomegranate seeds to sprinkle on top, but the dish was festive enough without it.

bookcoverTo order, click here

A little review of Louisa Shafia’s book.  Some cookbooks capture you from the moment you open the first page.  I started reading it late at night, and could not put it down for a couple of hours.  Louisa starts the book answering the simple question “What exactly is Persian food?” – and from there she takes the readers through a beautiful journey that covers not only its exotic flavors (sour cherries, rose petals, pomegranate molasses, dried limes, sumac, tamarind) but also the history of a fascinating region of the world and how it influenced the gastronomy of other places.  You will learn a lot more than cooking through Louisa’s words. Even Persian poetry will be there for you…

Reading her book, I learned the correct way to deal with saffron (so now I am on a quest to find a small mortar made of brass ;-)), and also opened my horizons to using dried mint. Louisa states that dried mint in many instances is better than the fresh herb, and recommends searching for Egyptian mint. I followed her advice, and she is right, it delivers great flavor.

The book has 80 recipes, divided in courses.  I will list a couple of recipes I found particularly tempting from each course just to give you an idea of what to expect.

Starters and Snacks:  Winter Squash Fritters with Rose Petals & Turkish Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Dip

Soups: Saffron Corn Soup & Oat and Mushroom Soup (her description of this soup made me dream…)

Salads: Shaved Celery Root and Pomegranate Salad & Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds

Vegetable and Egg Entrees:  Herb Frittata with Walnuts and Rose Petals  & Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers (click here for Louisa’s own blog post about it)

Meat and Fish Entrees: Grilled Shrimp with Lime Powder and Parsley-Olive Oil Sauce & Turmeric Chicken with Sumac and Lime (both of these dishes plus Fesenjan were my final contenders to cook for this post)

Main Dish Stews and Casseroles:  Fesenjan (the featured recipe) & Persian Gulf-Style Spicy Tamarind Fish Stew

Rice and Grains:  Jeweled Brown Basmati Rice and Quinoa (hard to resist this one…) & Rice with Favas and Dill (the rice of my past…)  Several of her rice recipes can be turned into tahdig, and she does a great job advertising this spectacular take on rice.

Sweets: Rhubarb and Rose Water Sorbet with Rice Noodles (I simply HAVE to try this at some point) & Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamon and Coffee.

Beverages: Salty Mint Yogurt Soda & Watermelon, Mint, and Cider Vinegar Tonic

Pickles and Preserves: Fig Mustard (wow!) & Sour Cherry and Rose Preserves

You probably noticed that Louisa is one of those chefs who is in top shape, and that definitely influences her cooking style.  She always offers variations that make a classic dish lighter and better for you. If you are particularly interested in cooking with whole grains and healthy oils and sweeteners, this book covers it all. Her chapter on ingredients closes with a wonderful list of grains and gluten-free flours and tips on how to cook with them.  Can you tell I love her book?

Louisa, thank you for allowing me to publish a recipe from “The New Persian Kitchen”. I intend to cook a lot from it, and that includes tahdig…  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Quinoa Salad with Roasted Beets

TWO YEARS AGO: Pasta Puttanesca

THREE YEARS AGO: Miche Point-a-Calliere


    • Rita, I lived in Mountain View from 1986 to 1989, but then went back to the Bay Area just to visit and while I lived there, I don’t think that market existed. When we go back I will make a point to go there, sounds like a great place! Thanks for the head’s up.


  1. I remember not so long ago reading how most people chose twixt French, Italian and Chinese as to the ‘best’ food in the world: wrong said the authority – choose twixt Persian and the tastes which came out of the deserts of Africa and we now so enjoy in Moroccan and Tunisian cooking for instance. . . this sounds appetizing, especially with our winter coming on, so as soon as I find pomegranate molasses it shall be tried and the book researched . . . !


    • I actually believe this to be true – the Persian cuisine has so much to offer, in combinations that stretch the boundaries of what goes with what. Plus, they work the spices in ways more subtle than the Indian cuisine.


  2. Sally: I need a huge spoon to put as much as possible of this stew in my plate and a fork to dig in it. It looks TERRIFIC!!! I love Persian food and I might know that restaurant in Palo Alto since I lived nearby many years ago. If it the restaurant that I am thinking of, the food is great.


    • Denise, I tried very hard to remember the name of the place, but no clue… It was part of our routine, but we often referred to it as “Let’s go to the Persian place” 😉


  3. This looks really appetising! I’m another person who’s going to be on the hunt for pomegranate molasses – My local supermarket tends to have a pretty limited range of stuff so it may be a mail order job.


  4. Sally, you captured the essence of Persian food. It is magical, fairy tale food, with the most unlikely combinations that do, miraculously, come together. Thanks for the kind words about my book, I’m so happy to read that it’s bringing alive for you the world of Persian food. By the way, I taught a class the other night and used a Japanese mortar and pestle, aka suribachi, like this one to grind saffron, and it worked beautifully: bit.ly/1840tnM. Noosh-e jan (bon appétit)! -Louisa


    • THanks so much for stopping by, glad you enjoyed the post!

      I have way too many cookbooks, and keep buying them, but only the ones that “awe” me get to be reviewed here. So there you go, I really really love you book! 😉

      thanks for the tip on the mortar – I found ONE source for a nice looking brass mortar and pestle from Morocco, but they are out of stock. The lady informed me that the shipping charges are HUGE because they are so heavy. I might just get the Japanese kind you mentioned. I actually had one, but gave it to a friend before our move. (sigh)

      once more, thanks for giving me permission to publish your recipe!


  5. I have to get me some pomegranate molasses!! The color of this stew is exquisite Sally and I have no trouble imagining why it reserved for special occasions. You now have me very intrigued about this book (and Persian miracles ;-)).


    • You are absolutely right – the color of this stew was something out of the ordinary! No photoshop to change the color was used, just a little contrast and sharpness, nothing else. It was JUST like that, the beets are all it takes to bring that burgundy/wine tint.

      Persian miracles – that would be a nice name for a blog, wouldn’t you agree? 😉


  6. What an odd coincidence! Just prior to coming here, I subscribed to the blog of young Iranian woman who’s currently living in Ireland. As I subscribed, I thought that it would be nice to become more familiar with Persian food. Not even 5 minutes later, I come here to find your entry is all about Persian food. I’m flattered that you not only read my mind but that you took so little time to answer my want. Thank you so much, Sally. Would you mind using your next post to give me winning lotto numbers? 🙂


    • Well, I guess you found out the secret: the mixture of Persian magic with Brazilian aura is explosive, and one of the consequences is reading the mind of those who produce masterpieces in Italian cooking in the comfort of their homes… there you go.

      The lotto winning numbers might be a bit of a stretch, but I’ll do my best.


  7. There’s a persian restaurant near where I live that is AMAZING. I actually had this dish once before I stopped eating meat and it was quite delicious…love that pomegranate/walnut combo and I’m going to have to find a way to vegetarianize it!


    • Joanne, Louisa offers many variations of recipes in her book, and Fesenjan has its own veggie take. Substitute two 8 ounce packages of tempeh for the chicken. and sear in 3 tablespoons of oil for 3 to 4 minutes per side. Cook the onions in oil instead of chicken fat, and dice the tempeh before serving.

      Hope you make it! 😉


  8. Great review – I had Persian friends in London and they cooked the most fabulous food and I remember that rice tahdig very well. I always used to cook my rice that way for many years and then I stopped for some reason. Time to start again I think. They used many dried herbs in their chicken dishes and I have a vivid memory of being brought food by them in hospital following a car accident. They arrived with a food flask full of their best chicken stew and it brought tears to my eyes. I will look out for this book !


    • I did not know you were involved in a car accident! Well, glad it’s a thing of the past, and that you are also under the spell of Persian cooking… do get the book, you won’t be disappointed!


  9. I’m looking forward to cooking Persian recipes soon. I’ve been itching to take our blog to the Middle East again. So you really can’t taste the beets? I’m definitely going to have to try this then. 🙂


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