The Legendary Cuisine of Persia by Margaret Shaida (Book Review)

by Sam Bilton on August 18, 2017 No comments

What is the essence of the book?

The Legendary Cuisine of Persia explores one of the oldest and most venerated cuisines known to man. Shaida illustrates how the culinary legacy of Persia has significantly influenced many cultures in Europe and the Far East. The first few chapters provide a backdrop to the recipes which follow by explaining the the heritage of Persia and some of its customs and festivals. The recipe chapters have evocative names like Pickled Pleasures which are far more enticing than titles like Meat or Vegetables. Each recipe chapter is prefaced with an explanation as to its significance to the cuisine. So the reader learns that far from being a staple food, rice is considered to be a luxurious dish and is primarily eaten for special occasions. All in all it makes for a deliciously fascinating read.

About the author

Shaida was actually born in England but moved to Iran with her Iranian husband in 1955 where she lived for over 25 years. Her mother in law and friends taught her how to cook Persian food and fuelled her passion for this cuisine. She died in 2008.

Who will like it?

If you like food with a Middle Eastern vibe (think Ottolenghi or Honey & Co) and don’t mind a bit of cultural history thrown in to boot, then you’re onto a winner here.

Who won’t like it?

Your meat and two veg aficionados who perhaps are not fans of ‘spicy’ food (although in my experience this usually means chilli rather than spices per se) or rice.

What do I like about the book?

“An Iranian kitchen is interlaced with proverbs, old wives tales, miracle cures and ancient wisdoms. It is filled with exotic aromas and crowded with cultural recollections of festivals and ceremonies. Its memory goes back more than three thousand years. Its cures inspire a healing faith, its aromas excite a healthy appetite and its traditions arouse a national pride. It is, in short, the heart and soul of an ancient and a remarkable nation.”

Frankly, I was hooked when I read this paragraph. For someone who studies historical recipes I love the fact you can trace the origins of some Roman and Medieval dishes back to Persia. I also appreciate any book that teaches me something new and this has opened up a different and hugely interesting cuisine to me. Regula Ysewijn’s photography also makes the book all the more attractive.

Is there anything I’m not so keen on?

Some of the ingredients may not be so easy to get hold of, e.g. dried limes. It just means a bit of forward planning before you embark on a recipe (there are plenty of recipes in here though for which the ingredients can be sourced from a super market).

Would I cook from it?

Absolutely! I may even use it as the basis for a supper club in the future.

Where can you buy it?

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

Sam BiltonThe Legendary Cuisine of Persia by Margaret Shaida (Book Review)

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