I was visiting an Iranian friend recently, when my eye caught the light hitting the red-foiled, calligraphic title of the newly-released cookbook, Pomegranates and Roses, by Ariana Bundy. The title alone conjures the essence of Persian cuisine.
First introduced to all things Persian by falling in love with a first generation Iranian man (whose family relies on the scarce Persian restaurant in our area, in hopes of enjoying a meal that reminds them of their homeland), I threw myself into preparing practically every Persian recipe I could find, attempting to win the hearts of his father and uncle. And with such few Persian cookbooks on the market, I depended on obscure examples online and even borrowing ingredients and cooking tips from the one Persian restaurant in my area. Most Americans, even chefs in New York, outside of Great Neck, are only familiar with kabobs and pollo (Persian rice).
When I came across Ariana’s Pomegrantes and Roses, within a few hours I had read the book cover to cover. Gleaning new ideas for food presentation, and preparing a menu from her accessible recipes for the next family get-together. Her tips for finding or substituting certain ingredients, as well as the choice in the right pan to use, sets her instructions apart from most ethnic cookbooks that assume the reader is well trained from childhood, by a grandmother.
Being late summer in New York, I moved through the Union Square Greenmarket buying everything I needed for her recipe of Koreshteh Ab Ghooreh O Bademjoon, for my main dish. Finding deep-colored aubergines and sun-ripened tomatoes, cinnamon sticks and Iranian saffron. Beginning the evening with Booraniyeh Laboo (Persian: Beet in Yogurt), alongside Bundy’s classic recipe for Salad e Shirazi (Persian: Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion salad sprinkled with mint) and Noon Panir o Sabzi Khordan, (Persian: Bread Cheese and Greens).
No Iranian meal is complete without Polo Ba Tahdeeg, perfect fluffy rice with a golden crust. (I thought my saffron rice was on par, until I tried Ariana’s rice cooking tips.)
The meal turned out incdredibly well, and everyone was impressed! (Hopefully, they weren’t taaroffing with me?!)
I am being coerced into attempting her Noon Khameyi, a Chantilly whipped cream filled choux bun, next.
Her Doogh recipe was a breeze, and Mast O Khiar a summer treat.
Initially I was merely only seduced by the well-placed antique silver spoon on the front cover with the Damascus rose-colored spine.
Who says a book cannot be judged by its cover?
Ariana, from the start introduces the reader to the concept of Unani, one that all Iranians are familiar with from birth, a system of “garmi va sardi” (Persian: hot and cold) which relates to one’s body type rather than temperature.
Ariana’s first ingredient is the pomegranate, a fruit cultivated in Iran over 4000 years ago. She recalls a childhood memory of gently rolling the fruit on the table, expressing the necessity of serving Jelleye Anar (Persian: Pomegranate Jello) in martini glasses and quoting a 13th century Persian poet.
Her props, collected and styled by her mother, set the stage for lush imager throughout her book: She has perfectly paired memory, her own as well as family recollections and recipes, alongside vintage photographs.
This book will appeal to the Middle Eastern cook, the novice chef and non-Iranians in love with Persian cuisine, like myself. Her recipes, while maintaining tradition, include accessible ingredients with easy to prepare instructions. Pomegranates and Roses is a must have, more than a cookbook, it is a touching memoir and an homage to a time- honored, exquisite cuisine. Thanks to Ariana Bundy for contributing her lexicon of family recipes and filling a well needed culinary void.
Food connects people, and chef Ariana Bundy has created a poetic conduit into a rich cultural heritage.