I never tire of talking about food, whether the topic be chanterelles or smoked goat butter or pork belly, and I love to hear about what others are eating and cooking. This past weekend I moderated a discussion at the Abu Dhabi Book Fair entitled “Food for Thought: Writing About Eating,” featuring Sally Butcher and Ariana Bundy, and we talked about rice and family and culinary school and kitchens, among other things.
The two women have new books out – Bundy’s is titled “Pomegranates and Roses, My Persian Family Recipes, and Butcher’s offering is “Veggiestan, A Vegetable Lover’s Tour of the Middle East.” Both are good additions to my library, and if you like cookbooks that are more than merely collections of recipes, these two are for you.
(Iran is something these two chefs and writers have in common, as Bundy was born in Iran – she now divides her time between Dubai and Paris – and Butcher is married to an Iranian and lives in London, where she owns and operates Persepolis. She is also the author of “Persia in Peckham: Recipes from Persepolis.”)
Persian cuisine is not on the radar screens of most people in the West; most everyone is familiar with tortellini and gumbo and chorizo, but how many of you have enjoyed Adass Polo Ba Koofteh Ghelgheli? (For the record, it is meatballs with lentiled rice, sticky dates and raisins, and I will be making it this coming weekend, from a recipe in “Pomegranates and Roses.”)
Both Bundy and Butcher bring passion and energy to their tables, and it was evident during our discussion that their families have played important roles in their development as cooks and writers. Their latest books are full of touching and wonderful stories about mothers and fathers and aunts and mothers-in-law, and remind us again that one of the best ways to broaden one’s culinary experience is to get in a kitchen with an aunt or grandmother (or uncle or grandfather) and cook.
To close, I’ll include a fun recipe from “Veggiestan,” one that you might want to save for a Friday or Saturday night:
Figs and Halloumi
Possibly one for dinner à deux, this – it is incredibly sensual and exotic. Figs are a known aphrodisiac, as is ginger …
To serve, you will need: an old CD of Fairuz or Googoosh
For the dressing: 3 tablespoons olive oil; small knob fresh ginger, peeled and minced;
1.5 tablespoons raspberry vinegar; 1 teaspoon honey; black pepper and a pinch of salt
For the stacks: 6 slices halloumi; 6 fresh figs, halved; 1/3 cup raw shelled pistachios
To assemble: 1 small bag rocket [arugula] leaves; 1/3 cup raw pistachios; 1 candle
Put the CD in your sound system and hit play. Whisk the dressing together. Heat the grill. Check your lipstick/tie in the mirror. Grill the halloumi on both sides until golden, and the figs for a couple of minutes with the cut side uppermost. Take two plates and pile a handful of rocket [arugula] on each, followed by a piece of halloumi, a piece of fig, etc. They won’t exactly stack, but you can layer them like toppled dominos. Sprinkle the pistachios on top. Give the dressing another quick beating, and trickle it over the halloumi. Light the candle. Oh my.