Iranian Cuisine: Background information when reading The Stationery Shop

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The Stationery Shop

A Novel

by Marjan Kamali

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali X
The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2020, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Iranian Cuisine

This article relates to The Stationery Shop

Print Review

In Marjan Kamali's novel The Stationery Shop, Iranian food plays a central role, whether a simple melon smoothie drink, hot tea sweetened with rock sugar candy (nabat), or a more complicated feast for Persian New Year. Traditional cuisine from Iran, also known as Persia, is a mélange of many cultures partly due to a vibrant trading history, situated along the ancient Silk Road.

TahdigMost Iranian meals include rice. In the novel, Roya uses basmati rice to prepare crunchy rice called tahdig. To accompany the rice, a popular choice is gormeh sabzi, which is a stew simmered with lamb and beans, liberally seasoned with coriander, parsley, scallions, and other herbs. Dried limes add a sour flavor. Roya goes to a special market in the San Francisco Bay Area to buy dried limes, but those without access might find them via mail order or else experiment with fresh limes.

Jeweled RiceRice offers much versatility. With a multicolored and vibrant presentation, jeweled rice (javaher polow) is often served to sweeten a special occasion. Ingredients include dried fruits, pistachios, almonds, and candied citrus peel. Another wedding favorite, sholeh zard combines rice, rosewater, saffron, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, and almond into a sweet pudding.

Dolma is a savory favorite, comprised of rice mixed with parsley, mint, and garlic (meat optional). The mixture is rolled up inside marinated grape leaves to create appetizer-sized treats. Because dolma is popular throughout the Middle East, it's often possible to find them ready-made (or in tins) at specialty delicatessens anywhere in the world.

The pomegranate is native to Iran and figures prominently in recipes, whether as a fresh fruit, juice, paste, or colorful flavoring in stews. One example from Roya's childhood is khoresh fesenjan, a pomegranate and walnut stew that usually includes chicken and is served with rice.

Half-SeenIran's New Year, Nowruz, occurs at the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and is now celebrated worldwide. The celebration includes days of preparation, house cleaning, family visits, work holidays, fireworks, and—of course—a feast. Each family's Nowruz table includes haftseen objects to symbolize new beginnings, seven items whose names start with the letter S (seen according to the Persian alphabet). First appearing in the twentieth century, the haftseen table is a relatively recent addition to the celebration, a folksy tradition with indeterminate origins. Typical items include apples (seeb), sumac berries (somaq), garlic (seer), and sprouted wheat or lentils (sabzeh).

KebabIranian cuisine can be relatively easy to prepare. One of the best known dishes is the kebab, skewered meat on a stick. Chunks of lamb, beef, or chicken—or sometimes ground meat—is mixed or marinated with herbs, then skewered and grilled. Seasoning varies based on taste and the cook's whim, but often consists of saffron, garlic, fenugreek, cumin, and cardamom. Since kebabs are popular throughout the Middle East, the dish has dozens of variations and lends itself well to experimentation. For those who'd like to experiment with Iranian treats, many recipes lend themselves to readily available substitutions and adaptations. A simple appetizer board can be created with some basics: cucumber, pomegranate, melon slices, flatbread, eggplant or bean dip, and imagination. Try calendula flower petals as a colorful garnish if saffron is out of reach, and don't forget the advieh, a fragrant blend of spices and herbs which often includes turmeric, pepper, nutmeg and crushed rose petals.

Photo of tahdig, courtesy of Food Network

Photo of jeweled rice, courtesy of The Kitchn

Photo of haftseen table, courtesy of Firoozg [creator:Safoura_Zoroofchi] [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Photo of kebab, courtesy of Cooking Classy

Filed under Music and the Arts

Article by Karen Lewis

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Stationery Shop. It originally ran in August 2019 and has been updated for the February 2020 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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