Dinner this week I again turned to Taste of Persia. It was made of three main components chicken, rice and bread. Sounds simple enough but it wasn’t without it’s challenges. There was some scratching of the head and even a bit of harsh language directed at the recipes but in the end it was another total winner. The sweet rice, the tart chicken, and the soft bread with a giant pile of rough chopped herbs makes this a explosion of flavor and texture.
OK, so I am super torn about this cookbook. I mean I love it. The end results are wonderful. The journey getting there is not so wonderful. This cookbook falls victim to an all to common issue: the pictures don’t necessarily represent the actual recipe, the index is a hot mess, and the instructions leave you with more questions than answers. That being said I have to confess I don’t blame the author. I blame the editor. Sure there are some things in the writing that might help get you through a recipe with less frustration but it’s almost always the editor who’s limiting the number of pictures, creating the index, and isn’t having the recipes throughly tested. This is a common problem in the cookbook world.
First with the chicken; how is cutting chicken into bite sized pieces supposed to keep the skin on? How is marinading it in lemon juice only supposed to create a “fried chicken” texture? In the picture they look like full on fried chicken pieces sitting in lovely shallow pool of golden broth. Now, if you’re NOT going for what an American would consider “fried chicken” either rename it or in the into explain how Persian fried chicken differs so I know what I am shooting for. Also the instructions have you “fry” the chicken and then it goes into the broth to cook for 45 minutes. How do you maintain the lovely fry you had on your chicken? In the end I opted to do something closer to a stir-fry to achieve a nice caramelized exterior.
As for the actual broth it was cooked in, the recipe called for 2 medium onions grated. This frustrates me as a home cook to no end. If you shop farmers markets or have your own garden you know onions come in tons of sizes. why not simply add an approximate weight? Next, when you add grated onion to water with chicken you end up with this rather murky slush. Maybe my onions were too big. I don’t know the recipe doesn’t give me guidance. I was expecting this bright yellow clear broth and instead I got something muddied and thick from all the onions. That being said the flavor was amazing!
The black rice wasn’t too bad except it wasn’t black. Again, no problem but this recipe could have really done with a picture of what you were trying to achieve.
Lastly was the worst of this whole dish. The Flatbread… So the recipe for the Kurdish Fried Chicken in Broth lists accompaniments. They were the rice, herb plate, and flatbread. The first two direct you to a page for the recipes… but NOT the flatbread? All it says is Flatbreads. What kind? What page? Do I just pick one? Where are they in the book? So I did what anyone would do. I flipped to the index. I look up flatbread. NOTHING. Wait, what? You’re telling me there isn’t a single flatbread in the book? Hmm, Ok. So I look up bread. OK, progress. There are many breads. I look down the list and there is only one flatbread listed. Kerchief Flatbread from Kurdistan. Why not just put the page number with it or even the full name of the flatbread on the accompaniments list like was done with the rice and herb plate?
I push ahead. It directs me to page 178. Hmm This is just a photo for the introduction to the next section, back to the index. Next was page 191. This was just a story about her travels through that area. Back to the index. Next was pages 240-242. Finally the recipe. OK, I have to admit I was a little frustrated by this point which is never a good place to start.
The recipe is simple enough:
- 4 cups All-purpose Flour
- Scant ½ cup Bran, finely ground
- 1 ½ teaspoons Salt
- About 1 ¾ cups Water, lukewarm
Now, lets talk about the ingredients for a second. I don’t know about you but I don’t think I have ever seen finely ground bran. She does say in the headnote that you can put normal bran in a food processor and blitz it for a finer texture but with only ½ cup it just pushed it to the sides and didn’t do much to it. So I forged ahead.
Combine everything but the water together in the food processor. Then with it running drizzle in the water. Let it come together to for a single mass. So, question… Should I be using the dough blade? I did but there was not direction. Why not just do it in a mixer with a dough hook? Moving on she says to turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use the special kneading technique that was mentioned in the headnote.
I am sure she did her best to write out how to do this but I was getting nowhere with this technique. My dough was super sticky and it never looked “silky smooth” even after kneading for over 10 minutes. I finally decided to call it and let the dough rest for 3 hours! Uh, why 3 hours? There’s no yeast, we aren’t looking for a rise, and it’s supposed to be flatbread… Hmm. But I followed the instruction. She then says to put it in a large plastic bag. She never says to seal it and I don’t tend to have plastic bags on hand… so I leave mine in the bowl and tightly covered with plastic wrap.
The instructions then say to cut the dough in half and then cut each half into 8 pieces. Why not just say 16 equal pieces? Well, of corse being frustrated with this recipe I miss read and only divided by 8 and my bread was turning out WAY to big so I had to turn off the heat under my cast iron skillet and re-divide the dough to a more meaningful size. She also doesn’t exactly address how to keep the dough from drying out as you’re spending a lot of time rolling each one out. At this point I hit my limit. I didn’t get them nearly as thin as I was supposed to and just decided to finish them off like all the other flatbreads and tortillas I make and cooked them in a cast iron pan, cooking on both sides. It ended up being more pita like but the irony was in the end with the meal they were fantastic!
Kurdish Fried Chicken
- 2 ½ pounds Chicken Legs and/or Breasts, bone-in chopped into 1 ½ -2 inch pieces (so I need a cleaver to make this recipe?)
- ¼ cup Lemon Juice
Toss the two together in a medium bowl and cover and set aside for an hour to marinade.
Heat a wide heavy skillet over medium heat with a ¼ inch of oil (Now, here she calls for sunflower oil of EVO. The issue I see is EVO has a very low smoke point and could turn frying chicken into a disaster if not careful. Instead I used grapeseed oil which has a much higher smoke point.) Once the oil is carefully place the chicken pieces in the oil, being sure to reserve the marinade. (Don’t you just mean lemon juice? Why not use fresh lemon juice that doesn’t have raw chicken juice and blood in it?) Oh, and I have to say putting wet chicken (that is wet from lemon juice as well) into hot oil is a recipe for disaster. This is begging for popping, splattering, and violent action from hot oil. Maybe the oil was too hot? But again no oil temperature was indicated. This whole step of frying the chicken is just to give it color and she tells you not to worry about trying to cook it all the way through as it will get cooked in the broth as well.
Next, were supposed to put the fried chicken pieces in a large pot, add the “reserved marinade” and:
- 2 medium Onions, grated (Why grated? This is dangerous and can make your onion pieces mushy. When I do this recipe again I think I am going to either dice or slice thinly.)
- Water to barely cover (uh, how much? If the point is to make broth I would think this would be something that should be specified as well as the size of the pan.)
It then says to bring to a boil and then toss in:
- ½ teaspoon Turmeric
- 1 ¼ teaspoons Ground Cumin
Then lower to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. (Uh, again how am I supposed to know what that is?) Then season with salt and or pepper to adjust the flavor according to your taste.
The final ingredients are:
- ¼ cup of chopped fresh coriander or scallions, or a mixture
This is fine. I enjoy these but then why the herb plate? These items would already be on an herb plate. I don’t understand including it in the recipe as well as calling out an “Herb Plate” as an accompaniment.
Even with all the griping and sass in my write up I have to admit although it wasn’t what I thought I was making according to the pictures and recipes the flavors and textures in the end were fantastic!
Kurdish Black Rice
First you’re instructed to wash the rice thoroughly, in several changes of water. Why not just put he rice in a fine mesh strainer and run water over it until the water runs clear?
- 2 cups Arborio Rice, rinsed and set aside
Then you’re instructed to put the the following ingredients into a bowl, stir together and set aside:
- 4 cups Water
- 5 tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses
Next in a pan we’re to heat the oil and cook the shallots until translucent. (OK, I must confess this instruction in EVERY cookbook frustrates me. What the heck is translucent? I mean I have been cooking long enough to know what I am going for but wow what a bad word for what you’re trying to do. I think I would say something more like soft and aromatic.)
- 3 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 2-3 Shallots, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
The next instruction confuses me. It say to pour the pomegranate molasses water into the pan, raise the heat and bring to a vigorous boil. So let’s talk about this for a second. First the water mixture really needed to be in a vessel with a pour spout not a bowl! The dripping while pouring was a mess. Next why don’t you add the rice first? I have made a lot of risotto and rice for that mater and the liquid never goes in before the rice… Just weird.
After adding the water but BEFORE the rice you are told to add:
- 1 tablespoon Salt
- ¾ cup Walnuts, chopped into small pieces
Finally we’re told to add the rice and bring back to a strong boil, stir, and cook uncovered just until the water level is just at the top of the rice, about 5 minutes. Finally, cover the pot, reduce the temperature to a low simmer and cook for 12 minutes, until the rice is tender. She even calls out that the texture will be like risotto. You are then told to remove the pan from the heat and stir once more. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Then serve from the pan.
Again the flavor and texture I was not sure about but put together with the tart chicken and the brightness of fresh cilantro and parsley it all some how works. To eat you pile it up in torn off pieces of the flatbread and wow what a dish!
I could see so many home cooks give up on this book as a cookbook because of all the questions and confusion but I would encourage anyone who is interested in recipes from this part of the world to stick with it. My biggest advice is to apply your knowledge how things cook to the dish and you’ll probably have better luck. The reason I will keep cooking from this cookbook is that the final dish every time is outstanding. The flavors are unique and for the first time ever in my life I understand who cilantro can be used and liked!