- Published on Thursday, 08 November 2012 06:15
- Category: Literature
I was a bit nervous when I was asked to write a review of Ariana Bundy’s cookbook, Pomegranates and Roses. After all, I figured, what could a person whose somehow managed to survive for nearly 35 years without really learning how to cook have to say about another person’s cookbook? A lot actually -- it turns out that Pomegranates and Roses is not just a cookbook, it’s a glimpse into the intimate memoirs of a renowned chef who was trained in the finest French culinary schools. This was a book that would take me on a delicious journey where I would unlock my own “food memories.”
Ariana writes that it “was not until I began writing this book that I felt as though I was finally home.” Her book is a wonderful tapestry, weaving her family’s recipes from Iran with colorful tales of her childhood and passion for cooking.
While I cannot claim any mastery over the culinary arts, I did give a few of Ariana’s recipes a try in preparing a meal for several friends. As I followed Ariana’s meticulous instructions, I marveled at how Ariana’s Mamani (Farsi for Grandmother) prepared for the never-ending stream of her “grand and important functions.” It was all I could do to keep from losing it as I cooked no less than three dishes and one dessert for a very small dinner party. However, despite the pressure of cooking such elaborate dishes for friends I found that I took a certain pleasure in reconnecting with my own roots and spying a glimpse into Ariana’s family traditions.
I began preparing the Khoreshteh Fesenjan (Rich Pomegranate and Walnut Stew with Chicken, page 26), a personal favorite of my husband’s and mine. Determined to make this the best Fesenjan my friends had ever had I drove over to my local Iranian market and picked up the finest, and freshest, ingredients. In her book, Ariana graciously estimated the preparation time for this dish to be approximately an hour-and-a-half—it took me two-and-half, but the result was fantastic. The dish was the perfect marriage of sweet and tart. Mamani would surely have been proud of me, or, at the very least, not completely disappointed.
Alas, some of my other dishes did not turn out quite as well. Unfortunately, the time I spent on the Fesenjan took my attention away from everything else and so my rice, while cooked at the same time with the Fesenjan, turned out a bit too soft and a lot too sticky. As if that weren’t bad enough, the taadiq, or crispy rice that is often prepared with white rice, was more spongy than crispy and, as any self-respecting Iranian will tell you, sticky rice and soft taadiq is sacrilege… but I served it anyway!
The third dish was the Koofteh Sabzi (Meatballs with Rice, Herbs and Plums, page 34). I prepared two kooftehs per guest. The recipe was easier than I had expected and a nice compliment to the Fesenjan.
I closed the meal with Cakeh Mamani (Grandmother’s Yogurt Cake, page 140). I chose this dessert because I had never tasted it and I knew my guests had not either. As I waited for the cake to bake I browsed through the book, and I realized my favorite thing about this cookbook were not the recipes: the stories that accompany each recipe season the pages, turning what would otherwise be another cookbook—albeit an excellent one—into something more… something magical. Whether her stories are about the origin of the recipes passed down for generations in her family, or her grandfather’s boundless philanthropy, Ariana makes you a part of the family by opening up her life in a very honest and warm way.
By eight o’clock all my guests had arrived hungry and eager to taste the fruits of my labor. For my part, I was ready for the most brutally honest critiques of the food I had prepared. Luckily, my friends were hungrier than they were judgmental and did not utter a single negative remark about the food I had prepared with Ariana’s exquisite recipes.
For Ariana, like many other people, many momentous events in her life involved food. For example, her husband knew he had to marry her when she picked out the fish bones from his Sabzi Polo Mahi (Fragrant Herbed Rice with Fried Fish and Seville Oranges, page 176), and when her family fled Iran to come to America, her mother insisted on bringing her American in-laws the finest Iranian caviar. It reminds one of the power of food; the way it smells as it’s being prepared and once it comes to rest on the table, the way it tastes as you take that first morsel into your mouth, the texture as you chew it and explore it with your taste buds, and finally the memories it ultimately creates.
Because Ariana had given me more than mere recipes, we all reminisced about our own precious family recipes and how our own respective grandmothers, mothers, and in some cases, fathers, would add that secret ingredient or prepare a dish in their own unique styles to make not just meals for the family, but indelible gastronomical imprints on our lives that will, I have no doubt, last a lifetime.
So, despite my own harsh critique of the food I prepared using Ariana’s recipes, I have no doubt that you, dear reader, will do a much better job at executing on some of the best recipes in what can only be described as an exceptional cookbook. The recipes in Pomegranates and Roses are easy to follow and Ariana does an exceptional job of explaining to the reader the origins and purpose of certain ingredients that may be unfamiliar. With that said, it’s not just the recipes that make this book special, it’s also the vivid stories that remind one of the power of food to connect and bind us to one another that makes Pomegranates and Roses a must read. In this book, Ariana proves that she is not only a remarkable chef, but perhaps more importantly, also a brilliant narrator.By Sara Bavar, Aslan Media Contributor