Reshte Polo is like a bouquet of flowers with beautiful shape, amazing taste and high quality of healthiness.
Last night, while the intoxicating aroma from the Armenian Rice Pilaf that T had prepared was wafting through the house, we stepped outside to grill beautiful little chicken legs from the Portuguese butcher not far from here. As we admired the stunning chartreuse colour on the second leafing of our Honey Locust and chatted idly about nothing in particular, we leafed through Najmieh K. Batmanglij’s wonderful cookbook, “A Taste of Persia” that I had just got out of the library again.
We kept seeing the word “advieh*”. We knew it was a spice mixture. But could we find out what the spice mixture was?
A reference or teaching book is only as good as its index.
– Julia Child, The Way to Cook, p.vii
I looked at the Table of Contents to see if there was a special chapter on Persian flavours. No. Then I looked under A for “advieh” and S for “spice” in the index. Nothing.
This is the one disadvantage of reading an actual book. Nothing happens when you press your finger on a word on the page; a search box doesn’t pop up.
Finally, we gave up trying to find what goes into advieh, and I raced upstairs to the computer to google. Ha! No problem. There it is right away, with zillions of hits for various recipes.
When I returned to the garden, armed with the scrawled list of ingredients, and books on herbs and flavourings from our shelves, T looked triumphant.
he: [waving the open book in the air] I found it!
me: You’re kidding. Where?!
he: Under “P” for “Persian Spice Mix”
Skimming through the likely cookbooks on our shelves, in A Culinary Guide to Herbs, Spices and Flavourings by Arabella Boxer, the only mention of Persia is in the recipe for “Persian Stuffed Apples” (no advieh or rose petals mentioned there) .
There is nothing at all about advieh or Persia in Cooking in Colour: Cooking with Herbs and Spices (general editor: Rosemary Jones), and exactly the same result in The New Food Lover’s Companion, 4th Edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst…. Surprisingly, there is no mention of any special Persian spice mix in Flatbreads and Flavors by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford
But it turns out that advieh is mentioned frequently in both Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid and A Taste of Persia by Najmieh K. Batmanglij.
In Taste of Persia, near the beginning of the book, there is a separate page for “advieh”, along with a recipe. It is also listed in the index, but not where one would expect to see it: It is not under “A” for “Advieh”. Instead, it is listed under “P” for “Persian Spice Mix (advieh)”, and under “S” for “spices”.
Duguid calls for cassia (cinnamon), cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, and dried rose petals. Surprisingly, she suggests that the rose petals are optional!
In A Taste of Persia, “advieh*” appears several times in the ingredients lists (I didn’t actually count with the book, but according to the “look inside” search on Amazon, it appears 20 times). Amazingly, the word “advieh” does not appear anywhere in the index, in spite of the fact that several other Persian words are prominently listed there.
Advieh is also not immediately obvious in the Dictionary of Persian Cooking at the back of Batmanglij’s book; it is not listed under “A” or “S”, but only under “P” for “Persian Spice Mix”. In her recipe for advieh, she calls for just four ingredients to be ground together: rose petals, cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin.
Flavorings in Persian dishes are a subtle blend. […] [Y]ou may want to experiment with this one. It’s an aromatic combination that enlivens soups and stew with warm flavors and that will give you an idea of the flavors of the Persian kithen. Try it in a bean dish, or use it as a rub for a roast.
– Naomi Duguid, ‘Persian Spice Blend – Advieh’, Flavors and Condiments | Taste of Persia, p29
The spice mix called for in Persian recipes is sold at Persian groceries, but it is easy to make at home.
– Najmieh K. Batmanglij, ‘Persian Spice Mix (Advieh) | Dictionary of Persian Cooking’, A Taste of Persia, p166
Of course, last night’s chicken on the barbecue already had a spice rub on it: a coffee spice rub that T had concocted yesterday afternoon. But next time we grill chicken on the barbecue, we want to try using advieh!!
After all, we have dried rose petals that we got on one of our journeys to Super Tehran, an amazing supermarket in the far north of the city. (Remind me to rave about the eggplant dish that went with charcoal-grilled kebabs we had there when we went there in search of flat skewers. And don’t let me forget to talk about the thrill of taking the subway with 6 sword-like objects….)
The chicken was getting close to being ready, so I went inside to stir-fry onions, garlic, and Swiss chard. Beautiful red Swiss chard picked that afternoon from our garden!
At the last minute, just before serving the pilaf, we remembered the optional topping of barberries suggested at The Persian Pot | Reshteh Polow (Rice with Noodles). Yay!!
We garnished the plates with thyme, arugula flowers, nasturtium, and parsley – all from our garden. And once again, we dined like Shah and Shahbanu.
We are truly blessed!
To Add Images, or Not to Add Images
We have been reading Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee and remarked on the following at the opening of chapter one:
You will quickly notice that the recipes in this book ar not accompanied by photos. This was done on purpose. I want you, the reader, to trust your instincts and cook the way I know you are capable of. Having a recipe published with an accompanying photo is a pretty modern invention. We have been following recipes without photos for centuries. When we don’t know what the end result is supposed to look like, the imagination is allowed to roam free and we come up with our own conclusions. Pictures are excellent guides, and can give you a goal to aspire to, but they can also have a negative effect. If you make a dish and it doesn’t look exactly like the photo, you might feel a sense of failure. I don’t want that.
– Edward Lee, ‘A Note About the Recipes’, Buttermilk Graffiti, Chapter 1
Lee is right. In such a short time, we have become so reliant on images! To the extent that we would rather not take any time to read any text. We just want to look at pretty picture after pretty picture.
So. If you really need to look at a picture here, please scroll down to look at the cover of Najmieh Batmanglij’s book….
I just realized that I have pretty much only complained about Batmanglij’s cookbook. This is rather unfair of me, because the photographs and recipes are superb, with clear and concise instructions.
Having said that, I do wish that there were recipes included for Persian breads such as nan-e barbari, nan-e sangak, and nan-e lavash mentioned and described, along with the fact that they are “sold at Persian groceries and supermarkets”, in the Dictionary of Persian Cooking at the end of the book.
We love her recipe for Barberry rice and can’t wait to make at least one khoresh – probably more. But Yogurt Khoresh Khoresh-e mast on page 130 sounds incredible! No, wait! Just look at the recipe for Pomegranate Khoresh Khoresh-e fesenjan on page 125. We neeeeeed to try that!
Not all the khoresh recipes include a photo, but there IS a stunningly beautiful photo of Pomegranate Khoresh at the beginning of the Khoreshes chapter. (How can you go wrong with photos of pomegranate??) But even more compelling is the beautifully written two page introduction to khoreshes.
Few dishes are so evocative of the Persian love of fragrance as the delicate braise known as khoresh. The one I remember most from my childhood is Qormeh sabzi (fresh herb khoresh, page 118). Its preparation would begin early in the morning when, while picking up barbari bread for breakfast, we would visit the market to bu the fresh herbs: parsley, chives, coriander, and most important because of the scent, fenugreek. Then all the women of the house would gather around a table with a large copper basin and tray on it. They they chatted companionably while they cleaned and washed the herbs […] My mother […] would stand over a large oak chopping board, seize a handful of each herb in hone hand and with a large cleaver and a rhythmic, fast, even, slanting stroke, set to work. I can see and smell and hear it still: the various greens of the herbs, the sharp steel of the cleaver with droplets of herb juice on it, the lovely aroma, the faraway, trancelike concentration on my mother’s angelic face, her strong body adorned with a turquoise necklace […] the even, quick blows of the cleaver. […] All the morning the stew would simmer, perfuming our house until lunchtime. I recall those days every time I visit people who are making this dish […]: The haunting scent greets us in the elevator and drifts up long corridors, drawing us to friends’ doors.
– Najmieh K Batmanglij, Khoreshes, A Taste of Persia, p116
Traditionally this recipe is made with duck: The affinity between pomegranate and duck goes back to ancient times in Persia. Fourth-century Persian manuals describe the domestication of the male duck, fed on hemp seeds and the butter of olives. The finest meal possible was one of these ducks served in a pomegranate sauce.
– Najmieh Batmanglij, Khoreshes | Pomegranate Khoresh Khoresh-e fesenjan, A Taste of Persia, p125
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