Herb stew sounds like one of those "recipes" I'd come up with as a kid poking around in the garden for kitchen experiments. After all, in western cuisine, fresh herbs are usually added at the end of cooking for a burst of greenery and bright flavor. But according to Lousia Shafia, author of The New Persian Kitchen, herb filled stews are some of the most famous in Iran. Her version is a lighter, vegetarian take on the green stew, filled with cubes of turmeric-laced tofu and fat red kidney beans. But the bulk of the stew is, indeed, chopped parsley, cilantro, and scallions (bulked up with a bit of spinach); and the mixture is surprisingly delicious. The grassy greens cook down and mellow, turning into a fragrant, earthy melange excellent atop fluffy rice or stuffed into a pita.
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For a totally different take on the basic roasted chicken thigh, enter Louisa Shafia's Turmeric Chicken with Sumac and Lime from The New Persian Kitchen. This super-simple braised dish is bright, tangy, and brilliantly yellow—it's a far cry from most muddled braised chicken dishes and even further from the typical roasted bird.
Jeweled rice is a magnificent dish. Adorned with dried fruit, toasted nuts, rose petals, and pomegranate seeds, it is a panoply of flavors and colors. In Lousia Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen, the jeweled rice is made even more compelling with a combination of grains included. The mixture of quinoa and brown basmati rice adds an earthy complexity to the dish that counters the sweet and rich flavors from the toppings.
It took me a long time to come around to the prickly artichoke. For the longest time, this vegetable seemed like too much work for too little food--there's peeling, scraping, poking, and snipping involved in most preparations. But in the last few years, I've come to appreciate the slow process as well as the slight grassy sweetness of the heart and the meditative undertaking of eating the flesh off the tiny leaves. Louisa Shafia's stuffed artichokes recipe in The New Persian Kitchen adds another couple layers of greatness to the humble artichoke. To the center she adds a subtly fragrant and fluffy ricotta, egg, and saffron filling that puffs and browns over a long slow roasting time. Drizzled atop is a brilliant mixture of lemon juice, dried mint, and grape seed oil that permeates the delicate leaves a reduced sauce in the pan perfect for greedy dipping and slurping.
Eggplants and tomatoes are far from culinary strangers. Whether baked gently in a ratatouille or simmered in a rich pasta sauce a la Norma, these friendly nightshades blend seamlessly in many cuisines. This super garlicky eggplant and tomato dip in Louisa Shafia's cookbook The New Persian Kitchen is no exception. Adding a new layer of complexity, however, is the inclusion of a couple of eggs, which thicken and bulk up what would otherwise be a glorified tomato sauce. The eggs transform the vegetables into a spread equally at home on a crudite platter, in a pita sandwich, or dolloped atop a warm bowl of rice.