I feel guilty this round of Cook the Books because although I have read this book twice, book readings were several years ago and with a lot of craziness at work and in life, I didn't manage to skim it again. To make matters worse, I couldn't find my copy either, just my copy of the sequel Rosewater and Soda Bread. So not only am I at my usual last minute post, I didn't even have the book for pretty photos.
Here is the cover blurb on the book:
Beneath the holy mountain Croagh Patrick, in damp and lovely County Mayo, sits the small, sheltered village of Ballinacroagh. To the exotic Aminpour sisters, Ireland looks like a much-needed safe haven. It has been seven years since Marjan Aminpour fled Iran with her younger sisters, Bahar and Layla, and she hopes that in Ballinacroagh, a land of “crazed sheep and dizzying roads,” they might finally find a home.
From the kitchen of an old pastry shop on Main Mall, the sisters set about creating a Persian oasis. Soon sensuous wafts of cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron float through the streets–an exotic aroma that announces the opening of the Babylon Café, and a shock to a town that generally subsists on boiled cabbage and Guinness served at the local tavern. And it is an affront to the senses of Ballinacroagh’s uncrowned king, Thomas McGuire. After trying to buy the old pastry shop for years and failing, Thomas is enraged to find it occupied–and by foreigners, no less.
But the mysterious, spicy fragrances work their magic on the townsfolk, and soon, business is booming. Marjan is thrilled with the demand for her red lentil soup, abgusht stew, and rosewater baklava–and with the transformation in her sisters. Young Layla finds first love, and even tense, haunted Bahar seems to be less nervous.
And in the stand-up-comedian-turned-priest Father Fergal Mahoney, the gentle, lonely widow Estelle Delmonico, and the headstrong hairdresser Fiona Athey, the sisters find a merry band of supporters against the close-minded opposition of less welcoming villagers stuck in their ways. But the idyll is soon broken when the past rushes back to threaten the Amnipours once more, and the lives they left behind in revolution-era Iran bleed into the present.
Infused with the textures and scents, trials and triumph,s of two distinct cultures, Pomegranate Soup is an infectious novel of magical realism. This richly detailed story, highlighted with delicious recipes, is a delectable journey into the heart of Persian cooking and Irish living.
I gave the book a four-star rating on Goodreads back in 2011, and remember that I enjoyed the story and the relationship between the sisters, Marjan, Bahar and Layla. I like magical realism, which whether you do or not is definitely going to impact your feelings on the book though the magic is less in this book than in its follow up, Rose Water and Soda Bread. I think it goes well with the exotic ingredients and glimpses of life in Iran and Ireland in the book. There is culture shock for the sisters, as well as for the community of Ballinacroagh, the small Irish town they settle in, Some in the town welcomes them, others shun them, and others don't quite know what to think until they taste the dishes they serve at the Babylon Cafe. There are delicious recipes woven into the chapters of book (why I am so disappointed that I couldn't find my copy) so the overall feeling is like a mix of Like Water For Chocolate and Chocolat, only with the clash of Irish and Iranian culture. I recommend it to foodies who don't mind a touch of magic in their books.
For my bookish dish, I wanted to make some sort of Persian soup or stew that I hadn't made before for the book and I had this recipe that arrived in my email a week or so ago from Epicurious picked because it looked and sounded delicious. Since I had a coworker who was stopping by our retail outlet I had her look for fresh spinach and some potatoes for another dish. She grabbed me a gigantic (2.5 lb) bag of baby spinach and a 5 lb bag of Yukon Gold potatoes & with our discount it came to $11.00, so a deal for fresh groceries here. The recipe calls for frozen spinach but I thought I had a box in my freezer and didn't, and the more popular frozen veggies are hard to find right now and besides, I like fresh spinach more anyway. I had some fresh cilantro and parsley and freeze-dried dill since fresh dill wasn't readily available and so I made about 2/3 worth of the recipe.
Epicurious says, "Home cook Maddi Behzadi taught us how to make this Northern Iranian dish, which traditionally features wild greens. With a texture similar to saag paneer or green shakshuka, her version is made with braised spinach and herbs, and gets a vibrant boost of flavor from lime juice. Unlike shakshuka, the egg yolks are broken and marbled with the whites before they cook on top of the greens until gently set."
Torshi Tareh (Persian Sour Herb Stew With Marbled Eggs)
Slightly Adapted from Mahdis Behzadi via Epicurious.com
2 Tbsp basmati rice, rinsed
- 1 large bunch cilantro
- 1 large bunch dill (I used freeze-dried dill)
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 10 oz frozen chopped spinach (I used fresh spinach)
- 1/4 cup dried cilantro
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 4 limes)
- 6 large eggs or 6 large egg whites
- cooked rice and smoked white fish (for serving; optional)
Combine rice with 3 cups water in a small saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove from heat; set aside.
- Meanwhile, tear cilantro, dill, and parsley (including stems) with your hands. Working in batches if needed, stuff into a food processor and process until finely chopped.
- Combine onion and oil in a cold large high-sided skillet with a lid. Place over medium-high heat and cook, stirring and shaking pan occasionally, until onion is dark brown around the edges, 6–8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic is just barely golden, about 1 minute. Add turmeric and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add herbs and spinach (no need to defrost or drain) and cook, stirring often, until herbs are wilted and spinach is thoroughly defrosted, about 2 minutes. Add dried cilantro, pepper, 21/2 tsp salt, and reserved parcooked rice along with all of the water. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over medium-low heat until flavors come together, about 10 minutes.
- Remove lid and continue to cook spinach mixture until greens are glossy and liquid is almost completely evaporated (dragging a rubber spatula or wooden spoon through the mixture should leave a trail with little to no liquid seeping back in), 6–8 minutes. Stir in lime juice; taste and season with more salt if needed.
- Make 6 divots in mixture and crack an egg into each one (or, if making with egg whites only, separate out egg yolks first and reserve for another use). Working quickly, drag the tip of an offset spatula or butter knife through each egg once or twice to break up the yolks and encourage wisps of egg white to spread throughout the mixture (you want a marbled effect—don’t scramble). Cover pan and simmer until eggs are cooked to your liking, about 3 minutes for jammy. Serve with rice and smoked fish alongside if desired.
If you have cooked rice on hand, you can skip the first step and add ¼ cup cooked rice and 3 cups hot water instead.
Notes/Results: I love everything about this stew--the exotic herby flavor, the acidity, and the touch of lime "sourness" and the jammy eggs and creamy spinach. At first, I thought the smoked fish accompaniment was a little odd but it rounded out the flavors nicely. My friend Barb supplies me with Trader Joe's Smoked Trout regularly, and I am lucky to have a few cans in my pantry. It was it delicious with the spinach and eggs. I also liked the small amount of basmati rice rice mixed into the stew, and more on the side for serving. This stew is much like green shakshuka and I will happily make it again.
Simona will be rounding up the entries for this round shortly on the Cook the Books site as the deadline is Tuesday, March 31st. If you missed this round and like books, food and foodie books, please join us for the April/May selection, hosted by me. We'll be reading Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman. Hope you join us!
Now let's look into the Souper Sundays kitchen this week:
Tina of Squirrel Head Manor shared a Burger and Fries she enjoyed this week, the baked potatoes from a library cookbook and said, "The first recipe I tried was oven baked potatoes. They are almost the same as the way I prepared them and while tasty and crispy, Doug said he liked my old version better. ... Doug grilled burgers while heated fresh corn and made these potatoes. Then we sat outside to escape the hot kitchen as the oven was cranked up to 425 F for 20 minutes. Not like you need to twist our arms to eat outdoors."
Thank you to Tina for joining me this week!
(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...
To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:
- Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up to Souper Sundays in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
On your entry post (on your blog):
- Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and add a link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to this post or my blog on your post, it will be removed.)
- You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (completely optional).
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