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Silk Road: A Vegetarian Journey

by: Najmieh Batmanglij

Washington D.C.: Mage Publishers 2002, $50.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-934211-63-9

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(1) page(s): 21

The one hundred fifty recipes are an exploration of one type of cookery, vegetarian, that originated on the silk road, from Xian in China to Samarkand, Isfahan, and Istanbul in Uzbekistan, Iran, and Turkey, respectively. The pictures are a visual understanding of the peoples and places and their fine salads, soups, eggs, rice, fruits and vegetables, bakery items, and their pickled foods along with their teas and coffees and desserts. The fly-leaf calls them the author's personal favorites. We consider them a taste of the simple and exotic vegetarian fare folks could enjoy along the way.

The author is Iranian, well-educated, an authority on Persian cookery, and a teacher of master classes on silk road cookery. She begins with almost fifty pages of background about the cultures and cuisines along this ancient trade route. Recipes are from these countries touched by trade along this famous road of early diversity.

The unifying themes of rice, flat breads, noodles, and dumplings permeate culinary harmony along the way and they speak to what probably was a large measure of hospitality that warranted delights as folk welcomed travelers meandering from place to place carrying not only silk and other goods but also foods and tales of their terrific tastes.

The initial background makes this book a valuable introduction to the caravans and their cargo, and the introductions of foods east to west and west to east. The author correctly states that few cultures were as food-oriented as China's, few maintained such an encyclopedic knowledge of their plants partly for medicinal reasons, and few as enthusiastic about culinary imports; at least during those times.

Many of the recipes provide an added bonus, they begin with long discussions about food origins, describe tales and tastes, and explore food and places in history. They are as wonderful as is the introduction, and as tasty as are the recipes. These cookery items are cleverly adapted and rich in mixed heritages as were the people and places they represent along the way. We recommend them even without any discussion of major meat consumed along the way. Maybe that will be the topic of her next book, which we would certainly welcome.
Eight Jewel Coconut Rice Pudding
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped out or half-teaspoon vanilla extract
1 lime, zest only
1 teaspoon candied orange peel
1 teaspoon candied lotus seeds
1 and 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon butter or oil
2 fresh mangoes, peeled and chopped
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix eggs, milk, sugar, scrapped pieces of the vanilla bean, lime zest, both candied fruits, coconut milk, and salt in one bowl and the rice flour and baking powder in another.
3. Fold the rice flour mixture into the egg mixture.
4. Rub the butter generously around four six-ounce ramekins leaving over a quarter of a teaspoon. Place them into a large flat pan and pour boiling water around them, and then pour the egg-flour mixture into each of these four containers.
5. Grease a sheet of aluminum foil with the remaining butter and use it to cover the ramekins before baking them for thirty minutes. Then test them to see if a knife comes out clean, if not, bake another five minutes or so, then test again, and when it does, remove them from the oven.
6. Loosen the sides of each ramekin and then allow them to cool. You can serve them as is with the chopped mango on the side or invert them onto a serving dish and surround them with the mango.
Xian-style Eggplant and Pomegranate
6 long thin eggplants
3 Tablespoons corn oil
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large tomato, peeled and sliced
3 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon of a mixture of cumin seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds, and/or mustard seeds, optional
1. Cut eggplant into one-inch cubes.
2. Heat oil and fry the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Then add the eggplant and fry an additional tem minutes before adding the tomato, pomegranate molasses, salt, sugar, pepper, and mint. Reduce heat and simmer this for ten minutes. If using the optional seeds, stir them in when adding the tomato mixture.
3. Add the sesame oil, and stir well. Serve hot or cold.

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