Friday, April 20, 2007

Cooking, Laughing, and Crying with Birthday Gifts

I want to share two wonderful cookbooks I received for my birthday and eid (new year) last month. My mom gave them to me, knowing that I never buy cookbooks for myself. Thanks, mom!

The first one is a book that Daiku and I have had our eyes on for a while, "Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey" by Najmieh Batmanglij. If you, like me, read cookbooks not just for recipes, but also for the story that they tell, this book is for you. Illustrated with hundreds of sumptuous photos (of people and places as well as food), this book follows the author on a journey on the ancient silk road, starting in Italy and ending in China. I have learned so much about the shared culinary heritage of the various countries on the silk road- Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, the list goes on and on. I don't know why the author decided to focus on vegetarian cuisine (her other books are not vegetarian), but I'm thankful and intrigued that she did! I will definitely be cooking and posting from this book frequently. Batmanglij, who is Iranian, has included many Iranian recipes, which will help me greatly in my "vegan Iranian" project- stay tuned!

Next up, another book on vegetarian cooking from a well-known author, "World Vegetarian" by Madhur Jaffrey. I know many of you are already familiar with this book, I myself have been wanting it for a long time. Like "Silk Road Cooking" this book offers diverse recipes from a vast number of different countries and regions. Jaffrey recounts a meeting with a woman who asked her, "What do vegetarians eat? A lot of steamed broccoli, I guess." and says that she spent years writing this book to prove that woman wrong. And I am glad she did!

We have cooked several recipes from this book so far:

coriander, cumin, salt, turmeric, and cayenne for...

Punjabi Style Cauliflower with Potatoes and Ginger (Aloo Gobi.) This recipe helped take us out of our Indian cooking rut (who knew that authentic Aloo Gobi doesn't have onions or garlic? Not me!) and was delicious, even though we used frozen cilantro instead of fresh. I might have increased the spices a bit, as this was a milder dish than I'm used to, but the flavors played well together.

Spicy cole slaw with mustard seeds. I knew I loved this book as soon as I saw the sheer number of different cole slaw recipes- I can't wait to try them all! As you might know, cole slaw, in all its manifestations and variations, is among my all-time favorite things to eat. This was a nice counter-balance to the hot and hearty aloo gobi.

Cauliflower and okra fritters in a chickpea flour batter. We don't often deep-fry (I have a pathological fear of oil splatters. But did you know that properly done, deep fried foods can have LESS fat than sauteed or shallow fried foods?) but these were delicious. As you can see, we put them in our coffee filters to soak up some of the oil and get that great street food look!

We replaced the egg whites in the batter with flax egg replacer and it worked just fine.

Close-up of a fritter dipped in a spicy ketchup/sriracha combo.

I can't wait to cook more from both of these books!

Here are two non-food related gifts I got for my birthday:

From my friend and grad. school comrade, Nicole, who knows that my writing has me drowning in a certain genre of 20th century art... These are Surreal post-its, or "Surreal-its". The picture of Salvador
Dalí alone made me laugh out loud. I love imagining that whatever I stick these on will be surreal-ized. Thanks for the thoughtful gift, Nicole!

image courtesy of

Another book I have wanted for a while is "So What", a selection of poems from Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali. He writes about the experience of exile, one's uncanny relationship with home, and the longing to return to something that may no longer exist. Even though his poems have frequent glimmers of hope, I often respond to the sad tone of nostalgia and pessimism in his words. This book has Ali's poems in Arabic as well as their English translations.

Here's a one of my favorite poems from the book:


Our traces have all been erased,
our impressions swept away--
and all the remains
have been effaced...
there isn't a single sign
left to guide us
or show us a thing.
The age has grown old,
the days long,
and I, if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk
that was here before,
dozing like Arabian jasmine,
shimmering like the gleam of dawn,
pulsing like a star--
I, if not for that lock of camphor,
would not feel a thing
linking me
to this land.

by Taha Muhammad Ali



Vincent Guihan said...

What a great post. The food is lovely and those post-its are crazy! Are you working on Dali in particular or surrealism in general? Whenever I think of Dali, I think of Walter Benjamin's Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (just because Dali is some commonly reproduced).

scottishvegan said...

How cool to get all these books that you have been wanting! I am dying to go buy some cookbooks but I’m really trying to cut down on clutter so I think I will need to go to the library instead! The aloo gobi and coleslaw look yum, but I love the look of the fritters! Especially in their little coffee filter “bags”! I don’t like to deep fry either…I am scared that I will burn the house down!

Judy said...

Looks like you got some really great books. I too can read cookbooks like a normal book, which mystifies a lot of people. I have heard a lot about Madhur Jaffrey's books, and I have to admit, I always assumed it was a man (to an anglophone, Madhur is neither feminine nor masculine). I was very surprised by the picture you posted, to see that it is indeed a woman. Hey, you learn something new every day, eh?

Okra Mary said...

That is a beautiful poem...I'm going to have to check out more of his writings.

Also...I absolutely love Aloo's the first thing I hit at the Indian lunch buffet!

aTxVegn said...

You got great cookbooks! I love to read them too - cover to cover. I would use those post-its to bookmark all the recipes I wanted to make. The Aloo Gobi, slaw, and fritters look so good. I could Indian food every day!

laura jesser said...

Gosh, that poem took my breath away... I have a passion for deeply moving poetry like that, and I am sure that I would love that book. I only wish I could read it in its original language.

And wow, those two cookbooks sounds fabulous. I agree, I love cookbooks that have stories intertwined--human history and food are so deeply connected. Now you have gotten me interested in the Jaffrey book--I never knew aloo gobi should not have onions! And those okra fritters look just incredible, even if a bit on the naughty side. Bazu, this might be my favorite post you have ever done!

springsandwells said...

Wow! What fun. I've heard good things about that Silk Road cookbook... and you KNOW I'm excited for more vegan Iranian ideas!

It's so funny that you made the Aloo Gobi, because that is the first recipe I made when I got that cookbook! I really like that book a lot. So many flavors, ideas, stories... Over the years I've healthified that aloo gobi recipe, by steaming (rather than frying) the cauliflower, replacing the potatoes with a can of chickpeas, and adding fresh tomato and cilantro at the end. It's very good! I love the seasoning and spices in that recipe.

Also, guess what? Once, when he was in the United States, Salvador Dali asked Musty's mom out for a date. But she declined. Probably a smart move!

love Amey

KleoPatra said...

Great stuff, Bazu. Taha's poem is gorgeous - never have seen the word "camphor" in a poem before. Dali is so OUT THERE!! Very different. What a cool post. Your cookbooks look wonderful. i'll be anxious to read more about what you're makin' from them! The stuff you show now looks really good. i'm particularly drawn to the cauliflower and okra fritters! (Esp. after being dipped. Yummy!) i had NO idea that deep fried foods can actually have less fat than the other ways for using oil to cook. Such good info (again), Bazu!!

Emmie said...

What a beautiful poem.

The food looks great too btw ;)
I want to get Madhur Jaffreys book now!

Kati said...

It looks like you got so many wonderful gifts for your birthday. I too like to read cookbooks as if they were "actual" books - and all the better if they really have stories intertwined with recipes. I would love to try those cauliflower fritters - they look awesome! Beautiful poem, too.

Kati said...

P.S. I went to the Dali museum when I was in Spain (almost nine years ago now, geez) - I think you'd love it if you've never been. =)

islandgirlshell said...

always enjoy your posts! what amazing gifts! and the pictures of the food are great. i am also a reader of cookbooks not just for the recipes. i recently borrowed Jaffrey's book from the library just long enough to (a) discover that I need to own it and (b) to make the Spanakorizo (delish!) Silk Road may be next on my library list.

Kate said...

I love reading cook books that read like regular books. Great food too.

Neva Vegan said...

What a beautiful poem. I'll have to look for him.

Mmmmm Chick pea fritters... Mmmmmmm.

I have the world vegetarian one and even though it's not vegan I use it all the time. I find that for the breads soy milk and margarine sub nicely (which they don't in all recipes). So yum.

I'm putting together a wish list so I'll have to put the silk road book on it, along with some others. I really don't have many great cookbooks.

Happy Birthday!

Emmy said...

Those are two awesome cookbooks your mom got you. What great gifts :) I'm drooling over the Aloo Gobi. It looks super yummy. And once again...we're on the same wave-length...I've been on an Indian food bender lately. I seriously wish I had some of those fritters....I love okra and cauliflower. Yum!

The "sureeal-its" are terrific!

Carrie™ said...

Well a happy belated birthday!! I'm so far behind (AGAIN) on commenting. I'm working all kinds of crazy shifts and have had a lot going on outside of work so I'm finding that I barely have time to keep up with my own blog.
I'm liking your cookbooks and what you made from the one. I've been eyeing Madhur Jaffrey's book for a while and have only heard good things about it. The Silk Road book sounds very intriguing as well.
The Post-It notes are a riot and the poem is a beautiful way to finish this post.

Mihl said...

Happy belated birthday! I loved to read your post. Madhur Jaffrey's book is fabulous. I was eyeing the book for a long time because I loved the way it was organized and there where so many interesting recipes in it. But it was also very expensive. One day I said so what and bought it. Best decision ever!

Susan said...

Oh my! Cauliflower and okra fritters sound like perfection! You're right about the frying. Jacques Pepin always says that proper deep-frying creates a sealant around the food preventing a lot of the oil from being absorbed. Thanks for all the cookbook suggestions!

Urban Vegan said...

Happy, happy B'day my friend!

How sweet of your mom to give you those cookbooks--the first one sounds amazing--I'll have to look it up (I, too, love stories behind the food.) I have Madhur Jaffrey's book and use it all the time--it's a real treasure, as you have already discovered for yourself. It's also fun simply as a read.

That poem is so lovely and yet so sad. But I am not sure I agree with him: countries aren't defined by borders, but rather by the people who occupy them. And they remain. They have not been erased.

Omni LOL-ed at the Surrealist post its (as did I)...And Bossa Nova is looking forward to signing up for your film class.

Theresa said...

I have a fear of oil splatters as well, made all the worse by the fact that Andy never wears a shirt in the house.

Sounds like your mom kicks ass--two veg cookbooks for your birthday!

Too Fond of Books said...

Happy Birthday! I definitely want both of those cookbooks. I have a gift card to Barnes & Noble and I think I know what I will be buying. I love the poetry. Thank you so much for sharing!

Candi said...

Lucky you with those books! I, too, read the cookbooks cover to cover as if they are a novel! :) I love them. I don't have the ones you listed... yet. Lol! :) I
d love to add them to my collection, especially after seeing what you've made! Wow! Looking great!! I love how fresh it all looks too, especially the cole slaw and all the different versions of it there must be in that book! :)

What a pretty poem. You've got some great friends to send you gifts like that! :)

Happy belated birthday. :)

Village Vegan said...

Those look like lovely birthday books. I always get cookbooks for my bday too-- it's fun, isn't it? And I love the way you took pictures of your spices...looking at them I can almost imagine I'm in Morocco or something. I'm also looking forward to your vegan iranian food project. I love middle eastern food, and while a lot of it is easily veganizable, it seems to me that a lot of it is also heavily based on using lots of meat and oil, so I'll be interested to see what recipes you post!

runswithdog said...

Thanks for the beautiful and haunting poem.

The fritters look absolutely delish. I am not a fan of okra but I just might have to try those :-)

Jackie said...

"Ambergris" is a wonderful poem. I bought myself ambergris set in a Middle Eastern style heavy silver setting when I went to Dubai a few years ago.

I envy you those wonderful cookbooks. I love cook books like that, especially Silk Road cooking and I can just imagine how wonderful all the recipes are.

vko said...

Oh what great birthday gifts! That Aloo Gobi & the fritters look especially yummy.

Thank you for sharing that poem- it's so beautiful.

Linda said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Carol said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mykgerard said...

I love the books we have from Mrs Batmanglij (hey, if your name has the word Batman in it, you can't help but be cool). The silk road book is just awesome. I am a vegan and have many Persian friends. I would attempt more persian recipes but often you have to start a lot of them 1-2 days before. I think thats why most persian resturaunts focus on the easier stuff like Kabob. I wish I had seen her demonstration at a conference in IL that I was working at a few years ago.. Oh well, I missed it.. I'm going to bookmark your blog (I typed vegan persian into google..hehe.. cool site!.)