I always enjoy reading about Naomi Duguid’s fearless travels all around the world. Her latest book is Taste of Persia: A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan, and I received a review copy. She ventures into areas the casual tourist might not consider and brings back insights about the people, the culture, and the food. Her interactions with people and descriptions of places bring new understanding about areas that aren’t well-traveled by Westerners. For this book, her goal was to highlight the connections of the Persian culinary region that extends across current borders. The similar elements of this cuisine include “richly flavored bean dishes, flatbreads of many kinds, generous use of herbs and greens, plenty of cheese and yogurt, walnuts, inventive soups and stews, savory dishes flavored with pomegranates and/or other fruits, and rice as a beloved staple.” Each chapter presents a type of dish such as salads, soups, stuffed vegetables, fish, meat and poultry, rice and other grains, etc. And, each chapter includes recipes from all the Persian foodways regions. The sauces and spice blends at the beginning of the book piqued my curiosity. The green and red pepper pastes called ajika both sound delicious. As you page through the recipes, you’ll find short anecdotes about where and when Duguid experienced the dishes or how she learned the recipes. Kebabs were expected in the meat and poultry chapter, but it was interesting to find Turkey Kebabs from Azerbaijan. She writes that she had never seen kebabs made with turkey prior to finding them in Azerbaijan, and they’re very popular there. The turkey is marinated in vinegar with grated onion and sumac before being skewered and grilled. I can’t wait to try it. I also got a bit distracted reading about the cookies and sweets. The Apricot-Walnut Pastry is similar to rugalach, but the entire piece of dough is rolled up all at once after being spread with a mixture of walnuts, chopped dried apricots, and cardamom. Pieces are then cut and baked. But first, I tried the Walnut and Bean Pate. It’s made with kidney beans, and I had some in the freezer that I had received from my CSA.
The beans needed to be cooked first, and since mine were fresh, although frozen, they didn’t take long to cook. Next, walnuts were toasted and placed in a food processor along with chopped garlic and the drained beans. I added the olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs and pulsed again. The mixture was transferred to a bowl to serve. I baked some chips from leftover pita to go with the pate.
This is a sturdy spread rather than a more dippable snack like hummus. So, it’s handy to serve this with a spreader. The flavor is surprisingly rich given the simplicity of the recipe. It would be great as a sandwich spread too with some crumbled feta and maybe some pickles. There’s so much more to explore in this book, and as usual, this travel-food book has made me want to plan a trip.
Walnut and Bean Pate
Excerpted from Taste of Persia: A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Gentl & Hyers.
This lobahashu, a dish from the Lori region of Armenia, which borders on southeastern Georgia, blends finely ground walnuts into cooked mashed kidney beans. The result is a creamy, garlicky pate tinted pale pink by the beans. If you can, make it a day or even two days before you wish to serve it (and keep it in the refrigerator). The flavors deepen and blend remarkably over time.
I like spreading this on bread or scooping it up with crackers. Guests love it and can’t get enough of it. Serve as an appetizer or a snack. I also like to put this out as part of a meal, another hit of flavor available on the table.
Makes about 4 cups
2 cups walnuts or walnut pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups cooked kidney beans (see Note)
2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Generous grinding of black pepper
About 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, tarragon, or coriander, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
Place the walnuts in a wide heavy skillet over medium heat and toast them, stirring them frequently so they don’t scorch, until aromatic, about 5 minutes. (The recipe I learned in Armenia did not include this toasting, but it assumed locally grown superb walnuts; the toasting helps bring out the flavor of the nuts.) Let cool for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a food processor and process to a fine texture. Add the garlic and beans and process to a smooth puree. Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that all the beans are incorporated.
Turn the mixture out into a bowl, add the oil, salt, and pepper, and stir thoroughly.
Stir in the herbs.
Serve at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftover pâté in a well-sealed container for up to 5 days (though it is unlikely to last that long).
Note: If you want to use canned beans instead of homemade, drain and rinse the beans, place in a pot with about 1⁄2 cup water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes or so. Check to see that the beans are tender. Let cool to room temperature, in their liquid, before using.
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