Silk Road Cooking

Herb Basket

I see exciting culinary travels ahead in my kitchen. Dear friends Joe and Suzy sent a cookbook for my birthday entitled Silk Road Cooking, by Najmieh Batmanglij. It is a gorgeous book, full of wonderful photographs and stories of the author’s Iranian childhood and travels along the Silk Road over the last 25 years. I love the way she weaves together the history of ingredients, people, and recipes…and that the subtitle is A Vegetarian Journey. She reminds us that cooking is sharing, and is a joyful communal activity. It seems to me perfect that her travels from Xian in China through Samarkand, Isfahan, and Istanbul ended on the shores of Southern Italy. So, I too feel connected to the cultures of the Silk Road…to people celebrating vegetables and keeping alive a legacy of “tasty, inexpensive, and cheerful food.”

Of course, I wanted to cook something from this book right away. The very first recipe in the book–“Caspian Olives with Pomegranate and Angelica”–fit perfectly into my celebration dinner menu. The only problem was that I couldn’t go to the store, so everything had to come from the garden or pantry. No problem! I had the 1 cup toasted walnuts and 5 peeled garlic cloves. Instead of a whole cup fresh mint leaves (my mint is still tiny), I used 1/2 cup mint and 1/2 cup parsley. There’s no cilantro in my garden yet, but I have wonderful sorrel, so in went a cup of tart sorrel leaves. I had the 1 Tbs fresh oregano, 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, and a fresh jalapeno pepper. No angelica powder, so I used 1/4 tsp crushed fennel seed. I didn’t have the 1 lb. green olives–I only had about 1/4 lb.–so I added 2 Tbs capers to the mix. The most important lacking ingredient was one cup fresh pomegranate juice. I had fresh cranberries (which are sour but not quite as bright as pomegranate), so I used about 4 Tbs cranberries, 1 tsp honey, the juice of one small orange, and the juice of 1/2 lime.

Tapenade

All of this went into the food processor with about 6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. I pushed the pulse button to make a chunky paste. It was fabulous! Very herby, but not so strong that the other flavors didn’t get their chance. I felt that it could have traveled on the Silk Road. I have named it “Silk Road Tapenade”.

We ate the tapenade with bread and crackers. Najmieh suggests combining it with chunks of avocado for a salad. Maybe with watercress and sections of orange? I can’t wait to try the recipe again with cilantro, and someday sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

I made cranberry sauce from the rest of the fresh cranberries. I cooked them in fresh orange juice and added the zest and a couple of Tbs orange marmalade for sweetening. Then, in the spirit of the Silk Road, I chopped some fresh mint and sprinkled it in. That was perfect.

Cranberry Sauce

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5 thoughts on “Silk Road Cooking

  1. Louise – I love how you take a recipe and show how it can be changed around and still come out tasting great – so many folks are afraid of going down that road and it is good to see an instructor give that sort of information – thank you,
    Mary (Suzy D’s friend)

    • Good question! I wouldn’t know myself, except our daughter Naomi is an herbalist, and now there are all kinds of wonderful herbs in my garden, including two thriving angelica plants. Angelica Archangelica, or Archangelica officianalis is a member of the parsley family (Umbellifera) and is believed to be a native of Syria. It has spread and naturalized in many cool, European climates, I read in my Modern Herbal, by Maud Grieve. It prefers moist, cool soil near water. The whole plant is aromatic, and all parts are used both medicinally and in cooking. The stems and seeds are used for flavoring and preparation of liqueurs and confections, the leaves and roots are brewed for teas and bitters, and the powdered seeds aid digestion. The odor is described and “strong and fragrant, and the taste at first sweetish and afterwards warm and aromatic, bitterish and somewhat musky.” The flavor of Angelica suggests that of Juniper berries, Grieve writes. It’s an important medicinal herb in both Persian and European herbal traditions, defending against the evil eye, as well as many other ailments.
      Angelica grows 4 to 6 feet high on stout, hollow stems. The leaves are bright green and serrated, somewhat like giant celery leaves. A beautiful garden plant!

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