Favorite Cookbooks: Louisa Shafia

Favorite Cookbooks: Louisa Shafia

I'm excited to share a new cookbook list today. This one is from the lovely and talented Louisa Shafia. Louisa and I share a publisher, and although she (primarily) lives in Brooklyn, she and I also share a common interest in natural ingredients, farmers' markets, and beautiful food. She wrote The New Persian Kitchen. You'll love it. I'll likely share my favorite soup from it sometime in the coming weeks (and will be back later this week with a new recipe post), but in the meantime, Louisa has kindly agreed to share a bit about some of the cookbooks that have a special place in her kitchen.

LOUISA'S COOKING STYLE (in her own words):

My guiding principle in the kitchen is "food is medicine," and from there anything goes. I like to purchase whatever fresh produce catches my eye, and then make it into something tasty and beautiful with the help of olive oil, spices, whole grains, legumes, and once in a while some fish or meat.

I trace my cooking style back to the way I ate growing up. My mom was a devotee of Julia Child, and the legendary New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne. But when she got together with my dad, my mom had to temper her love of cream, butter, foie gras, and all things French with the eating habits of a cardiologist from Iran, whose idea of a great meal was grilled fish, rice and beans, salad, and a dessert of fresh fruit. This meant that our family rarely ate fried food, dairy products (except yogurt), white bread, red meat, or processed sugar, but we did have lots of beans, whole grains, fish, nuts, fruits, herbs, and vegetables.

Within these parameters, my mom consistently made healthy food that was delicious and exciting, borrowing flavors from such diverse cuisines as Chinese, Thai, Persian, Mexican, Russian, and yes, even French. I try to do the same, whether I'm making homemade ramen, tempeh kebabs, farro risotto, or something as simple as a caramel-sweet yam baked in its jacket.

After spending the last two years researching Iranian food, my go-to seasonings are Persian ingredients like turmeric, dill, dried mint, and sumac. I've also been influenced by the Persian philosophy of eating, which is about balancing the diet between "hot" and "cold" foods. For example, beets, barley, yogurt, and oranges make the body feel cold, while mushrooms, chickpeas, and apples boost internal heat. As with Indian Ayurvedic cooking and traditional Chinese medicine, the belief is that you can heal sickness by adjusting your intake of hot, cold, and neutral foods. In a classic Persian meal, there is harmony between the elements that make up a dish, so a hot food like lamb kebab is served with cooling accompaniments like yogurt and rice.

The idea of cooking for health still has a ways to go in this country before being embraced on a grand scale, but it's the throughline that inspires me to keep exploring food and creating new recipes.

LOUISA'S FAVORITE COOKBOOKS:

Along with eating out in restaurants, cookbooks are one of my main sources of inspiration. Here are some of the cookbooks that I turn to most often, some of which are creased and oil-spattered with years of use, and some that are still crisp and new.

- The Millennium Cookbook & Jerusalem: Of the eight recipes that I've tried so far from this book, each one turned out perfectly, and to me that means a lot. These dishes have beautiful and exotic flavor combinations, such as barberries with dill, eggplant with pomegranate, and guava with plums. The book invites the reader into the colorful city of Jerusalem, with poetic essays about daily life along and vibrant photos of people and recipes.

- The Newlywed Cookbook: This book is full of modern takes on classic dishes, with a mix of recipes that run the gamut from healthy to downright decadent. What's more, the recipes are foolproof. I can thumb through and find a new recipe and prepare it for guests the same night, without having to "practice" it beforehand. Some of my favorite recipes include Baked Risotto with Roasted Vegetables, Seared Halibut with Coriander and Carrots, and Thousand-Layer Chocolate Chip Cookies.

- The Legendary Cuisine of Persia: A classic resource on Iranian cuisine written by the British food historian Margaret Shaida, this deeply researched book tells the story of Iran's founding, and explains the basis of the country's 3,000-year-old cooking traditions. Much more than simply a cookbook, it explains the ritual and spiritual roles of food in Iran, and gives readers a background on Iranian culture and hospitality.

- Canal House Cooks Every Day: A treasury of great flavor combinations and valuable cooking techniques. From pesto to pickles to pie, these two veteran cooks show you how to make superb, original versions of just about any dish that you might want to make--sort of a sophisticated, modern incarnation of The Joy of Cooking. The book has a striking aesthetic that includes poetry, illustrations, and images of nature as well as gorgeous recipe photos.

*****

Many thanks for taking the time to share with us Louisa! xoxo -h

For those of you who are interested in keeping up with Louisa's life and work, you can find her at Lucid Food, or attend one of her classes, dinners, or events.

Lead photo by Linnea Covington, courtesy of The Gentle Kitchen..

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