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Pari's cuisine
Interview with the author of The Joy of Persian Cooking

Tara Taghizadeh
August 24, 2004

There are few dining tables in the world that are as decorative, elegant and tasty as those prepared by Iranians. With an impressive background boasting a rich cultural tradition of thousands-year-old recipes and dishes that have been passed around from generation to generation, Iranians not only have mastered the art of cuisine supreme, but also that of entertaining and dazzling guests with multiple and generous portions of their large variety of delicious foods.

An Iranian table is a true feast for the eyes, and now, as more and more Iranian immigrants populate the West, Persian cuisine is quickly establishing itself as an important and popular addition to the Western palate as Westerners frequent the large number of Persian restaurants or gain knowledge of the wonderful traditions of this cuisine through their Iranian friends.

A number of Persian cookbooks currently are available for those who are interested in mastering the art of Persian cooking, but the best by far is written and compiled by Mrs. Pari Ardalan Malek in The Joy of Persian Cooking. Dubbing itself as “Persian-American cuisine,” the book cleverly combines the best of both worlds, offering recipes that combine the most elaborate Persian dishes coupled with bits and pieces of American and international dishes.

Mrs. Malek’s vast interest and knowledge of excellent Persian cuisine dates back to her childhood when she became fascinated with cooking while watching her mother prepare delicacies in the kitchen. I remember as a child that when Mr. Malek had been appointed as Ambassador to Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, and my own father was also serving an assignment at the embassy in Stockholm, that we always looked forward to dining at the Embassy Residence, where the luncheons and dinners were a true feast for the eyes - the menus always prepared under the expert direction of Mrs. Malek.

Offering more than 200 pages of elaborate recipes, The Joy of Persian Cooking details elaborate yet simple directions as to how to prepare, step by step, a slew of appetizers, soups, meats, poultry, the traditional Persian rice, vegetable dishes, desserts, and a large variety of accompanying condiments. The recipes are written in such a manner that even novices who are interested in learning all about Persian cooking and have no prior experience can easily follow the simple directions, and prepare an elaborate Persian feast in no time.

From Piroshkis to cutlets to Kabab to the a vast section of Khoraks (meat and chicken stews) to Kookoo to pasta dishes and a huge array of Persian and American sweets, the book offers such a variety that should please any palate, and serves as a one-stop must-have cookbook which can be used for any cook’s everyday needs.

In addition to the excellent recipes that Mrs. Malek has collected and perfected throughout her cooking years, she also offers a number of special home recipes offered by friends and relatives who have also contributed their own personal specialized recipes to the book.

In a fascinating preface, Mrs. Malek also offers a personal history of her history of cooking, her own professional life (including stints at the United Nations and the U.S. Aid Program to Iran), and that of Mr. Malek’s illustrious career as an esteemed Ambassador and former Chief of Protocol of the Imperial Court.

The Foreword also details a brief history of Iran itself and the native cooking, and explains the transformation of Persian cooking into an acknowledged and widely recognized international cuisine as a result of immigration migrations in recent years. In an additional section, the book also lists all the famous celebrations and ceremonies in Persian tradition which are marked by special feasts, such as Nowruz (Persian New Year), Chahar-Shanbeh-Soori, and wedding ceremonies.

The Joy of Persian Cooking is truly a joy in that it serves as a unique, very well-written and fascinating book which not only pleases any cook’s essential needs, but also teaches an important lesson about the glories of Persian cooking and the history and traditions steeped in this fascinating culture. This is a must-have addition for any cook, Iranian or American, or international, expert or novice, who is interested in having a complete reference to which to refer for their everyday cooking needs.

Interview with the author, Pari Ardalan Malek.

How long did you plan and research the book?

It actually took me six years. This is something that I have wanted to do all my life, so I had been collecting recipes all my life, but to choose and revise them again took six years.

How important of a role do you believe that food and cooking play in Persian society?

I think that food and cooking play a very important role. Like Fridays which are the only day in Iran which you find families gathered around the dining table, or all the other various holidays and ceremonies, there is always food involved.

Are there any particular foods that are favorites of yours?

The Iranian foods that are my favorites are Shirin Polo, Albaloo Polo, the various Khoreshts that we have such as Fessenjan and Ghormeh Sabzi, Ash Jo is one of my absolute favorites, cutlet, Dolmeh Barg Moh, and the various Kookoos (frittatas).

Your book has been very successful and popular. In addition to Iranians, are Americans also purchasing your book?

I have sold the majority of my books to Iranians, but for example, when I went to my college reunion, a lot of my classmates also bought copies of the book. My publisher has also sold a lot of copies to bookstores. Most of my customers have been Iranian, but I have sold a number of copies to Americans as well. The book is a collection of recipes that I have gathered throughout my life as a diplomat’s wife, so they reflect all regions of the world and all the recipes I have gathered from friends as a result of my travels.

Do you think that Persian cuisine will always enjoy a popular place in Western culture and that the second and third generations of Iranians will carry on the tradition?

I don’t think that Persian cooking is ever going to be forgotten by young Iranians because as I look around me, all the friends that I have, their children have bought my book and they’re all cooking. Everywhere that I go where the hostess is young, I see that they have served at least one Iranian dish - particularly the traditional rice; be it white rice or rice served with vegetables or meat or chicken - which is always on the table.

I also know that Americans love our food, since every time that I go to a Kabab place, everybody is always American or some other nationality, so I believe that Persian food is definitely here to stay.

To order a copy of The Joy of Persian Cooking, please call 703-790-1928.

Tara Taghizadeh is a Washington D.C.-based writer and editor.

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