A Choice collection of Hindoostanee Dishes: Manuscript Review

By Julia Scott

two-manuscripts3Translated into English and entitled, ‘A Choice collection of Hindoostanee Dishes’, this fantastic manuscript is undoubtedly a treasure from the past. Written by Hoosein Allee Khaun in 1826, the first half of the book is written in Persian, and the second half is the original recipes translated to english. Each half is comprised of seven recipes, which is then divided into seven chapters; a first chapter of 16 recipes of ‘rice pilau’ followed by a second chapter containing 6 ‘sweet pilau’ recipes. Chapter 3 is titled ‘curries’ with 12 recipes; followed by a chapter on ‘sweet deserts’ with 7 recipes. Chapter 5 named ‘breads’ with 11 recipes, followed by a chapter containing 7 recipes on ‘halva’ . The last two chapters contain 6 ‘preserve’ recipes and the final chapter, chapter 7 is comprised of 5 ‘pickle’ recipes.

Prefaced by the words, ‘Glory be to the god that he has made the flavour of the tongue and palate tasteful…’ Khaun eloquently composes a collection of recipes that are varied enough to be most helpful as an introduction to the delicate flavour combination of Persian cuisine for the novice as well as a most useful handbook of everyday cooking for the more experienced Persian chef.

In many cases, the names of many of the dishes in this book have evolved in spelling and perhaps techniques. The first two chapters containing multiple varieties of ‘rice pilau’ written pooloo in the text encompasses both sweet and savoury versions of the dish. While some of the ingredients and descriptions are very informative, such as when the author details how to add the spices most orderly into the yellow curry, a few of the pilau recipes containing meat are simply specified as ‘meat’. Whether the intentionality of this lack of specificity is to allow the cook to choose based on taste or availability, the passion and knowledge of the culinary process and flavour profile of the author comes through most visibly.

A common thread in most Persian cooking, staple ingredients such as saffron, rose water and rice are combined in varying quantities and with other seasonal local ingredients to make countless unique dishes and flavours. In the majority of each element to the recipe, precise measurements are not listed, ‘5 pineapples’ to make a pineapple preserve, suggesting not only a certain level of assumed culinary knowledge on the part of the reader, but also a generally relaxed view of the cooking experience on the part of the author. Perhaps reinforcing his/her poetic preface to the book, the author is intending to express the sentiment ‘cooking is more of an art then a science’.