‘Gilani Cuisine’, A Book Review

gilan-cover-330Gilani Cuisine[1] is a slim volume of 75 recipes in 91 pages written in Persian. The book is divided into six chapters; a general first chapter entitled ‘Dishes’ with 38 recipes; a chapter on rice, Gilani style, with three recipes and a ‘Fish dishes’ chapter with 15 recipes. The last three chapters are devoted to juices and purees, jams and a whole chapter on devilled olives.

Largely unknown as an author of provincial Persian Cuisine, Forooq Niya put together a collection of recipes whose originators are equally obscure in name. Boasting to be the first Gilani cookbook, it seems the collection was passed on or discovered by the editor, Fahimeh Akbar, in 1959 and was published for the first time fifty years later.

It starts with a brief introduction by the publisher and an equally short epilogue by the editor. Her explanations regarding the culinary culture of Gilan are interesting:

“An important point is that because of Gilan’s proximity to the Caspian Sea and high humidity, spices and garlic are used excessively in cooking and the result is particularly tasty dishes…”

Frequently served in spring, broad beans are a particular favourite of the Gilanis. Also common is Baqla polo, green garlic, Seem (a variety of fish), yogurt and butter, which Mrs Akbar highlights as elements that make this particular meal superbly delicious. As part of this compilation she refers to other combinations such as, rice and Fesenjan or fish roe served with walnuts, raw onions and hard-boiled eggs, which in Gilani tradition are considered complete meals by themselves. According to the editor most meals usually include fish or fish roe and varieties of local cheeses which are served with rice. When in season, cucumber and honeydew melon accompany meals on every occasion.

In her epilogue to Gilani cooking Mrs Akbar mentions the use of uniquely designed special pots and pans. For instance a copper pot is used to make rice and for cooking stews a particularly beautiful glazed earthenware coloured in a hue of green or blue, gamj, is commonly used.

In many cases dishes included in the book have since evolved but we are privileged to have access to the older versions of the same. However, one finds the recipes to be brief and some essential information regarding ingredients are unfortunately lacking. For example, more often than not the variety and combination of herbs used in recipes is vaguely referred to as ‘aromatic herbs’. This leads one to conclude that the author/collector was a man since Persian women who cook are very particular in their choice of herbs to go with each specific recipe. Or Foroogh may have had the indigenous populations in mind when putting this book together many of whom could have been familiar with his generalizations.

As one would expect with Gilan being a province bordering on the Caspian Sea, a chapter is devoted to fish dishes including one made with fish intestines. There are several recipes detailing various marinates before barbequing or frying the fish. A few others include exquisite combinations for stuffing larger whole fish. The wealth and variety of fish dishes in Gilani Cuisine is unusual for Persian cookbooks and we will try to feature many in the recipes section of the site.

[1] Gilani Cuisine
(The regional cuisine of Gilan), The first book of Gilani cookery, 1338

Collector Foroogh Niya
With the help of Fahimeh Akbar
Farhang Iliya
Rasht, 2009 (1388 )