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Persia in Peckham

Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze

Veggiestan – a vegetable lover’s tour of the Middle East

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Cookbook Collection:
Sally Butcher

On this page:

Persia in Peckham

Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze

Veggiestan – a vegetable lover’s tour of the Middle East

Persia in Peckham

persia in peckham Just the title was enough to get me turning the pages. Has it got something to do with Continental Drift? No, this is simply one of the best reads around, and it’s not even been penned by a famous food celeb, columnist or chef.

Sally Butcher has a husband who is Iranian and they own Persepolis in Peckham, South London (a shop that sells all manner of exotica, and which I fully intend to visit). When you find a husband you get the in-laws as well, and Sally is lucky that hers are truly a bonus. This book draws upon cultural heritage and culinary savvy to create a smile-inducing mix of recipes and stories.

This is a chunky volume illustrated with sketches and Arabic script. The recipes are for the most part simple, and different from the typical Middle Eastern ones that I am familiar with. Sally provides each one with some background information and often a funny comment. This is heart-warming stuff even if you can’t cook a whisk’s worth.

Persia in Peckham is full of recipes that I intend to steal! Not all of those included in this book are Iranian because Sally has thoughtfully added some dishes from her customers who hail from Somalia, Afghanistan, Greece and the West Indies. Perhaps that’s what London is all about.

I love the chapter on Pickles and Preserves, which offers such delights as Quince Jam with Cardamom, and Persepolis Special Torshi, which is a sour pickle. The Casseroles section has a host of delicious dishes but one of my favourites is Chicken and Aubergine Boats, full of warming spices and tangy pickle.

The recipe that I will not only steal but pass off as my own is Persimmons Filled with Spiced Cheese. This would be an exotic end to Iranian or Indian meals, being sweet with a hint of spice and lemon. The cheese in question isn’t a lump of cheddar or Danish Blue but creamy fromage frais. You’ll need to buy the book for the full recipe and you won’t have wasted your money.

I very much hope that Persia in Peckham is nominated for some award or other. It has already been selected as Cookbook of the Year 2007 by the Sunday Times. Sally deserves some recognition as a funny and uplifting writer. Well done, that girl!

Persia in Peckham
Author: Sally Butcher
Published by: Prospect Books
Price: £17.99
ISBN 978-1903018514

food and travel reviews Sally Butcher

Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze

I am convinced that Sally Butcher could write a book about paint drying and it would be a worthwhile read. Her books, and this is the third, are Sally in paper form. Her energy, culinary knowledge and laugh-out-loud humour will make this another best-seller.

cookbook review Sally is known as an accomplished author but she is just as famed as Mrs. Shopkeeper, and the shop in question is Persepolis. This does give the lady something of an advantage in the Middle-Eastern cooking stakes as she has access to some amazing ingredients just outside the door of her flat. An Iranian husband, and a mum-in-law with a wealth of recipes, also assure authenticity.

Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze: Informal eating in the Middle East and beyond, to give the full title, is a big delicious mouthful. It’s divided by food group but so many of the dishes are mix-and-matchable and interchangeable to create either full meals or grazing opportunities. It’s a creditable collection of recipes from vaguely the middle of the East, and are real dishes that family cooks have cooked for eons.

This book has Sally’s voice throughout. She is almost as funny and engaging in print as in real life. One knows these recipes work ’cos a nice lady like that wouldn’t steer you wrong. One has the sense that all will be well, and even if one’s culinary inexperience results in an iffy end product one knows that Sally will be whispering ‘It’s only food and you will do fine next time.’

If one wants a picture of who these Snackistan citizens are, then they will be a jolly bunch with rosy cheeks, a love of good company and kebabs, and Sally would have been derelict in her duty as culinary guide not to introduce them to us hungry tourists. Baluchi Chapli Kebabs is a classic and easy-to-prepare dish that will become a favourite with the whole family, who will love anything flavourful, fried and in bread. What’s not to like? My pick-of-kebabs is an Afghan Shami Kabob to which this writer will soon be addicted.

There are so many recipes here that in other tomes would be considered signature dishes. Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze has a tongue-in-cheek style but that’s only to keep the reader grounded. We have here an accomplished cook and a remarkable writer who pens books that are always a pleasure both to read and from which to cook.

Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze
Author: Sally Butcher
Published by: Pavilion Books
Price: £20.00
ISBN-10: 1909108308
ISBN-13: 978-1909108301

food and travel reviews Sally Butcher

Veggiestan – a vegetable lover’s tour of the Middle East

Any self-respecting cookbook collector will already be familiar with the work of Sally Butcher. She charmingly penned Persia in Peckham, which was a worthy showcase for her wit and expert wordsmithery. That book had its focus on amazing Middle Eastern food of every dietary hue, set against the backdrop of Persepolis, the Aladdin’s cave of an ethnic supermarket that she runs with her family. ‘Persepolis’ sounds like a good name for a restaurant but it’s a deli and store for Middle Eastern ingredients and household goods. I have visited and have been tempted to take up smoking. “Oh, no!” I hear you cry, “Not our clean-living reviewer taking up a hitherto-untried vice?” Well, yes, I have been lured by the coloured glass and nifty pipework of a shisha. Much more stylish than a packet of Woodbines and a box of Swan Vestas.

cookbook review Sally is the lady behind the counter, but she manages to find time between customers to write books reflecting her love of Middle Eastern food. She does that in a convincing fashion as she is not just an interested observer. It’s now part of her cosmopolitan culinary heritage: she cooks these foods on a daily basis for a discerning Iranian husband and extended family.

Veggiestan is a stunning cookbook but it’s also a paper version of Sally herself – it’s stylish with hints of ethnic colour; full of laugh-out-loud anecdotes and witty asides that are thoroughly engaging. Sally knows her subject and presents it as a real gastronomic page-turner. You’ll want this book even if you don’t ever intend to darken the door of a kitchen. Sally isn’t a joke-teller, she is quiet and unassuming with a whimsical smile. One can hear her voice as one reads. This is no contrived literary formula, there is a real person back there and one you wish lived next door: “I just happened to be passing and wondered what’s for dinner tonight ...?”

The food is in reality as good as it sounds. I can highly recommend the pumpkin kibbeh which are moist, tender and flavourful. Sally gives credit for the recipe for Tabouleh to the talented and celebrated Anissa Helou (these ladies should open a restaurant together), and it’s a fresh herby salad that has, to be authentic, much more parsley than one might expect. Parsley is a vibrant ingredient when used as the main event rather than an apologetic garnish.

Burgers and bacon butties have enticed many a wannabe vegetarian off the meatless wagon. There are plenty of burger vans in Veggiestan, it seems, and they tempt both carnivore and vegetarian citizens with Burghlers. These are veggie burgers that are far more flavourful and a lot healthier than the traditional laden with animal bits. You will find these will become a favourite with the whole family, and there are few meals that can boast that.

The ingredients for the dishes are, unsurprisingly, very reasonable. One can buy a big bag of fresh veggies for the price of a couple of steaks. Many people think of them as bland and uninteresting and even “yucky”. Well, that’s a word I would reserve only for Brussels sprouts, but all other vegetables can be made into delicious meals that lack nothing. One can feast on flavour and texture and colour. It is true that one eats with one’s eyes, after all.

Sally Butcher has great literary flair. Serious food writing does not have to be dry and academic. Sally is serious about her writing so that makes her, I guess, a serious food writer but the fruits, or in this case veggies, of her labours are humorous. Phrases that encourage a chuckle or two will also persuade those chucklers to actually cook some food. That’s what a good cookbook should do, isn’t it?

This is another cracker from a food writer who should be better known and much more appreciated. An ideal Christmas gift, and one of my picks of 2011.

Veggiestan – a vegetable lover’s tour of the Middle East
Author: Sally Butcher
Published by: Pavilion
Price: £25.00
ISBN 978-1-86205-884-2

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