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Traveling to Iran for culinary research proved unfeasible, so Shafia went instead to Los Angeles, where much of her father’s extended family lives. “I have this huge tribe of Iranian cousins out there that I did not really understand,” she said. Once she arrived, these aunts, uncles and cousins opened their kitchens, sharing dishes like baghali polo (rice with fava beans and dill), stories and elaborate family feasts. Unlike Shafia, who today identifies as culturally Jewish, her father’s family is Muslim. But they welcomed her all the same. “The essence of this book comes from my extended family, who taught me as much about generosity as they did about food,” Shafia writes in the book’s acknowledgements.
Soffer and Shafia’s approaches to sharing the food and stories of Iraq and Iran differ significantly. But, collectively, their books explore, through prose or recipes, the feeding we do when we cook for and eat with those we love. And more importantly, they illuminate the feeding we can do simply by being there.
Leah Koenig writes a monthly column on food. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whole Roasted Fish with Oranges and Saffron
Reprinted with permission from ‘The New Persian Kitchen’ by Louisa Shafia.
In the marinade for this dish, the mix of different citrus juices mimics the flavor of sour oranges, a favorite ingredient in Persian cooking. Use a mandolin to cut the thin orange slices that cover the fish.
1 tablespoon grated Meyer lemon zest
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons each of freshly squeezed Meyer lemon, orange and lime juice
1 two-pound red snapper, cod, haddock, or sea bass, cleaned and butterflied
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 small oranges, sliced 1⁄8-inch thick
½ teaspoon saffron, ground and steeped in 1 tablespoon hot water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.
1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet.
2) In a bowl, whisk the lemon zest and juice with the orange juice and lime juice.
3) Rub the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of the grapeseed oil. Spread the garlic on the inside of the fish.
4) Open the fish and lay a few orange slices inside, then press closed.
5) With a sharp knife, make several slits in the top of the fish, without completely slicing through.
6) Drizzle a few tablespoons of the citrus juice over the fish, and cover it from head to tail with the remaining orange slices. Spoon the remaining 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil on top and season with salt.
7) Bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 35 minutes.
8) Heat the remaining citrus juice in a small skillet over medium-high heat until bubbling and reduced by half.
9) Turn off the heat and whisk in the saffron and olive oil. Serve fish warm, topped with the citrus sauce.