What’s the USP? The story of the Ayubi family’s flight from war-torn Afghanistan and the opening of their Adelaide restaurant Parwana (Farsi for ‘butterfly’), interwoven with traditional Afghan recipes.
Who’s the author? Durkhanai Ayubi helps to run her family’s restaurants Parwana and Kutchi Deli Parwana, both in Adelaide. She is also a freelance writer and is an Atlantic Fellow of the Atlantic Institute. Parwana is her first cookbook.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? As Ayubi points out in the book’s ‘prelude’, ‘those who dine on Afghan food for the first time find themselves surprised by the familiarity of the dishes, hinting at a rich and interconnected history untold’. I have to admit that, before reading this book, I had never eaten or cooked Afghan food and I was surprised at how accessible the food and recipes were and how familiar nearly all the ingredients turned out to be.
While you will find the vast majority of them at your local supermarket, there are one or two exceptions. You will need an Afghan or Persian grocer for the dried sour apricots (which Ayubi says is a ‘specific type of Afghan fried apricot) and sinjid (Russian dried olives) required to make Haft Mewa, a compote of dried fruits and nuts steeped in water and eaten at Nowroz, a New Year celebration. The same applies to the dried basil seeds for rose sharbat (syrup).
But you can substitute the gandana (a traditional Afghan leek) that’s used to stuff Ashak dumplings for garlic chives or just plain old leeks. Qaymaq cream for chai can be made at home (but requires simmering milk for hours and skimming off the cream layer by layer) or may be found in Persian or Middle Eastern grocers. Equally, you could simply substitute clotted cream.
What’s the faff factor? In a word, low. Recipes often feature a short ingredients list and simple one-pot cooking methods. The recipes for the very tempting baked goods are probably the most complex but even they pretty straightforward.
How often will I cook from the book? With delicious braises, grills, curries, noodle dishes, soups, salads, vegetable dishes, pickles, breads, desserts, sweets and biscuits it might be more a matter of when you’re not cooking from the book.
Killer recipes? There are loads, but a representative sample might include salaateh Afghani, a simple, fresh and bright salad made with red onion, cos lettuce, tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers and radishes, flavoured with chilli, coriander, mint and lime; comforting and gently spicy yoghurt-braised lamb with yellow split peas, and rhot sweet bread topped with white and black poppy seeds. If I got into all the lovely kebabs, curries and dumplings we’d be here all day.
What will I love? The book’s design and photography is full of warm colour, reflecting the turquoise and terracotta interior design of Parwana restaurant. Stylist Deborah Kaloper has done a great job with the food, with every one of photographer Alicia Taylor‘s shots looking incredibly inviting.
Is it good bedtime reading? Ayubi’s text doesn’t limit itself to the story of her family, their restaurants and their food, but is a serious and very well written political, social and culinary history of Afghanistan.
Should I buy it? Unequivocally, yes. Fantastic food, looks amazing and you will almost certainly learn a lot. You will not regret buying this book.
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
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Parwana: Recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen
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Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.