Food of Life
Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies
Available February 2011
New, 25th Anniversary Edition! (4th)

"The definitive book on Persian cooking: not just a recipe collection but a fond introduction to a culture and a fascinating cuisine."

"Modern Iranian cooking fits perfectly with today's lighter eating styles. Recipes are presented in an easily followed style."

Najmieh Batmanglij

Cooking plays important roles in every culture, but Persian cuisine can claim a relationship to its native land that is uniquely deep and intricate. This book celebrates the central place of food in the life of Iran, a story extending back almost 4,000 years, when recipes were first recorded in a cuneiform script on clay tablets. At the same time, Food of Life—updated and expanded in this new edition (mage; $54.95; 640 pages, 330 color photos)—is designed to be used by today’s cook. It provides a veritable treasury of recipes: 330 in all, presented in an easy to-follow format, along with standard variations and, in many cases, a vegetarian version. The title of the book comes from the words nush-e jan, literally “food of life”—a traditional wish in Iran that a dish will be enjoyed.

Along with daily gifts of pleasure, Persian cooking has figured intimately in numerous Iranian festivals and ceremonies. The menus and recipes associated with such events are described in Food of Life in detail, from the winter solstice celebration, Shab-e Yalda, or the “sun’s birthday eve,” to the rituals and symbolism involved in a modern Iranian marriage. Also woven through this book are many examples of how food has inspired artists, poets, and other luminaries of Persian culture. The book includes the miniatures of Mir Mosavvar and Aqa Mirak; excerpts from such classics as the fourth-century tale Khosrow and His Knight, the tenth-century Book of Kings, and the Thousand and One Nights; poems by Omar Khayyam, Rumi, and Sohrab Sepehri; and the humor of Mulla Nasruddin.

Even as it honors venerable traditions and centuries of artistic expression, Food of Life propels Persian cooking into the twenty-first century. Today, with most of the ingredients in this book’s recipes readily available throughout the U.S., anyone can reproduce the refined tastes, textures, and beauty of this great cuisine—ancient, and also timeless.


Los Angeles Times: "The definitive book on Persian cooking: not just a recipe collection but a fond introduction to a culture and a fascinating cuisine."

The Washington Post: "A jewel of a book."

The New York Times: "Too delightful to miss."

Chicago Sun-Times: "A stunning cookbook."

USA Today: "A beautiful introduction to Persian cuisine and culture."

Booklist: "Modern Iranian cooking fits perfectly with today's lighter eating styles. Recipes are presented in an easily followed style."

World of Cookbooks: "Persian-Iranian cuisine can have no better introduction than this book."

The Toronto Star: "A fabulous new cookbook.... The glossy tome-an array of elegant recipes peppered with lavish color photos of food; Persian miniatures and artwork-is the result of 12 years of painstaking research."

Publishers Weekly: "Effectively weaves Iranian cookery with ancient Persian legends and poetry and descriptions of traditional ceremonies and holidays."

The Baltimore Sun: "[Mrs. Batmanglij] has been careful to keep the recipes authentic."

Middle East Studies Journal: "For those who find ethnic cookbooks a bit daunting and pretentious, here's one that holds true on what it promises, plus much much more.... suggests in book form what Babette's Feast and Like Water For Chocolate did through film.... this book will meet if not surpass your expectations."

{Full text of all reviews>>}

return to top

Table of Contents

on using this book - 7
preface - 11
a few tips before you start cooking - 15
appetizers & side dishes - 17
soups, oshes & porridges - 67
dolmehs & vegetables - 115
kukus & egg dishes - 133
meat, chicken & fish - 159
rice dishes, chelows & polows - 225
braises & khoreshes - 293
desserts, pastries & candies - 351
breads - 429
preserves & pickles - 453
hot & cold drinks - 489
snacks & street food - 513
how to make & store kitchen ingredients - 529
ceremonies - 547
appendices & glossaries - 591
A Few Thousand Years of
Persian Cooking at a Glance - 592
A Glossary of Ingredients & Techniques - 599
Useful Kitchen Ingredients - 608
My Mother’s Classification of “Hot” & “Cold” - 609
Persian-English List of Ingredients - 610
English-Persian List of Ingredients- 612
Glossary of Iranian Trees & Plants - 614
Menu Suggestions - 615
Iranian Stores and Restaurants - 616
Equivalent Measures - 621
acknowledgments & credits - 622–623
index - 624


Cat & Mouse - 22
The Story of Yogurt - 23
The Eggplant Story - 42
A Poetic Recipe for Sanbuseh - 53
Eating Matter & Reading Matter - 55
Duck Soup - 72
Hot Soup in the Winter - 88
The Smell of a Thought - 88
Memories of Making Noodles - 98
The Chickpea Story - 106
Eating Steam - 111
If a Pot Can Multiply - 127
How Iranians Became Meat Eaters - 172
Journeys in Persia & Kurdistan, - 1891 177
The Story of Saffron - 222
The Food of the Cloak - 228
The Travels of Jean Chardin, - 1686 235
The Barber’s Sixth Brother - 261
A Fair Exchange - 275
Memories of Qormeh Sabzi - 299
The Turquoise-Blue Dome - 320
A Sweet & Sour Story - 325
A Verbal Contest between a Date Palm & a Goat - 328
The Story of the Rose - 379
An Uninvited Guest - 384
Poetic Discourse about Bread - 441
King Khosrow & His Knight - 450
Seven-Year-Old Pickle- 473
Jamshid Shah & the Discovery of Wine - 500
How Persians Went from Wine to Sherbet - 503
Wine Prohibition According to Rumi - 504

return to top


On Using This Book

Please browse. I am very excited about this new edition. After thirty years of cooking outside of Iran, and in response to the input of my readers and fellow cooks, I have refined the structure of the book in general and each recipe in particular. With this edition I have unified, streamlined, and turned some of the recipes that began as my mother’s into my own. Most recipes now have a photograph of the finished dish facing them, and for some of the classics, such as saffron rice with golden crust, jeweled rice, fillet kabab or baklava, I have included step-by-step photos to guide you. I have also included vegetarian cooking variations for many of the recipes. Here and there are some of my food memories from my childhood in Iran. Colorful spreads with information about some classic Persian ingredients such as saffron, bitter orange (narenj), and the rose are scattered through the book. There are also some street food scenes from contemporary Iran. The first edition of Food of Life appeared when my sons, Zal and Rostam, were toddlers. Now, as grown men, they have inspired me to redesign the book and make it accessible for a new generation of readers and a broader audience.

None of the recipes requires cooking techniques that are unusual or difficult to learn. To help in planning, I’ve listed preparation and cooking times for each dish, indicated whether it can be made in advance, and noted how many people it will serve.

These days, almost all of the ingredients in the recipes are available at your local supermarket—not the case in the 1980s. Those that might not be or that require preliminary preparations are marked with an asterisk, which indicates that they are discussed in How To Make and Store Kitchen Ingredients on page 529 and also in A Glossary of Ingredients, Terms and Persian Cooking Techniques on page 599. Please do check—even read through—the glossary: The entries describe the history of each ingredient and its use in Iran, and explain how to shop for it and how to prepare it. I suggest you try to find the original ingredients since they are widely available in the U.S. The guide to Iranian Stores and Restaurants on page 616 offers a comprehensive list of shops around the country that sell specialized ingredients. Several of them have a good Internet presence and can ship you whatever you need, wherever you are.

I want you to use this book to get together, to cook, to laugh, to tell jokes and stories, and to recite poetry, just as Iranians do.
Nush-e Jan! literally “food of life”—a traditional wish in Iran that a dish will be enjoyed.

return to top


NAJMIEH BATMANGLIJ, hailed as “the guru of Persian cuisine” by The Washington Post, has spent the past 30 years cooking, traveling, and adapting authentic Persian recipes to tastes and techniques in the West. Her book Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey was selected as “One of the 10 best vegetarian cookbooks of the year” by The New York Times; and her From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian Table won the Gourmand
Cookbook Award for the world’s best wine history book of 2007. She is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier and lives in Washington, DC, where she teaches Persian and Silk Road cooking, and consults with restaurants around the world. Her most recent book is Happy Nowruz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year.

return to top

640 pages
330 color photos

8.75” x 9.75”