Book Reviews and Press

Book Reviews and Press – Volume 1

Book Reviews

Mick Vann – The Austin Chronicle

Building a Bookshelf: The Silk Road Gourmet, Volume One: Western and Southern Asia: A Journey Through the Cuisines of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka

Laura Kelley’s experiences from extensive travels throughout Asia and her fascinating food and travel blog produced the basis for The Silk Road Gourmet, Volume One, the first of a three-volume set covering 30 different cuisines of Asia. In each locale, she researched and collected recipes from home and market cooks, to be tested in her home kitchen upon her return.Volume One covers Georgia, Armenia, Azer­bai­jan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka, some of which are grossly underrepresented in Western cookbooks.

Kelley provides a culinary collision of flavors that at first glance might seem disparate, but closer examination under her microscope reveals how spices and influences flow effortlessly between borders, developed over centuries of trade between the Black Sea and the Pacific. Each section opens with a brief overview of cooking methods, spices and flavors, and culinary history. The well-written recipes are logical and easy to follow, with few taking more than 30 minutes to prepare – ideal for cooks of any skill level. To Kelley’s credit, the dishes offer authentically bold flavors, and the only concession has been to adopt modern utensils of the Western kitchen.

We tried chicken with apricots in lemon pepper sauce: simple to make and assertively delicious, aromatic, and satisfying. If every dish is as good as this Afghani gem, Kelley’s book will prove priceless.


Margaret Prouse – Charlottetown Guardian

A Taste for Travel

I like books about travel and about food.

Travel books permit me to experience, admittedly to a limited extent, places that I’ll never visit in person.

Books that place food in context, describing what people eat, how they prepare it and what it was in the physical or cultural environment that made a cuisine develop as it did, have a particular appeal for me.

While Laura Kelley’s “The Silk Road Gourmet. Volume One: Western and Southern Asia”, published by iUniverse, Inc. in 2009, isn’t a typical travel book, the author’s travels are the basis of the book. Kelley, who studied anthropology, has travelled extensively along the Silk Road, the pathway followed by participants in the Afghan-Chinese trade in lapis lazuli and jade over four thousand years ago.

During her travels, she paid particular attention to how people ate and she collected recipes wherever she went. Then she wrote about it.

“The Silk Road Gourmet” lacks the glossy colour plates of some travel or cookbooks. It is illustrated with black and white photographs that add some visual context to the content.

The book, however, is well-organized and easy to read. A table of contents and a good index make it easy to navigate. The chapters, each devoted to a country, are packed with short lessons in history and geography and lots and lots of recipes. For me, the historical content is challenging because I have never been much of a history student. However, history does become more interesting to me when viewed through the lens of food.

We may think that our globalized civilization is unique in the way it enables us to learn about and use foods from faraway places. That would be a mistake. Repeated travel back and forth across the network of land and sea trade routes connecting China with Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Caspian and Caucasian states, as well as Europe and North Africa, had a profound effect on the way that cuisines evolved along the Silk Road.

Kelley points out that the two most influential cultures, in terms of the cuisine of countries along the Silk Road, are the former Persian and Indian Empires. They weren’t, however, the only areas that exported ingredients and cooking styles.

In Book 1 of “The Silk Road Gourmet”, Kelley shows that “almost all of the cuisines in southern and western Asia use coriander or cilantro from the West, cumin from western Asia or Persia, onions from central Asia, turmeric and cinnamon from the Indian subcontinent, and cloves from the Pacific Rim.”

The spices and herbs are used in different proportions and combinations in each of the cuisines, giving a unique twist for each cultural group.

There are several ways to read “Silk Road Gourmet”. You can read it strictly as history, a study of the effects of trade and conquest on one aspect of daily life, eating. You can also read it as a cookbook, choosing recipes that look appealing.

Kelley’s hope is that readers will prepare, share and learn about the recipes in her book. She suggests organizing a potluck style event. Participants would each select one of her recipes and prepare the dish to share with the group and discuss. The dishes could represent various courses of a meal typical of a country along the Silk Road, such as Georgia or Iran, or they could be different versions of a dish, such as stuffed peppers, as interpreted in various locations along the Silk Route.

It’s an intriguing idea, a combination book club and gourmet club.

Although the recipes call for some ingredients, such as pandanus and dried sour plums, which are not easily found in Prince Edward Island, many of the dishes in “Silk Road Gourmet” are based on foods that Islanders eat regularly and offer new ways of serving familiar foods. Potatoes, chicken, cucumbers and barley are a few examples.

This easy-to-prepare recipe for lamb chops will come in handy for the barbecue.

Lamb Chops with Mint and Sweet Basil

4 lamb chops (the thicker the better)
250 mL (1 cup) dry red wine
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (15-20 sprigs)
5 mL (1 tsp) salt
2 mL ( ½ tsp) ground black pepper
5 mL (1 tsp) dried mint
5 mL (1 tsp) dried sweet basil

Pour the wine into a large covered casserole and then add the onion, cilantro, salt, pepper, mint and basil and stir or whisk well. Add lamb chops and tuck underneath the onions and cilantro. Spoon wine over the chops, cover, and set aside.

Marinate overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to cook, remove the chops and discard the marinade. Grill over coals or place beneath a broiler for 5-8 minutes per side. Serve hot.


Rose O’Dell King – Ft. Myers News-Post

Review of Silk Road Gourmet

This cookbook will keep you quite busy

Two things drew my attention to this cookbook – the cuisine of Azerbaijan…Azerbaijan? A country on the Caspian Sea just south of Russia. Enter the name into Google and a fact sheet pops up from the CIA. (Nary a mention of the cuisine there, however). The second thing was an intriguing recipe for a garlic and walnut sauce from The Republic of Georgia. I was hooked. After cooking out of this book for a couple of weeks now I am captivated by the relative ease of the recipes and the surprising tastes and flavors that utilize pretty basic foodstuffs we already have in our pantry. Ingredients that we regard as “sweet” like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg -essentially pumpkin pie spice – are used beautifully here in savory dishes.

”The Silk Road Gourmet” by Laura Kelley is one of those workhorse cookbooks, the kind that’s not filled with pages of fake food shots but rather packed with all manner of deliciously different recipes. This is one cookbook that will be kept handy on the kitchen counter while others get stored on the shelf.

The book takes us on a journey through Asian cuisine but it’s not the Asian you think you know. Think Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh for starters, countries that have traded goods and shared cultures along the Silk Road.

Through her extensive travels Kelley lets us in on the cultural and historical back-stories that have shaped the cuisine.

Everyday spices we already have in our kitchen cabinets are used in very different ways for surprising results.

Unusual flavor combinations like Meatballs in Lemon Sauce from Armenia, Cinnamon Potatoes with Pine Nuts from Azerbaijan, Grilled Chicken with Garlic and Walnut Sauce from The Republic of Georgia and Sweet Split-Pea Pudding from Sri Lanka show the range of tastes and flavors of these flavorful recipes.

Most of the recipes are easy and take less than 30 minutes to prepare.


Sarah Parkin – The Phoenix Examiner

The Silk Road Gourmet

Get out the maps because Laura Kelley’s book The Silk Road Gourmet covers western and southern Asia, including the Republic of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka. Each country is broken down into subcategories to include meat dishes, vegetable dishes and salads, rice and grain dishes, breads; desserts and beverages; appetizers and condiments; and sauces and spice mixtures. At the end is a Glossary of Unusual Ingredients that western cooks may not use on a regular basis.

Kelley studied anthropology as a young woman and discovered interconnections between food and cultures and communities. “All around the world people love their food and express their nationalism or ethnicity through the preparation of specific dishes that they identify as belonging to them,’ she stated in the Introduction.

For those who love to learn about history and the origin of foods and how it intertwines with the culture, The Silk Road Gourmet is an excellent resource.It is a cross between an anthropology textbook and a cookbook.

Some recipes might require the skills of an adventurous shopper and cook who considers finding unusual ingredients and learning to cook them a challenge, such as jonjoli. Other recipes will make global creations with the staples already available in most western pantries. The following two recipes use ingredients that should be available at a local farmer’s market.


Manos Angelakis

Luxury Web Magazine Review of the Silk Road Gourmet

In Silk Road Gourmet, Laura Kelley is taking us on an exploration of the culinary traditions of a part of the world that is largely unknown to the average home cook. Her savory recipes, culled from areas that the West still knows very little about, bring to the average person cultural links, ingredients and condiments that are now available to grace any table.

The Silk Road extended from the Caucasus to almost Mongolia, and trader caravans traveled it from the Renaissance on, to bring to Europe silks, porcelains and spices from China and India, embroideries, tea and spices from India and Sri Lanka, dried fruits and nuts from Georgia and Armenia, carpets from Iran and Pakistan, tribal silver from Afghanistan.

Topography plays a major role in the cooking of these areas, because the availability of numerous ingredients is mostly dependent on place and season. Religious beliefs also play a role, as the Islamic countries do not consume pork. But many of what once were local ingredients are now available on a worldwide basis, as modern Silk Road entrepreneurs scour the world for trade goods.

From complicated recipes like Gormeh Sabzi (beef with dried lemons and herbs) to simple jajik (yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and herb sauce), or Meatballs with Ginger, Cumin, Coriander, and Cinnamon, the treasures of the Central and Southern Asia kitchens are revealed in an easy to read and execute format.

This is not an ordinary cookbook. It is a culinary exploration of non-European methods of cooking, tastes and – to a certain extent – a different way of life.



Peggy Gilbey McMackin – The Spiced Peach

Interview with Laura Kelley, The Silk Road Gourmet

Silk Road Gourmet

If you love to prepare and experience unique cultural cuisines from around the world and are intrigued about spices, food ingredients and the patterns they reveal in the history of diplomacy and business trade then you will enjoy The Silk Road Gourmet. Taking you on such a journey is cookbook author Laura Kelley: The Silk Road Gourmet, Volume One: Western and Southern Asia, A Journey through the Cuisines of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka.

Sharing among her favorite recipes in Volume One from each of the Western and Southern Asian countries Kelley has experienced, her hope is to introduce or reintroduce these colorful and flavorful cuisines to the West. The book is set up with the same recipe categories for each individual country: Meat Dishes, Vegetable Dishes and Salads, Rice and Grain Dishes, Breads, Desserts and Beverages, Appetizers and Condiments, Sauces and Spice Mixture. Each category contains a sampling of four to seven recipes making it easy for those ambitious to accomplish all of the recipes from each given country. Thus far, every recipe I have made from the cookbook, including the Iranian recipe I share below:  Orange Chicken Koresh has been so well received that neighbors have remarked on them as some of the best meals they ever tasted!

Lemons, Walnuts and Sour Plums

“As ingredients go, the native complement of Persian items such as pomegranates, walnuts, sour grapes, sour cherries, dried sour plums, sumac, lemons, and cumin were supplemented by contacts and trade with other nations.”

Each countries Chapter begins with a list of the Main Spices and Flavors, followed by the Souring agents predominant to the land. From there, in one to two pages Kelley weaves a fabric of historical background, political climate, cultural and religious influence, growth of agricultural products and ways that these spices and ingredients evolved and affected cuisines through business trade routes and the intermingling of peoples between destinations along the Silk Road over two thousand years ago.

Cilantro and Coriander Seeds

“Early contacts with the Greeks probably brought cilantro and coriander to Iran.”

Laura Kelley’s professional career as a scientist over the years has taken her to rarely visited travel destinations and some of the more remote places on earth but this has also provided her the opportunity to sample many true local foods of cultures at nearby guesthouses and get a sense of the culinary style of people and their markets. “I have a very talented sense of taste and sense memory, it is ingrained in me,” she said “I am able to discern flavors when I try foods then I order it again and again. Many times in between meetings, I will try to assemble the food in my mind and jot down notes.” Often by personal contact or through the local translator/native minder, Laura is able to obtain a particular recipe, or list of ingredients from local cooks. She has also had the opportunity to observe the preparation of dishes later transcribed for sharing at the homes of many Western tables.

Oranges, Black Pepper and Cardamom

“trade in antiquity with India brought black pepper, oranges, and cardamom to Persia.”

Kelley has had a lifelong love and interest of food and how things are connected. She describes herself as a person who has always been self -aware combined with an upbringing that provided an atmosphere of thinking and creating new experiments in daily life along with exposure to family friends that would celebrate together sharing cultural cuisines. “When I was young I used to watch Connections, a show that would connect bizarre things in history, I just loved that sort of thinking which probably also influenced my ideas about food.” Kelley said.

“Indo-Pacific spices and souring agents such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and limes were likely later additions brought to Iran along the Great Silk Road.”

She began cooking ethnic food at thirteen. By sixteen, through an American Field Service Program, a high achieving, Kelley spent the summer in Thailand with a family where there was no running water, telephone, or generator. “Every day I would carefully watch the way the cooks made the food, with particular observation to the way they presented rice to the monks as they arrived for a meal.” She said “A gourd bowl was used to serve them and you cannot touch the bowl of the monks so I learned to guide my hand carefully and not touch the bowl.” Kelley says that she has always loved to entertain with her cooking “Even in college” said Kelley who studied Anthropology “I was always ‘puttin’ on the dog and would host big dinner events. In graduate school I got into vegetarian cooking.” At the time, Kelley found inspiration from the popular cookbook: Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. “I ended up with some good friends from India drawing them in with the familiar, comforting scents of the spices.”

Tarragon and Dill

“Favorite herbs such as dill and tarragon entered Iranian cuisine via contact with the central Asian states of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.”

Meanwhile one of Kelley’s hobbies continues to be observing food patterns both historically and in modern times. “Sophisticated idea people were always moving and trading globally.” Says Kelley “Currently, it is really like the Harold James theory: today is just one of many series of globalization, people move to different countries, ingredients and restaurant faces change, people inter-marry and inter-mingle. There are settlements all over the world created by business, political conditions, and natural occurrences. Cuisines are changing all the time, recipes change among immigrants even when they come to the United States as people prepare their cultural foods with the ingredients that are available and to the new tastes that they become acquainted, there are generational changes, health changes, the whole world is a fusion cuisine.”

You can find Laura Kelley and the Silk Road Gourmet here.

If you live in an area where some of the ingredients are hard to find,  you can order a wide range of ingredients right on Kelley’s site in the section headed: Silk Road Gourmet Store.

Orange Chicken Koresh

Iranian Orange Koresh Chicken

Orange-Chicken Koresh (Laura Kelley, The Silk Road Gourmet)

3 medium-large chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
3 tablespoons light sesame oil or peanut oil
2 large onions peeled, sliced, and separated into crescents
2 tablespoons orange zest, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups orange juice (4-5 oranges)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Persian lime powder
2 medium carrots, julienned or matchsticked
3 teaspoons slivered almonds
2 teaspoons chopped pistachio nuts
3 medium oranges, peeled, cleaned, and separated into segments
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice (2-3 limes)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, dissolved into 2 tablespoons of hot water

1. Heat oil in a deep saucepan and saute chicken over high heat until it becomes firm and starts to color-the point being to sear the meat but not completely cook it. When done, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Lower heat to medium and add the sliced onions and cook until they soften and start to color.

2. When the onions are done, add the orange zest and stir well. Add the chicken back into the pan along with any juices that have collected. Then add the orange juice and bring to a near boil. Then add the cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, salt, black pepper, and Persian lime powder and lower heat and cook covered for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until chicken starts to become tender.

3. Combine the vinegar, lime juice, sugar, and saffron water in a medium saucepan and heat for 10 minutes or so until hot. Then remove from heat and add orange segments and stir well. Set aside until needed.

4. Next, add the julienned carrots, slivered almonds, and chopped pistachios to the chicken mixture and cook for another 15 minutes or so. When done, remove from heat and pour in lime juice mixture used to soak orange segments and stir. Then add orange segments to the stew and stir again.


Melissa Kronenthal – The Traveller’s Lunchbox

Silk Road Gourmet

I think it would be somewhat of an understatement to say I have fondness for books about food, travel and culture. So when Laura Kelley asked if I would like to see a copy of her new cookbook The Silk Road Gourmet – the first of a self-published three volume series exploring the cuisines of thirty countries along the ancient Silk Road – I couldn’t hit the reply button fast enough to say yes.

Armenian Meatballs

Covering the cuisines of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, this volume so chock-full of fascinating stuff I don’t even know where to begin describing it. It definitely belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in the culture or history of food, has a taste for the exotic or loves the challenge of the unfamiliar. Covering both well-known and barely-known cuisines, Laura confidently walks us through a mosaic of countries, demystifying their ingredients and techniques and offering up a sampling of the flavors and traditions unique to each one. She also highlights their parallels, pointing out how the Silk Road acted as a conduit for flavors and preparations from the Black Sea to the Pacific. As for the recipes… let’s just say my to-make list has grown exponentially: eggplants stuffed with pomegranate, lamb and rhubarb stew, pork chops with sour cherry sauce, cinnamon potatoes with pine nuts, pastries filled with sweet and spicy squash, chicken with apricots in lemon-pepper sauce, shrimp and pineapple curry, spiced coconut cake… Overall the book is well-written, well-edited and easy to navigate, and though it may lack some of the bells and whistles of glossy mass-market cookbooks, that’s just less to distract you as you make a beeline for the kitchen – which is the most important thing, right?

As soon as I received my copy of Laura’s book, I invited my in-laws over for a dinner featuring several of its recipes. Everything was wonderful, but these subtly-spiced meatballs in a tangy lemon sauce were the hands-down winner. I shouldn’t have been surprised; in the book’s introduction Laura herself identifies them as a personal favorite.

Source: adapted slightly from The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley

for meatballs:
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
zest from 2 medium lemons
2 dried hot red chilies
1 egg
2 tablespoons tomato sauce/puree
1 small bunch fresh cilantro (15-20 sprigs)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 lb. (450g) ground lamb or beef (I used beef)

for sauce:
1 1/2 cups (325ml) vegetable broth (I used chicken broth)
1 cup (250ml) water
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a food processor, combine all the meatball ingredients except the meat and process until well blended. Add meat and blend again until well mixed. Refrigerate one hour. Shape into 2-inch (5cm) meatballs. Refrigerate another hour before cooking.

In a large sauté pan bring the broth and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Melt butter in the broth. Add the meatballs and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, until the meatballs are tender, about 30 minutes. Spoon broth over meatballs several times during cooking and turn meatballs over after about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to low if necessary to keep them cooking only gently.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Stir in the lemon juice. Add 1/2 cup hot broth and mix well. When the meatballs are done, remove from the broth. Reduce the broth if necessary (and strain if you wish – I had a lot of particles in mine).Add the egg-lemon mixture, stirring or whisking steadily as you dribble the mixture in. Heat until it starts to thicken and add meatballs back into the sauce. Let them reheat for a few more minutes and serve with plenty of basmati rice. (If, however, at the eleventh hour you find yourself inexplicably out, couscous works in a pinch.)


My Gourmet Connection

The Silk Road Gourmet, Volume 1

Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley is a series of three cookbooks that explores the cuisines of more than thirty Asian countries.

Chicken with Apricots in a Lemon-Pepper Sauce

Volume One includes the cuisines of the Republic of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. The chapters flow from country to country along the ancient trade route, and the recipes highlight the similarities and contrasts of the neighboring cuisines.

Each chapter begins by identifying the primary spices and flavorings of the cuisine, followed by a brief history of the country as it relates to it’s culinary heritage.

Each country’s recipes are organized by course and the ingredients and instructions are skillfully adapted for Western kitchens.

The author has also included a comprehensive glossary of ingredients along with purchasing information.

As part of the book’s introduction, Ms. Kelley shares a list of her favorite recipes. Here’s a sampling:

Chicken with Garlic and Walnut Sauce
Fiery Lamb Chops in a Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Sauce
Meatballs in Lemon Sauce
Cinnamon Potatoes with Pine Nuts
Shiraz Tomato Salad
Curried Scallops with Coconut and Lime

We tried Chicken with Apricots in Lemon Pepper Sauce – a fragrant, full-flavored dish from Afghanistan that was simple to prepare. Like all the recipes in this book, the steps were easy to follow and thoroughly explained – perfect for cooks of all skill levels.

If you enjoy being creative in the kitchen, The Silk Road Gourmet is a good choice to add to your cookbook library. The spices and flavors that represent each country are so well defined you can easily apply those principals to ingredients you have on hand and create your own culinary adventure.

We’re certainly looking forward to getting Volumes Two and Three of this cookbook series, as soon as they become available.

Be sure to read our interview with the author.


The Rambling Spoon

Rosi Recipes #3 – A Silk Road Gourmet Meal

I’m getting behind in my Rosi posts, and this one is out of order. But I wanted to write this now, to give you a glimpse of Laura Kelley’s fabulous new cookbook, (strong>Silk Road Gourmet (available soon through Amazon and Barnes & Noble; have a look at Laura’s website for further details). I’ve known this was coming for quite some time; I’m a regular reader of The Silk Road Gourmet blog. So perhaps I should have been better prepared for the 402-page pdf that appeared in my inbox when Laura asked me to review the book. Massive! And what a delight. Volume One (there will be three in all) covers an extensive journey through Western and Southern Asia: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. This is what thrills me most: when I page through this book, I find flavor combinations and recipes from numerous regions with which I’m completely unfamiliar…. and yet these foods make perfect sense to me. These recipes reflect a long history of mingling.

More than cookbook, this is an ethnography of food. “The great Silk Road, which arose from the Afghan-Chinese trade in lapis lazuli and jade over four thousand years ago, eventually became a land and sea route that stretched thousands of miles and linked China with such far-away places as Roman Europe, North Africa, and the Levant states of the Middle East,” she writes. “As a result, Chinese foods and preparation methods such as stir frying spread west with the silks, gems, and spices, and flavors enjoyed in the west such as sesame, tamarind, and cardamom came east and were eagerly adopted by the Chinese people.”

Beyond the love of Asian food, Laura and I have something else in common: we both studied anthropology. She writes about the links between the study of cultures and the study of foods. “All around the world, people love their food and express their nationalism or ethnicity through the preparation of specific dishes that they identify as belonging to them.” So very true. No matter where I travel, it is almost always the food through which people so ardently characterize themselves. Food feeds body and soul. It makes people proud. And it also tells us much about history and politics and events that people sometimes want to forget. “Food can help us reconstruct political histories of who ruled over whom and relationships of diplomacy and trade between people,” Laura writes. “Similarities between foods eaten can even reveal the belief in a common creed or system of worship and show how that belief spread over time.” For thousands of years, humanity has mixed its myriad palates. “No nation’s cuisine—not even that of the great, monolithic China—has remained untouched by others over the millennia.”

Intrigued, I am. My hands-on assessment of The Silk Road Gourmet began earlier this month when I had a large bunch of beet greens on hand and I came across Laura’s recipe for greens with nutmeg—superb. Next, I decided to make a Rosi Dinner of dishes from Afghanistan: chicken kebab with cinnamon and black pepper, spicy eggplant with mint and Afghan cilantro sauce. As Laura notes, the kebabs would go beautifully with a pilaf; unfortunately, I ran short on time and ended up serving plain rice. Next time I’d like to try the carrot and raisin pilaf. I chose the spicy eggplant for its unusual combination of mint, tomato, vinegar and chile. And the cilantro sauce? We all went nuts over it. Big winner, indeed. Recipes below, my notes in italics as usual:

Chicken Kebab with cinnamon and black pepper
From The Silk Road Gourmet

2 chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
10 cherry tomatoes, whole
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp salt
4 T white vinegar (I used rice vinegar because that’s what I had handy)

1. Mix 1 onion and half of the pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, and salt together in a sealable, 1-gallon plastic bag. Add the vinegar and chicken and mix well. Marinate for several hours at room temperature or in the refrigerator overnight, turning several times. (I marinated overnight, which really allowed the flavors to permeate the chicken.)

2. When ready to cook, remove the chicken and string 5 or 6 cubes of chicken on each metal skewer. String the tomatoes and chunks of onions on their own skewers. Sprinkle the other half of the spices over the kebabs and grill or cook in a broiler oven for 5-8 minutes per side (we grilled). Serve hot with Afghan Cilantro Sauce and Afghan bead (We ate rice instead. These kebabs were tasty and the chicken very tender after a night in the marinade.

Chicken and Tomatoes Ready to Grill

Spicy Eggplant with Mint
The Silk Road Gourmet

1 medium purple eggplant
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup drained plain yogurt (chaka)
1 tsp white vinegar
1-2 tsp crushed dried mint (I used fresh)
1/2 tsp salt (more to taste)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
3 T undrained plain yogurt
1/4 cup beef broth (I used chicken because I had homemade on hand)
2 hot, dried, red chile peppers (I used 3 to appease the heat lovers in our crowd)



1. Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Place onto sprayed or oiled baking sheet and bake in 375-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until nearly, but not quite, done. Remove from oven and let them cool.

2. Pour the tomato sauce into a saute pan and heat. Add drained yogurt (chaka) and white vinegar as the sauce heats. When hot, add salt, pepper, chile, cinnamon, and mint. Cook 2-3 minutes, add beef broth and the undrained yogurt, and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes to give the flavors a chance to blend.

3. Cut the cooled eggplant into bite-sized pieces and add it to the tomato sauce; mix well, lifting more than stirring to allow the eggplant to keep its form. Saute for 2-3 minutes until eggplant is warmed. Cover and cook another 5 minutes until eggplant is done. It’s best to serve as soon as possible after cooking. The squash will absorb a great deal of the sauce. (This turned out very spicy, with a wild blend of flavors, which I enjoyed. I might use elongated Japanese-style eggplants next time, as I find them easier in cooking.)

Afghan Cilantro Sauce
From The Silk Road Gourmet

1 medium bunch fresh cilantro leaves (20-25 sprigs)
1/4 cup white vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 cup walnuts, diced
1 tsp ground cumin
3 hot, dried, red chile peppers
1 tsp garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

1. In a blender, combine the cilantro and vinegar or lemon juice. When the cilantro and vinegar or lemon juice has become a smooth paste, add walnuts, cumin, chile peppers, and garlic and blend again until the walnuts are integrated. (If necessary, add a bit more water to blend the walnuts.) Then add pepper and salt and blend well so that spices are well distributed throughout the puree.

2. Pour the puree from the blender into a saucepan and heat. Cook over low to medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. (This one is going to be a staple in our kitchen! Also works well as a dip with chips. Yum.)
(All photos by Jerry Redfern)


Chef, Miles Collins

A review of the Silk Road Gourmet Cookbook and my choice for the best food and travel cookbook of the year….

The only time I ever review a cookbook is if I like it and think you should all know about it, I don’t throw praise around because it can come back to haunt you which is why book reviews and other blog recommendations tend to be few and far between on here. For what it’s worth I have been collecting cookery books since I started my career as a chef twenty five years ago and despite having spent an unimaginable amount on them over the years there are very few I would actually consider buying again. That to me is the true test of a product, would you buy it again?

Laura Kelley has written a book I would buy again in an instant; she has written the kind of book I would love to be able to write. Food, travel and all things Asian combine to bring us volume one in a series of books detailing the food, culture and history of this wonderful continent. I have waited a long time for this book, having been a keen follower of Laura’s blog called The Silk Road Gourmet for a long time I knew Laura was capable of producing a book which could put her wonderful writing onto bookshelves around the world. Anyone who has read Laura’s blog will know that she writes with great intelligence, authority and a real love for her subject.

Volume one of the series begins with a part of Asia seldom covered in the mainstream of culinary writing, the West and the South. The journey takes in the countries and cuisines which are steeped in history and whose very traditions have quietly transcended into other people’s cultural makeup through centuries of trading and exploration. This book offers a thoughtful, intensely researched insight into the cuisines of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It demonstrates how the spice routes of those earliest of traders helped to shape each countries food and how remarkably similar many of the methods and use of ingredients are.

The choice of dishes is considerable, for the keen amateur cook or the professional chef it offers a new and inspiring diversion from well trodden paths, spice and flavour notes jump out from the pages and transport you to those places we rely on the more dedicated to tell us about.

Take Georgia, we are given a brief overview of the main spices and flavours indicative of the country, fenugreek, saffron, sour cherries, oranges, lemons, savory, allspice, pomegranates and marigold, there are recipes for garam masalas from Pakistan and curry powders from Sri Lanka as well as comparisons of spice mixes between different countries which show how close our culinary borders actually are.

Take your time with this book, it’s not just a collection of recipes but if it’s a quick dish you are after then each recipe takes between fifteen and thirty minutes to prepare. Go straight to Laura’s own favourites if you can’t decide, meatballs in lemon sauce, lamb chops in sweet and sour pomegranate sauce or orange-chicken koresh with almonds, pistachios, cinnamon and cardamom.

We live in a society which thrives on telling us how crappy everything is, so when a piece of work such as this becomes available we should recognise one person’s huge labour of love and commitment to sharing their knowledge with the rest of us. Buy this book!


User Reviews

Malcolm Hall (from

(5 Stars) Makes me want to get on a camel

Actually I first bought this book at the gift shop after completing the tour of the “Silk Road” at the Museum of Natural History in New York. I had a bit of a head shake when I noticed it was self published, IUniverse, but quick run thru of the recipes convinced me that I needed this book. My wife and I are fans of off-of-the road travelling — our last 2 vacations have been to the Republic of Georgia and Lebanon. Both countries have fabulous cuisines. I also lived in Afghanistan many years ago, and was excited to see someone who knew a little bit about that cooking.

In other reviews, I’ve seen criticisms that the book is for more advanced cooks, and perhaps that’s a fair cop. It does ask you to find marigold leaves. (But how hard is that?) But the food we’ve made with the book has been fabulous. Would provide more details, but I’m writing this review enroute to ordering a copy for some good friends, and so must say adieu.


Difreda (from Library Thing)

(5 Stars)The Silk Road Gourmet Volume One: Western and Southern Asia

What Laura Kelley does in her cookbook is let us all see how we are truly interconnected – while making us happy with a mouth watering sampler of the REAL Silk Road. Like a Douglas Adams of cookery she teaches us not to be too smug about our ethnic cuisine – all the while telling us to remember the history of the Western and Eastern collisions of what can only be seen as the first global trade… the Silk Road. Asia and the Caucuses, Indonesia, all blend in various regional borrowings one from another – sort of like my kitchen… I had Chinese soup 2 nights ago – with cinnamon and star anise in the spicing – and a quince koresh from Iran tonight.. spiced with saffron and cinnamon.

What Kelley does do is to introduce the reader to the less known Oriental side of the Silk Road – not just the Marco Polo caravans we learn about in grade school – don’t worry – there is plenty to cook from the Western end as well as Central Asia. Kelley shows us through food that the Silk Road is the world of trade – of ships – of wealth and cultural borrowing. Recipes jump off the page into the pot and on to the dinner table.. Let’s see – for dessert…I’ll make…..

Her initial volume begs for an encore .. As we wait – you might want to visit The Silk Road Gourmet Blog for an enlightening walk with one of the most interesting authors I have recently discovered.



David Hammond – Chicago Sun-Times

Food Detective: At the crossroads of Armenian cuisine

Pork with Pomegranates

This tastes a lot like Greek food,” my
wife murmured between mouthfuls.

We were sitting in a candlelit booth at Sayat Nova, 157 E. Ohio. Downtown Chicago’s only Armenian restaurant has been serving up chickpea dip, stuffed grape leaves and kebabs since 1968.

Similarities between the cuisines of Greece and the former Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic are understandable. In fact, ingredients for Armenian recipes can be found all across Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

Laura Kelley, author of The Silk Road Gourmet, says the food of Armenia “goes way beyond kebabs” in large part because the country is strategically located along the early Afro-Eurasian trading network.

“Because Armenia is between the Caspian and Black seas,” Kelley says, “people were always coming and going; it was a huge crossroads of East and West. Anyone coming into Europe along the Silk Road had to do business with Armenia. So, there are a lot of foreign elements in what we call Armenian cuisine.”

One recurring theme in Armenian food is the savory conjunction of fruit and meat.

“We don’t usually do that in the United States, where fruit is often only for dessert,” says Kelley.

Armenia was the first nation to declare Christianity its state religion. With many fast days on the calendar, there are lots of fruits, vegetables and fish in Armenian cooking. Though pork was avoided by early Christians, Kelley says pig is eaten in Armenia (as it is at Sayat Nova) without shame these days.

Kelley’s book includes an Armenian recipe for Skewered Pork with Pomegranate. Rich meat and sweet-sour fruit mesh beautifully. As an accompaniment, we prepared pilaf, common in Armenian,Turkish and Persian cuisines.

“Armenia was ruled by others for centuries. We take such pride in our national cuisines, but when you scratch the surface, you find an incredible amalgam,” Kelley says.

To sample Armenian food, check out the Taste of Armenia at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston; it’s held every August.

If you can’t wait, there’s Siunik Armenian Grill, which recently opened at 1707 Chestnut Ave. in Glenview, effectively doubling the number of Armenian restaurants in the Chicago area.

David Hammond is an Oak Park writer and contributor to WBEZ (91.5 FM) and




Silk Road Gourmet Nominated for an Award by Le Cordon Bleu World Media

Golden Ladle Nominee Seal

Great news!

The first volume of The Silk Road Gourmet has been nominated for an award by Le Cordon Bleu’s World Food Media Awards.

Best new cookbook under 30 Euro is the category they nominated it for!

I’m not sure if the book is going to win, but it is an honor simply to be nominated. I’ll find out in a few weeks.

Wish me luck!

2 thoughts on “Book Reviews and Press

  1. Hello Laura,

    I found The Silk Road Gourmet while searching for recipes, and your words just make my heart excited with adventure and exploration. I am Chinese-American and incidentally I have a fascination with Central Asia’s culinary contribution as well. Your work exhibits nuance, beauty and an exotic palette that is rare to find in the U.S. and I am beyond grateful to stumble upon this gem. It made my week!

    Thank you for being yourself, and for opening our eyes to a whole world of flavor and intensity beyond our narrow confines. I hope you don’t mind that I shared this vigorously on Facebook.

    One day, I’d love to cross paths with you.

    Until then, I thought I’d send a note of appreciation.

    Austin, TX

    • Hi Victoria:

      Nice to hear from you, and many thanks for all of the nice comments – authors live for comments like that!

      I hope you visit and comment often and spread the word to friends and family etc.



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