by Mick Vann
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.
by Margaret Prouse
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.
Fort Myers News-Post
Rose O’Dell King
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.
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.
Chef, Miles Collins
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!
Malcolm Hall (from Amazon.com)
(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)
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.
Mad about saffron
By Mike Peters
Labeled ‘mellow yellow’ in song, this precious herb boasts the color of the sun and has rich traditions in cuisine, art and medicine. Mike Peters reports.
Fans of exotically flavored saffron may call it a spice to die for, but centuries ago on the ancient Silk Road, such a statement was literally true. Traders risked great hardships to attain the fragrant spice worth more than its weight in gold, and highwaymen of the time had few scruples about killing a few men to get a few saddlebags of the floral treasure. A single Crocus sativus plant bears no more than four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas from which saffron is derived.“Clearly there is something magical about the Crocus sativus flower,” writes medical blogger Sayer Ji on Green Med Info. “If its striking beauty does not immediately cast a spell on its beholder, often it simply takes experiencing the spice to fall into full enchantment with it. While saffron is exceptionally expensive, because it takes approximately 150 flowers to yield just 1,000 mg (0.035 oz) of dry saffron threads, and costs approximately $1,000 a pound, it does not take much to have an effect. Its uniqueness is also illustrated by the fact that it shuns mechanization, requiring of its would-be possessors that it be painstakingly harvested by hand, as no doubt has been done for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.
Today the most expensive grades still come from Iran and surrounding areas that were once part of Persia, such as Afghanistan, and demand for the real thing has kept it moving along centuries-old routes, usually without benefit of camels.
“Lower quality saffron will give you that prized color－that dark yellow ochre color,” says Laura Kelley, author of the Silk Road Gourmet, “but it won’t give you the aroma or the flavor.” She notes that well before the Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty, “people were going all over the region, traveling and trading. The saffron story really is a Buddhist story: It probably came across to China via the Kashmir region. There is documentation of that traffic in Persia as old as the 16th century BCE, and in China there are distinct references from the herbalist Wan Zhen from about 300 BCE.” Given the skew of time between such records, she adds, it’s likely that there were multiple introductions of the spice into China.Pleasant as saffron can be on the palate, it’s far more than a foodstuff, says art dealer Hassan Rezaei, a friendly expat who has been selling Persian rugs in Beijing for about eight years.
Rezaei is quick to offer any guest some hot Persian tea－a mixture of saffron and black tea, but he’s most eager to show saffron at work on his wall, in a magnificent Esfahan rug with sapphire-colored medallions that leap from a background of silken gold. The colors, he says with a big grin, come from natural dyes made from carefully gathered plants: saffron for the blaze of gold, and indigo for the rich blue.
Cookbook author Kelley is a career biologist whose lifelong fascination with food began in the kitchen of her Italian-American family. Her scientific training opened up entire worlds of non-culinary aspects of Silk Road foods, and her website at silkroadgourmet.com is a treasure trove of history, medicine, art and intriguing nuggets of lore as well as recipes.
“Traditional Chinese medicine values saffron as a pain killer and for treating cramps, asthma, bruises and stomach ailments, as well as for lowering blood pressure,” she notes. “Recent clinical studies in the West show it might ease some depressive symptoms. More than a decade ago, people found that turmeric had these tremendous anti-inflammatory qualities, and that spurred both laboratory and clinical focus on all kinds of traditional medicine, especially Ayurveda and TCM.”Sayer Ji concurs, observing that while recent mainstream coverage on the Dr. Oz show highlighted saffron for potential weight-loss promoting properties, because it can suppress appetite, “saffron has far more to offer than that. It may, in fact, hold promise for serious neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
In California, where locals can wax as poetic about food as any Iranian, a small Santa Cruz company slowly infuses saffron and other spices known for their health qualities into a tonic－a cordial syrup marketed as Silk Road Genuine Original Elixir, an all-natural marinade or a topping for ice cream and other sweets.
Saffron’s complex chemistry includes more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds.
It is saffron’s aroma, of course, that makes poets sing and food lovers sigh.In restaurants like Sharzhad in Esfahan or Persepolis in Beijing, Iranian chefs convert their treasured saffron into jewel-like morsels of yellow rice, fragrant teas and glowing golden desserts. In the US, a group of entrepreneurial military veterans have started Rumi Spice, an online shop that supports independent saffron growers in war-torn Afghanistan. In Calgary, Canada, the Silk Road Spice Merchant has similarly embraced the spirit of the ancient traders with a website rich with information and quality spices for sale since 2008.
“Fresh saffron has a distinctive earthy smell and flavor and imparts a bright orange color to food,” say co-owners Kelci Hind and Colin Leach on the website, warning that imitations like safflower petals look similar but are far cheaper and almost tasteless. “Saffron is a characteristic ingredient for a number of traditional dishes like bouillabaisse and paella, as well as many risottos. Try adding a few threads to basmati rice with Indian dishes and turn your rice a beautiful golden color.
“When adding saffron to a dish,” they advise, “add it to a bit of liquid first to draw out the color, or grind to a powder if no liquid is being used. Adding saffron early in the cooking process gives more color; adding late gives more flavor.”
David Hammond – Chicago Sun-Times
Food Detective: At the crossroads of Armenian cuisine
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 LTHForum.com.