Elizabeth Laird‘s Pea Boy and other Stories from Iran (Frances Lincoln (2010) illustrated by Shirin Adl, is a marvelous selection of stories that celebrate the way people, animals, the shah, and his viziers interacted in Persia.
There also happens to be plenty of food in the stories. From a giant carrot turned into a golden ladder by a mouse to save his cockroach wife, to the title character: a magical chickpea that leaps out of a pot of soup and turns into a boy.
The illustrations show a chubby chickpea on top of a small triangular cloak, using the patterns of Persian textiles and rugs to decorate the pages.
RECIPE: Abgusht-e Bahbani
(Gardener’s soup with meat paste)
1 cup dried or 1 can pinto beans
1 cup dried or 1 cup garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1 ½ cups water [if using dried beans]
2-3 pounds lamb chops or 4 medium-size lamb shanks or beef, cut in cubes
3 medium onions, chopped
3 tbs vegetable oil
5 cups water
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ tbs tomato paste
4 small potatoes
1 small eggplant or ½ of a medium or large eggplant, peeled and cut into chunks
5 okra pods
1 small bell pepper cut in chunks
1 1/2 tbs lemon
1. If using dried beans, soak them in water for several hours or overnight. If using canned beans, skip to next step and drain the beans and add in the final 10 minutes of cooking.
2. Cut lamb chops or beef into cubes. If using lamb shanks, use them whole.
3. Sauté onion in oil until golden brown.
4. Put onion, water drained cooked beans, meat and seasoning in a large pot. Simmer over medium heat until the meat is partially cooked.
5. Cut off ends of okra and add along with potatoes, eggplants, green pepper, and lemon juice, simmer until potatoes are tender.
To serve: Remove solid ingredients from soup. The soup may be served in small bowls with flat, pita-type bread. The solid ingredients can be served as is or mashed together into a paste and formed on a platter to be scooped up with the flat pieces of bread.