Q&A Atoosa Sepehr

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Atoosa Sepehr, author and photographer

The cookbook that has most influenced your cooking

The book that I return to that has influenced my cooking style, and continues to do so, is an old notebook that my mother gave to me some years ago that contains many wonderful Iranian recipes that were handed down to her from her mother. It is very old and falling apart but the information is unique and extremely valuable

The food of love… What would you cook to impress a potential date

In Iran, we like to spoil our dinner guests by serving a variety of different types of food and so I would do the same to impress a potential date. A typical date menu might read as follows:

Mezze – Perhaps Kashko Bademjan (Aubergine and Persian Kashk Dip), Borani-e Laboo (Beetroot with Spinach and Creamy Yoghurt), and Zeitoon Parvardeh (Marinated Olives with Walnuts and Mint), followed by a small bowl of Persian Pearl Barley Soup (non meat version if the date is vegetarian)

Main course – I would serve Dolmeh Bademjan (Persian Stuffed Aubergine) with Shirazi Salad. (Non meat version if the date is vegetarian)

DessertLatifeh, which is a rosewater cream sandwiched between a delicate pastry made from pistachio and cardamom.

Your top five dinner guests, dead or alive

  • Comic actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin
  • The 13th Century Iranian poet Rumi
  • English novelist Jane Austen
  • American singer, songwriter and pianist Nina Simone
  • My partner Brian (with his guitar)

Fast food –  your top snack tip

It would have to be Noon-o Panir-o Sabzi, which is feta cheese, walnuts, parsley, chive, tarragon, mint and coriander rapped in flat bread or sandwiched between two slices of sourdough bread

Most memorable meal in  film/literature/painting

The Christmas dinner scene featured in Ingmar Berman’s film Fanny and Alexander. I especially love how this scene captures the ritual of preparing and eating a meal. In this depiction, the singing, dancing, laughter and sound of conversation. And, of course, the wonderful spread of food on display

Your worst kitchen disaster

I have had many kitchen disasters from cutting my fingers to setting myself on fire. In fact, once I lost most of my eyelashes, eyebrows, and my fringe from fire. However, the biggest disaster was when I was having some guests to my home and I was preparing Persian Dal. I meant to pour salt onto the Dal and instead, in a moment of sheer mindlessness, I poured sugar all over the it. In the end, I had to order food from a Persian restaurant close to my home

The best thing to do with a pomegranate?

Pomegranate plays a central role in Iranian culture. In fact, pomegranate is commonly referred to as the fruit of heaven in Iran. It is a very versatile fruit that can be used in many different ways. Often, I simply open up a pomegranate and eat the seeds.  Sometimes, I like to press the outer skin of a pomegranate to squash the seeds inside and release the juice before creating a small hole in the pomegranate and sucking the juice out. lastly, I like to sprinkle pomegranate seeds over salads, soups, stews, and certain desserts

What would you like your final meal to be?

I hope that day does not come too soon, however, when it does come then I’d like my final meal to be Ghormeh Sabzi, which is slow-cooked lamb stew with fresh herbs and beans. It is one of the most popular dishes in Iran and one of my favourites and I would like to have it with Persian rice and lots of crispy rice (tahdig)

What is your secret talent [in or out of the kitchen]?

I like to sing and I can sing in tune but as I am a little shy I have never actually sung in front of anyone, at least not in any formal setting.

What did you eat for breakfast today?

A homemade granola bar with milky coffee.

What’s in your fridge?

If I were to list everything in my fridge right now then that would be a very long list of items; I always run out of space in my fridge. I always make sure I have lots of nuts (they tend to develop a rancid taste when not refrigerated). I also like to have lots of fresh, organic ingredients for salad, plus, potatoes, a range of fruit, milk, tahini, pomegranate molasses, a range of sauces, a variety of cheeses, pastry, bread, tofu, eggs, different kinds of pickles. In addition, I always have leftovers

Your inheritance recipes – the one you inherited [and from whom] and the one you’d like to pass on to your children

That would have to be Kalam Polow Ba Koofteh Ghelgheli, which is a rice dish full of different kinds of herbs and lime-flavoured kohlrabi and tiny crispy meatballs. This is a recipe from Shiraz, the city where I was born. It is a recipe that was handed down to me from my mother who learned it from her mother

From a Persian Kitchen – Authentic Recipes & Fabulous Flavours From Iran by Atoosa Sepehr is published by Robinson, £26