3 out of 4 stars
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In many cultures, food is an important element for daily living, health, and building relationships with others. In her cookbook, Jewels of Persia, author Sharon B-Nejad shares her knowledge of Iranian food and culture with a primarily “Western” readership. From the front cover to the index at the back, the book is stuffed with far more than just recipes.
Although this is first and foremost a recipe collection, the author opens the book with an introduction to Persian (Iranian) food culture. This includes an overview of the cuisine and the way people interact with preparing and consuming their food. The author specifically addresses common flavor profiles, cultural food restrictions, and the importance of hospitality.
The author takes time to introduce her reader to many of the ingredients found in the recipes. Sections like “Some New Ones” and “Pantry Staples” include a few ingredients with which readers may already have some familiarity along with ingredients that are less common outside of Iran. These introductions include photographs of the actual food item along with a sentence or two about what it tastes like and how it is most commonly used. There are also specialized pages with specific focuses such as spices, flatbreads, or utensils.
Interspersed among all the other pages are beautiful photographs exhibiting Persian culture. These sometimes have little to do with the nearby content but might showcase carpets, bazaars, or World Heritage sites. At other times, the photographs will focus on food and contain a text box with an interesting fact or a quick tip for cooking Persian-style. The author also includes occasional tips on the recipe pages if they might be helpful for purposes such as accommodating the lack of a specialized tool. There was an occasional repeat but only because the tip might be helpful in more than one recipe. After all, most readers are probably not reading straight through the book but flipping through to find an enticing recipe.
In terms of formatting, each page was set up as an image regardless of whether the page was primarily filled with text or with a photograph. Although this may have made it easier to fill the book with absolutely stunning pictures, it made it extremely difficult to read. The text was very small and with a “serif” font. Some picture captions appeared to be the product of a typewriter. These tended to have less contrast with the page and were often nearly impossible to read. My device was not able to increase the font size because the page was formatted as an image. I have an alternate device that can also read Kindle books, but the book was totally unreadable on that one. Even on the superior device, I was squinting at the page the entire time. While this format would be amenable for a print book, it would be nearly impossible to actually reference this book while preparing a recipe from it, since glancing at a page would not be feasible.
I would like to be able to give this book a four star rating. The book is informative, and the recipes look delicious. The photos share the culture with a sophistication that appears professional. However, because of the formatting choice, it was extremely difficult to read the book in order to discern these qualities. For a four star rating, the author/publisher should consider either re-formatting the book in order to make it more e-reader-friendly or offering it only in print editions. As it is, I can only rate Jewels of Persia 3 out of 4 stars because it is simply too physically difficult to read.
Jewels of Persia - Exotic Dishes from the Ancient Land
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