Author: Donia Bijan
random excerpt: My mother began on the premise that we were all hungry and if we could just sit at the table together, and the soup was hot, and the bread came from the oven, we would know that we had not tasted anything that good in a long time. (p. 243)
summary/synopsis (from TLC): For Donia Bijan’s family, food has been the language they use to tell their stories and to communicate their love. In 1978, when the Islamic revolution in Iran threatened their safety, they fled to California’s Bay Area, where the familiar flavors of Bijan’s mother’s cooking formed a bridge to the life they left behind. Now, through the prism of food, award-winning chef Donia Bijan unwinds her own story, finding that at the heart of it all is her mother, whose love and support enabled Bijan to realize her dreams.
From the Persian world of her youth to the American life she embraced as a teenager to her years at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (studying under the infamous Madame Brassart) to apprenticeships in France’s three-star kitchens and finally back to San Francisco, where she opened her own celebrated bistro, Bijan evokes a vibrant kaleidoscope of cultures and cuisines. And she shares thirty inspired recipes from her childhood, her French training, and her cooking career.
a few of the recipes destined for my kitchen: Orange Cardamom Cookies, Sour Cherry Upside-Down Cake, Quince Marmalade, Braised Chicken w/ Persian Plums, Cinnamon Date Bars, Ratatouille w/ Black Olives & Fried Bread, Pistachio Brittle, My Mother's Apple Pie
recipe I already tried: Rice Pudding. Oh, and it's not just any rice pudding. It's rice pudding that is scented with rosewater and flecked with vanilla beans...and made lighter and creamier by the addition of whipped cream.
Rosewater-scented Rice Pudding
Rich and creamy rice pudding infused with vanilla beans and rosewater.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Keywords: dessert rice rosewater pudding
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
- 2 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 of a vanilla bean
- 1/3 cup arborio rice
- 2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 to 4 tablespoons rosewater
- 1 cup heavy cream
Pour milk in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out seeds with the tip of a sharp knife and add to milk. Bring to a simmer. Stir in rice and simmer for ~25 minutes, stirring from time to time, until it is thickish (consistency of oatmeal). Stir in sugar and cook for 5 minutes more. Transfer pudding to a bowl and when it has cooled, fold in the rosewater, then chill.
Whip the cream to soft peaks and gently fold into the rice for a creamy texture. Serve in glass bowls just as it is or with a dollop of jam or a sprinkling of pistachio brittle.
my thoughts/review: Memoirs, when written by someone who uses food memory as a means of telling their story, are one of my favorite things to read. From her birthplace, to her vacation spots, to the many places she was stationed in life, Bijan simmered up chapter after chapter of memories, both delicious and comforting. Her writing brought me to the grounds of her parents hospital with its vegetable patch tucked into a corner, mulberry trees bursting with fruit and ready to be shaken, and chicken and geese scurrying across the courtyard. I felt I was walking the streets of France, getting a glance into the bistros and boulangeries. Visions of pomegranates, sour cherries, prune-glazed chickens and jeweled marmalades danced through my head as I turned the pages. I made quick work of this, starting and finishing in less than 36 hours. I found it captivating, informative, heartfelt (oh, I balled pretty hard right along with her on page 211-212), and absolutely delicious!
about the author: Donia Bijan is a San Francisco Bay Area chef who left Iran in 1978 when her parents’ lives were threatened by the Islamic Revolution. Fearing for her mother’s safety, an outspoken women’s rights advocate and former member of parliament, her family settled in the Bay Area and was advised not to return to Iran.
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1984, Donia went to Paris to attend the Cordon Bleu. Determined to pursue a culinary career, she secured apprenticeships in France’s three star kitchens before returning to San Francisco to preside over many of the city’s acclaimed restaurants and earning awards for her French inspired cuisine. In 1994 she realized her dream of opening of her own restaurant, L’Amie Donia, a celebrated French bistro in Palo Alto, California.
Since closing her restaurant in 2004, Ms. Bijan has divided her days between raising her son, catering, and writing a memoir where she reimagines her passion for cooking as a vessel to travel back and forth between the kitchens of her childhood and the formal kitchens of her training, illuminating the experience of exile, and drawing from her Persian, French, and American pantry to thread ties between cultures.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.