Although Naz Deravian and her family left Iran when she was 8 years old in the midst of the 1979 revolution, a taste of home never felt missing until she moved to Los Angeles.
She was no longer re-creating home-cooked Persian meals with her family in Rome and Vancouver, calling her mother for help with classics like loobia polo (green bean rice) or gormeh sabzi (herb stew). Rather than defined recipes, her mother simply rattled off ingredients and offered advice to add “just enough for its scent to dance around the kitchen.”
“There’s a joy in that, and it can be frustrating at times,” Deravian tells SF Weekly. “That also pushes you to trust your instincts.”
In turning that philosophy to the newly released Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories, Deravian rejects know-it-all cooking expertise and instead encourages readers to blend their food “accents” into Persian recipes as her northern Iranian family knows them. Personal stories and recovered memories from her blog of the same name combine into a wistful cookbook-memoir that inspires a hunt for the reader’s own taste of home. She brings these stories wrapped in mouth-watering recipes to Omnivore Books on Saturday.
Nearly 100 recipes fill Bottom of the Pot, but not all of them are traditional — nor does the book claim to be representative of all the country’s regional cuisines. That would risk drawing the ire of opinionated Iranians, who might ask why green onions are in salad Shirazi (something Deravian simply calls “tomato cucumber salad”). Deravian’s own creations are written in English and incorporate Persian flavors via ingredients favored by the West, such as quinoa with the fava-and-figs dish found in the rice section.
Such creations are an example of the intent to get otherwise shy cookers to make recipes their own, thereby making Persian food more accessible. This especially applies to Western-raised Iranians who, as Deravian’s friends illustrate, feel intimidated to re-create the dishes they grew up with.
“That made me a little sad,” Deravian says. “Persian food is primarily about a home-cooked meal to be shared with friends and family.”
For the completely uninitiated, Deravian suggests trying morgh ba zardchoobeh (turmeric chicken) with sheveed polo (dill rice) but also making tougher recipes like fesenjan (pomegranate walnut stew) that she finds well worth the time.
With Middle Eastern ingredients like turmeric and olive oil being the latest health darlings, hearing from non-Iranians making the recipes at home, and acclaimed Iranian restaurants like the Inner Sunset’s Lavash taking hold, Deravian feels Persian food is making its way into Western hearts.
“It’s definitely on the map now — and it’s taken so long, it was like this secret,” Deravian says. “I absolutely do think it’s going to make its way into the American family table.”
Naz Deravian, in conversation with Cheryl Sternman Rule on Saturday, Oct. 6, 3-4 p.m., at Omnivore Books, 3885 Cesar Chavez; and Komaaj buffet dinner on Sunday, Oct. 7, 7:30-9 p.m. at 1550 Howard St., $50, feastly.com