Feride is from Azerbaijan and has written "Pomegranates & Saffron," a rare book on the cuisine of this small country in the Caucasus region. In the photo above, she's at a book signing at the Turkish consular residence in Los Angeles.
The photographs, which Feride worked on herself, are beautiful, and the presentation and writing are thoroughly professional, although the book is self-published.
No wonder that it is winning awards and has gone into a second edition. Last year, "Pomegranates & Saffron" came in first at the Best in the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards, held in Yantai, China.
The bread we broke at the start of dinner was a golden, flat loaf of tandoor style bread, sprinkled with nigella seeds.
The recipe is simple, and Feride bakes it in a home oven, not a tandoor. How nice it would be to present such an interesting bread, just out of the oven, when you have company.
Then followed a head-spinning array of dishes that she had cooked in a single day.
But I would not have wanted to miss this ornate pilaf of saffron-sprinkled rice covered with dried apricots and golden raisins. "Pilaf is the crown jewel of the Azerbaijani table," Feride writes in the book.
It is so important that a chicken dish with chestnuts, dried sour plums and caramelized onions that she placed alongside the pilaf (above) was not a main dish, as we would call it, but a "topping" for the pilaf.
Azerbaijani stuffed grape leaves (above) are not like the long slender versions common here. They're short and fat. These were filled with ground beef, rice and herbs. The grape leaves came from vines growing in her yard.
Flat breads lined with herbs reminded me of Indian naan, although prepared differently and not baked in a tandoor (above). They're called gutab. Feride instructed us to add yogurt to the breads and roll them up.
For a vegetable, she served a simple preparation of eggplant and tomatoes. We could also help ourselves to pickled garlic, cabbage and peppers.
The desserts were unlike anything I have seen. These tiny preserved paradise apples were prepared by her mother in Azerbaijan. Feride brought them home from visit there along with dried sour plums, apricots and chestnuts.
I was enchanted by this dessert, a delicately flavored saffron jelly with walnuts-- so different from the gooey sweets that we eat in America. Saffron grows in Azerbaijan and is a major seasoning. That's why it's in the title of the book along with pomegranates, the national fruit.
Azerbaijan is bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Turkey and the Caspian Sea and so has been influenced by many cultures. It was part of the Soviet Union from 1920 to 1991.
Feride, who is from Baku, the capital, describes the cuisine as Eastern European/Middle Eastern. I would describe it as delicious.