Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Persia in Peckham and date canape recipe

One of the books I've most admired over the last couple of years is Veggiestan, a vegetarian cookbook which draws inspiration from the jewel bright cuisine of Persia. This was written by corner shopkeeper Sally Butcher, who owns Persepolis, a flourescent yellow fixture, glowingly located in the depths of darkest Peckham. Persepolis flies in exotic produce from Iran several times a week to fill its bursting and colourful shelves. It is a must visit for any food lover. I spent the day helping Sally tend shop as a prelude to a talk about my book as part of the annual Peckham Literary festival. 

I'm determined to cook my way through Sally's books, they are brilliantly written and, as she says 'recipes just flow' from her. I'd love to visit Iran, one of the worlds oldest cultures. 

I worked as a shop assistant for the day! I wore my aubergine dress which seemed appropriate for a Persian shop. 
The flame-haired Sally Butcher, author of Persia in Peckham and Veggiestan, at the till.
Top left: an unusual and tasty stew, quince and walnut, that Sally made for lunch; stuffed dates (recipe below). The teapot is known as Shah Abbas ware, a design that is on Iranian tableware,  which represents a 16th century Shah (ruler) but actually the image is of Nasruddin Shah. 

Labne stuffed dates canape recipe

Sally made these wonderful sweet/sour canapés. So quick to assemble and an exotic variation on what to do with the classic christmas dates. 

Labne cheese, a soft cheese, which can be bought from Middle Eastern food shops. You can also make this.
Use Bam dates (which can bought at Sally's shop) from Iran or the larger Medjool dates. Both are soft and fudgy in texture, and apparently low in GI. 
Lemon zest

First take out the stones from the dates, trying to keep the date as intact as possible. You want it to look pretty!
Then either buy or make labne. 
To make labne, you can use cow, goats or buffalo yoghurt. Place 600ml of whole milk yoghurt into a cheesecloth or muslin square and tie it up over a bowl so that the excess water drips into it. (I've also tied the muslin around my sink tap and let it drip into the sink overnight.) This takes 12 to 24 hours and yields around 300ml of soft white cheese. 
Mix the labne with lemon zest and salt to taste.
Stuff the dates with a teaspoon of labne and press a walnut into the top. 
I love poking around food shops in foreign countries and visiting Persepolis gives a similar thrill.  Salted sour cherries, dogberries, rose water sugared 'maggots', cookies that are flown in from Iran two or three times a week and infused waters. The latter are used for health purposes in Iran, a kind of homeopathic remedy for ailments. The best known waters over here are orange flower water and rose water, but the Iranians also use willow extract water, mint water, quince seeds, borage water and several others. Aspirin is derived from the willow tree, Iranians will have a few drops of this water in the morning for their health. These are all described in Sally's fascinating first book 'Persia in Peckham' 
Customers coming to Persepolis. Obviously many Iranians visit, travelling from all over London and further to get supplies, I met one gentleman who had flown in from Cyprus to buy Iranian food.  Locals also come in to chat to Sally and buy their favourite items.
Like any decent corner shop, Sally sells an interesting array of goods: dice, dried limes, loofahs, saffron flavoured candy floss and horrible fruit (Senjed, fruit of the Oleander) that taste like cotton wool. To find out more about what she sells, go to her blog.
Iranian food contains many sour flavours, which I love, even babies eat wincingly sour fruit leathers as snacks.

28-30 Peckham High Street, London SE15 5DT
foratasteofpersia@hotmail.com | 020 7639 8007
You can also order online. 
To get there, either drive and park for free for four hours at the local leisure centre almost opposite or get a train to Peckham Rye. 


  1. This looks amazing, and I love a good canape recipe to try.

  2. I missed out on a trip to Iran a couple of years ago and kick myself for not going. The whole sardi/garmi principles of cookery is so interesting. I'd seen the book Veggistan but wasn't aware of this whole back story.


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