Did you know the ancient warrior-king of Greece, Alexander the Great, conquered the Persian Empire back in the 4th century, and later it was invaded by Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Uzbeks? While Iranians already had a well-developed food identity before these invasions, these cultural influences shaped the diversity of ingredients and the methods of cooking overtime.
So, what is Persian food? Persian food owes its diversity to The Silk Road, which ran through what is now Iran. Pomegranates and pistachios were indigenous to the region and exported. In return, traders brought in rice from India and China, tomatoes from the Ottoman Empire, turmeric from India, yogurt from Central Asia, feta from Greece, saffron from Crete, and lamb from the Arabs. Persian food is the amalgamation of fresh herbs and spices like saffron, with the sweetness of pomegranate, barberry and cinnamon and topping it all off with a flourish of nuts, dried fruits and beans.
So, come, let us take you through their food journey!
Kebab is a genuine Persian food that has been widely made by Iranians since ancient times. Some people believe that cooking Kebab has become popular since the Mongols in Iran, and some believe that it has been popular since Naseeruddin Shah (1848-1896 AC). Kebabs have more variety than you might think. First, there’s koobideh, ground meat seasoned with minced onion, salt and pepper. It sounds simple, but the taste is sublime. There is kebab-e barg, thinly sliced lamb or beef, flavored with lemon juice and onion and basted with saffron and butter. Chicken kebab, known as joojeh, is traditionally made from a whole chicken, bones and all, for more flavor, marinated in lemon and onion, and basted with saffron and butter. If you’re lucky, you’ll find jigar, lamb liver kebab, garnished with fresh basil leaves and a wedge of lemon.
After kebabs, stews are the most common dishes you’ll find on the menu at local restaurants in Iran. The Persian herb stew is made from aromatic herbs, meat, beans and dried lime to to give it a tangy flavour. In different parts of Iran, the stew is prepared differently with some variations. Some cities cook with meat while others cook with chicken. Some cities also use other beans instead of the kidney bean and is usually served with rice. Some Khoresht favourites include Khoresh gheimeh, a beef and split pea stew made with dried limes and cooked in a tomato base, usually served with fried potatoes on the top; Ghormeh sabzi, an Iranian herb stew, commonly eaten everywhere in Iran and considered to be the national dish of the country; Korma,a creamy meat stew with a mild flavor, made with saffron, yogurt, and various spices such as coriander, ginger, cumin seeds, chiles, and turmeric.
Iranians love sour flavors. Like cranberries, barberries have a vibrant red color, but they’re even more sour. Zereshk Polo Morgh is a rice dish usually made with saffron and barberries alongside a chicken and tomato stew. This classic rice dish is studded with the red berries, which are dried and then rehydrated before cooking. Served with grilled chicken chicken or kebabs, Zereshk Polo has unique taste and is one of the favorite Iranian dishes. The rice is buttery and cooked to perfection which is always a plus!
Abgoosht, Shoorba, Dizy or Piti in Azeri language is a hearty, heavy dish fit for the mountains, dating back to hundreds of years ago. Featuring mutton soup broth thickened with chickpeas, onion, potato, tomatoes, turmeric and various other white beans, the dish is prepared in a ceramic pot. It has been enjoyed by our Persian ancestors over the centuries and still remains as one of the most popular meals in Persian culture. The ingredients of the dish vary from region to region. The most common version uses only chickpeas and no tomato purée/ tomato paste. This is a delicious meal even though appearance wise it might not be too pleasing to the eye. But once you have taken a sip of the soup and a bite of the pureed meat, you will see why every Iranian loves it. Traditionally a poor man’s dish, it has come into its own in recent years for informal family meals.
Another heart warming, traditional dish which is generally served in the winter is the soup dish Ash Reshte. This dish was traditionally prepared to welcome the Persian New Year since the noodles are believed to bring good fortune for the following year. Different types of Ash are cooked in Iran; however, the most popular of them is Ashe-e-Reshteh in which noodles, vegetables, and beans are used. This is a healthy street food that you can find everywhere in Iran, and enjoy it as a meal or even a snack. In cold winter nights, one hot bowl of Ash Reshteh is a life changer!
This iconic stew, an essential part of every Persian wedding menu, pairs tart pomegranate with chicken or duck. Dating back to the Achameinid Empire in 515 B.C, this dish is made from walnuts, pomegranate paste and chicken or duck. Sometimes saffron and cinnamon are added, and maybe a pinch of sugar to enhance the flavour. The dish varies from region to region with with sour and savory fesenjan prevailing in Northern Iran, while slightly sweeter versions in the other parts. Making the dish is not easy and needs the cook to be highly experienced. However, the most important point in cooking Fesenjan is that, it has to be simmered for several hours to be perfectly made and ready to eat.
Noodles as dessert? After trying faloodeh, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. It is one of the earliest known frozen desserts, dating back to 400 BCE. Essentially a noodle sorbet, it is made with cooked vermicelli noodles and a sugar-sweetened frozen syrup that’s often spiked with sour flavors like lime or cherry. Visit any ice cream shop across Iran, and you’ll find faloodeh to cool you down during the hot summer months.
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