The Caspian Chef

Omid Roustaei is an Iranian-American psychotherapist and culinary instructor, who is passionate about sharing Persian culture and traditions through food and story-telling. His mission now is to spread awareness of Persian culture and cuisine, which he does by writing his blog, by teaching online cooking classes, and through his work with the non-profit organization, Seattle Isfahan Sister Cities Advocacy.

Eshgh (Love) عشق

Kabuli Pulao – Afghan rice and carrot pilaf with lamb

I was inspired to cook this Afghan dish in the aftermath of the United States military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the resultant displacement of many Afghans from their homeland. Many communities, including mine, are coming together to support our Afghan brothers and sisters. My small contribution will be to teach two cooking classes showcasing Aghanistan’s rich cuisine to raise awareness and funds for refugees arriving in the US. More information about the classes below.

Kabuli Pulao is considered to be Afghanistan’s national dish, and traditionally was served only on special occasions. As with many popular dishes, there are regional varieties, and the dish is often personalized according to taste and the availability of specific ingredients. Lamb tends to be the primary protein, but it is also customary to cook it with beef or chicken.

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Delal – Caspian Sea herb salt

دلال

Delal, also known as green salt, is a specialty condiment from the Caspian Sea region of Iran, specifically from the Gilan and Mazandaran provinces. Traditionally, locally foraged herbs are harvested, roughly chopped, and placed in a traditional stone bowl along with salt, and pulverized by a repetitive rolling and grinding action using a smooth rock.

The specific ingredients and their ratios vary widely according to regional and household preferences. Cilantro and mint tend to be the primary, most readily available herbs. In contrast, hard to come by regional herbs such as Chochagh (Eryngium caucasicumand) and Khalvash are used in smaller quantities.

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Salad Shirazi – Cucumber and tomato salad with dried mint dressing

سالاد شیرازی

There is something extraordinarily special about this salad, which has great significance in Persian cuisine. The bright and refreshing flavors of tomato and cucumber are enhanced by a dressing of dried mint and unripe sour grape juice (Ab Ghooreh in Farsi). Its simplicity makes it relatively easy as a perfect companion to just about any meal.

By many accounts, Salad Shirazi is the national salad of Iran! Whether you’re eating informally in someone’s home, at a more formal dinner, or at a Persian restaurant, you will inevitably come across this salad. Of course, the red and green colors proudly showcase the colors of the Iranian flag!

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Moraba Rivas – Rhubarb jam

مربا ریواس

It’s rhubarb season!

Well, actually, the season is about to wrap up, and I am just a little behind in getting this posted! Here in the Pacific Northwest, rhubarb begins to show up in farmer’s markets and grocery stores in April and lasts until late June or early July.

Unlike other seasonal vegetables that are available year-round, you are not likely to find rhubarb outside its prime season. So I say: when you see it, buy it, cook it and preserve it for all the other months of the year when you will not have access to this seasonal vegetable.

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Ghapeli Polo – Rice with beef and garbanzo beans

قاپلی پلو

This dish finds its roots in the province of Kermanshah, located in the western region of Iran. At its core, it is a simple one-pot meal that starts with slow cooking of the beef and the garbanzos. Along the way, onions and simple spices are added to develop more depth and flavor. Once the beef and beans have become tender and succulent, rice is added straight into the pot and cooked until all of the moisture has been absorbed.

I first became aware of this dish only weeks ago when messaging with a friend, Masoumeh Khanoom, who is also one of my Instagram followers. Khanoom in Farsi is a polite and formal reference placed after a first name or before a last name to refer to a woman.

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Khoresh Gol Kalam – Beef and cauliflower stew

خورش گل کلم

Long before the humble cauliflower became a trendy superfood, Iranians were cooking it into stews (Khoresh), egg-based dishes (Kuku), and even pickles (Torshi).

Like many Iranian stews, this is an especially simple dish with only a few ingredients. Nevertheless, there are certain culinary techniques that bring out a spectacularly deep range of flavors.

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Moraba Havij – Carrot jam

مربا هویج

Who doesn’t love spreading a healthy dose of homemade jam on toasted and buttered crusty bread? For some, there may be something strange about jam that’s made without fruit, but I would encourage anyone to try this brightly orange-colored and flavorful carrot jam.

Making jam is an age-old tradition in Iran (and the rest of the world); it dates back to the 12th century in ancient Persia. This was an essential means of preserving food far beyond the growing and harvest seasons. This tradition was also adopted and spread through many cultures who then put their own unique mark in the middle east and Mediterranean regions.

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Torsh Tareh – Tangy fresh herb stew with poached eggs

ترش تره

I seem to be on a roll of doing back-to-back northern Iranian dishes! All over Iran, many stews feature fresh herbs in the place of other vegetables to accompany either animal or plant-based proteins. While each stew has its own unique combinations and ratios, they all have one thing in common: Iranians’ celebration and love of herbs.

What makes this dish characteristically northern is the addition of a sour element. For this stew, the most traditional ingredient is Seville oranges (Ab Narenj in Farsi). Alternatively, you may use unripe sour grape juice (Ab Ghooreh in Farsi) or lime juice to create that signature tart flavor.

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Psychology of Iranian Cuisine

Register and join the free event HERE

PSYCHOLOGY OF IRANIAN CUISINE, by Armita Hosseini & Omid Roustaei

In collaboration with Farhang Foundation

Food as with most cultures plays a significant role in Iranian culture. It is not only a daily ritual and practice of preparing traditional food but also a means to preserve our culture through its cuisine. Iranian food also holds a significant tie to our holidays and ceremonies.

What we are hoping to achieve in this conversation is to begin talking about some of the norms, rituals, expectations as well as challenges that are associated with food, eating, and cultural norms. Food and eating can be deeply enriching and community building, while it can also be a source of distress and struggle.

Our hope is that you can walk away with some tools and tips related to our emotional health, mindful eating, and incorporating some of these influences, particularly during the pandemic.


Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that this is not intended to be offering therapeutic advice or addressing any one specific issue that may require seeking support from a professional.

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Anar Bij – Meatballs in pomegranate and herb sauce

اناربیج

Anar Bij is a hearty and flavor-packed dish from Gilan province in the Caspian Sea region of Iran. Delicate meatballs are gently cooked in a creamy walnut sauce that is then flavored with fresh herbs and pomegranate molasses. Tart flavors, aromatics, and a hint of sweetness combine to make this dish another poster child of Persian cuisine!

If you are familiar with Persian cuisine you will notice similarities between this dish and the highly popular Fesenjoon, a stew of chicken cooked in walnut and pomegranate sauce. Two things set this dish apart, however: the chicken is replaced by meatballs, and fresh herbs create an added depth of flavor.

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