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.
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.
Shami is often referred to as a meat patty, though realistically it is more about herbs and ground walnuts than it is about the meat. Throughout Iran, you will find a multitude of Shami varieties using different types of meat, often with added chickpeas, yellow split peas, or red lentils.
This version from the Caspian Sea region was one of my favorite dishes when I was growing up. Though I had no idea of the effort that went into preparing them, I knew there was something very special about these patties. There was nothing ordinary about them: Mom used her finger to poke a hole in their centers, so they came in a form you’d more often associate with a bagel or a donut. And all the herbs transformed the meat into something incredibly tasty, rich, and aromatic. I can still remember the scent that would emanate from the kitchen, signaling that mom was cooking Shami again!
Stuffed grape leaves are a well-recognized and popular dish in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. Iranians, Turks, Syrians, Armenians, Lebanese, Greeks, and Iraqis have been making them since about the 17th century, albeit with many variations in the name, choice of ingredients, flavor profile, and presentation.
Dolmeh (Farsi), Dolma (Turkish), Dolmades (Greek)
You are likely to see rice and herbs as the main filling for most, while others include ground meat, yellow split peas and other ingredients. Most are rolled into a small log, while some are formed into a square shape.
You say frittata: I say Kuku; you say (Spanish) tortilla: I say K . . . and we are saying the same thing – almost! It is actually a stretch to call this dish a frittata or a tortilla, but I don’t know a better comparison.
Kuku is an Iranian egg-based dish that combines vegetables, herbs and/or meat mixed into the egg mixture along with spices, and is baked or pan-fried to create a light and fluffy savory delight.
This Kuku is another specialty dish from the Caspian Sea region of Iran. This region has such an affinity for simple but exceptionally flavorful dishes that are naturally plant-forward and rely heavily on abundant local produce.
However you spell or pronounce them, Kebabs, Kebobs, or Kababs are meat dishes that take pride of place alongside other dishes in Persian cuisine. They are typically small pieces of seasoned whole or ground beef, lamb, chicken or seafood that are generally skewered and grilled.
Mention “Ka-bob” (the Farsi pronunciation) to an Iranian, and it inevitably evokes deep and sentimental memories and associations to this widely popular element of Persian cuisine. Kebabs are prepared and served throughout the cities, whether at a posh establishment, a local food cart or a grand bazaar. The sights, sounds and aromas of Kebabs being grilled are all so familiar, and Kebab houses are often referenced as landmarks for giving directions.
I’m thrilled to announce that I have joined The KITCHN team as a freelance contributor and my first 2 articles relating to Nowruz, the Persian New Year and a traditional Nowruz dish, Sabzi Polo are now posted.
Nowruz, the Persian New Year, marks the arrival of spring across large parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. Feasts that accompany Nowruz are central to the celebration.
Join Omid Roustaei, a Seattle-based Persian chef, to learn about special dishes associated with the holiday as well as the richness, subtleness, and playfulness of Persian cuisine and to hear stories from his childhood in Tehran. The conversation is moderated by Freer and Sackler curator Simon Rettig.
Sabzi Polo is one of the more popular herb-rice mixture dishes in Persian cuisine, known not only for its use of abundant fresh herbs but also for its close ties to the Persian New Year celebration, Nowruz.
Iranian’s obsession with herbs in large quantities, fresh or dried, is no secret. You will find many dishes – ranging from yogurt, to stews, to soups and rice dishes – that incorporate at least one herb, or more often a whole medley of them.
Iranian’s obsession with herbs in large quantities, fresh or dried, is no secret. You will find many dishes – ranging from yogurt, to stews, to soups and rice dishes – that incorporate at least one or more often a whole medley of herbs.
Gishneez polo is a slightly lesser known version of the more popular herb and rice pilaf dishes. Shiveed polo highlights dill, while Sabzi polo celebrates a combination of herbs including parsley, dill, chives and cilantro. Gishneez polo offers simplicity, and brings all the cilantro lovers to the table!