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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.