In the West, we have the burger with all its glorious variations. In Iran, we have the Shami with many regional influences. Shami resembles a donut, with a hole in its center.
In the North of Iran, there is the green Shami, in which the beef patty is packed with fresh herbs and creamy walnuts. This variety, however, integrates spices into the meat, which is then mixed with cooked yellow split peas and processed in a food processor to create a smooth and creamy texture. Finally, it’s fried to golden perfection!
Fear not, though! While herbs are not integrated into this patty, all Persian food is accompanied with a platter of fresh herbs to bring a refreshing lightness and a life force to the table.
Yogurt is no stranger to Persian cuisine, and is frankly a mandatory side item on the table. Each region of Iran offers its own unique version of a yogurt dish to accompany a Persian meal.
In the North by the Caspian Sea, the specialty is a garlic and shallot yogurt, which has an intoxicating quantity of Persian shallots mixed into thick and creamy yogurt.
The variety in this recipe, which is more common throughout Iran, blends yogurt with grated cucumbers and dried mint, which are packed with flavors and aroma. To this then we add garlic, salt, pepper and rose petals to make sure that you fall completely in love!
Yogurt, whether plain or mixed, is typically served with a variety of Persian stews or rice dishes. Though, to make matters more interesting, it’s not considered compatible with every such dish!
Unlike the popular sugary and starch-thickened fat-free yogurt in the US, yogurt in Iran is full-fat, tangy, and flavored with salt and spices. And if we want to incorporate elements of sweetness, we simply reach for a few raisins!
When you think about it, just about every culture has its own version of an eggplant spread. Iran has no shortage of its own variety of eggplant dishes. As a matter of fact, it has been said that eggplants are the potatoes of Iran. Eggplants are so easy to love for their flavor, texture, and adaptability to the flavors you offer it – and for those exact reasons, it is also easy to dislike! Throughout my years of teaching cooking classes and engaging with students about eggplants, I have not come across any other vegetable that was so controversial!
As an adult, I have come to love eggplants, though it was not always a lovefest of a relationship. As a kid, eggplant was not a vegetable I wanted anything to do with, and when you grow up in a culture that has so many eggplant dishes you either have to learn the necessary skills required to convince your mother why you should be pitied and allowed to eat hotdogs on the days she made eggplant dish or simply accept your faith to go hungry or surrender!
Zeitoon parvardeh is full of umami flavors, a mixture of olives, creamy ground walnuts, and fresh herbs topped with pomegranate and a unique Persian spice called golpar, a hogweed seed. This is a Caspian Sea specialty that also uses locally grown herbs that are unique to the area and otherwise not available elsewhere. Hence for the recipe, I have simply eliminated it and increased the quantity of the other herbs!