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.
Fall is my favorite season for variety of reasons: the turning of the leaves, the bright and colorful fall foliage, my birthday, and the arrival of harvest-time.
Squashes, persimmons, quinces and pomegranates top the list of seasonal favorites for me. I find the flavors of squashes quite appealing and when you think of it, what’s not to love?! They deliver carbs with a soft texture and a sweet flavor profile that pairs so nicely with many other flavors.
Sekanjebeen highlights the Iranian tradition of mixing familiar ingredients to create unique and exotic flavors. Sekanjebeen is quite simple in nature and easy to prepare: even though it has only 4 ingredients and takes just 30 minutes to cook, you will be rewarded with an unexpectedly delicious summery treat!
The syrup is normally prepared ahead of time in large quantities and then stored in the fridge for quick and easy transformation into an appetizer or a refreshing Sharbat (cold summer drink). As an appetizer, Sekanjebeen is served in a bowl with wedges of lettuce arranged around it. Each person tears off a piece of a lettuce and dips it into the syrup. The experience is hard to describe, each crunchy bite being followed by strong bold flavors.
Warning: Large quantities of lettuce will be consumed!
Among all the eggplant spreads in the world, Kashk Bademjoon is unique! In this Persian dish the eggplant is the star, taking center stage with an up-and-coming co-headliner, Kashk. Kashk is most often referred to as liquid whey: tart, aromatic and salty, bringing a deep umami experience to the dish.
Name a culture, and it has a version of eggplant spread. Baba Ghanoush (Middle Eastern), Baklazhannaia Ikra (Slavic), Melitzanosalata (Greek), Mirza Ghasemi (another Iranian one), and the list goes on . . .
Salad Olivieh is a chicken and potato salad that has won most if not every Iranian’s heart! To mention Salad Olivieh to an Iranian is to watch an excited smiling face staring back at you and to hear tales of where and how they used to eat this salad. Most of us would have it wrapped in a thin lavash style of bread and eat it as a sandwich.
Salad Olivieh, originally a Russian dish, gained international fame at the turn of the century and became wildly popular. Because of Iran’s proximity to Russia, a number of Russian dishes have found their way to Iran via the Caspian Sea area.
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!
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!
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!