This stew is a great representation of a dish in a culture that loves its fruits with their tart and sweet flavors! The chicken is cooked slowly with Persian spices (advieh), layered with carrots and saffron, and finished off with fresh orange segments before serving.
Orange is readily available year round in every corner of the world. Citrus fruits are particularly popular in the northern part of Iran, by the Caspian Sea. In addition to lemons, limes, tangerines and oranges, a wider variety of citrus fruits have found their way into Persian agriculture and consequently the Persian table. Bitter oranges, Seville oranges and citron are just a few.
The significance of fruits goes beyond their culinary use and extends to a deeper part of the Iranian culture based on rituals and traditions. It’s important to always have a variety of fresh fruits on hand, just in case guests (mehmoon) arrive; when they do you greet them with a platter full of fresh fruits, nuts and seeds and – of course – brewed tea in a samovar.
I have had several appetizing and delicious Indian chicken dishes that either marinate or cook the chicken in a yogurt sauce. But until recently I hadn’t tried this traditional chicken dish with Persian techniques, ingredients and spices.
The chicken is lightly browned with onions and celery and then cooked in a tangy yogurt sauce. That by itself is plenty tasty and delicious! But then almonds and raisins are added, along with ginger and spices that are pureed in the yogurt sauce. Finally, the dish is topped with golden toasted almonds and lightly sweetened barberries!
This dish really highlights some of the basic elements of Persian cuisine: once again there is a balance of sweet and sour, coming together to make a dish that is well composed and rich in nature and flavor.
Eggplant, otherwise known as the potato of Iran, is used in variety of stews, kukus (egg based dishes), and layered rice dishes.
This stew is a well known, popular and respected dish that finds itself served frequently and proudly on a Persian table. The very special and unique ingredient in this dish is “ghooreh”, which showcases Iranians’ love of all things sour. Ghooreh is the Farsi name for unripe sour grapes. Once harvested, they are then juiced, frozen or dried into a powder. These elememts are used anywhere acidity is called for.
Havij polo is not just another Persian rice dish. It’s rather an experience and a destination, much like getting a stamp in your passport at the end of an exotic journey!
Though there’s quite variety of rice pilaf dishes in Persian cuisine, there are probably 15 that most Iranians would be able to list without even thinking. Havij polo is in my top 5.
What makes this dish so distinctive is its simplicity and the delicate combination of ingredients that lend themselves to creating a highly flavorful, mildly sweet and aromatic dish. Each region of course will make its own variation on this dish by introducing more aromatics such as cinnamon, rose petals or rose water.
This is a good example of a Persian dish that can be easily adjusted to suit your palate and taste preferences. For example, I can’t seem to get enough of the aromatics, so I tend to put saffron, cinnamon and rose water in mine. I also like mine on the sweeter side.