It’ll be no surprise that rice dishes are cherished and consumed in Persian cuisine. Rice found its way to Iran from China via the silk road, and took root in the Caspian Sea region, where the climate and landscape are very hospitable to rice production.
Recently I’ve been reading about the wide variety of rice that exists in Iran, and have been reminded of the distinctive characteristics of the rice we encountered when we traveled north to the Caspian Sea. I’ve been quite homesick for those familiar scents and flavors! Here in the US, the Basmati rice that I purchase at the Persian grocery store is the closest I’ve found to the rice I remember eating as a child in Tehran, with its signature flavor and texture.
Not only is rice consumed more or less daily as an accompaniment to the myriad of Persian stews, it’s also served in the form of desserts and offerings for a variety of both religious and secular celebrations.
There’s Sholeh Zard, a characteristically golden-yellow rice pudding which is the product of cooking rice slowly with water, cardamom, rosewater and saffron, then garnished with streaks of cinnamon and pieces of pistachio and almond. There’s also Sheer Berenji, another product of cooking soaked rice in milk, cardamom and rosewater.
This recipe, which I’m calling Cayk-e Sheer Berenji, is a bit of an improvised dessert that I came up with. I found that cooking the rice alone won’t give it the structure it needs to have it be served as a cake. So I reached into my pantry and grabbed my weapon of choice: agar agar, which is a jelly-like substance derived from seaweed. It’s often used instead of gelatin in vegan desserts. Disclaimer: neither agar agar nor gelatin are traditionally used in Persian desserts!
After doing some research, I found a version of this cake and its roots and traditions in the North eastern part of Iran, near the city of Mashhad.
I decorated my cake with shapes from the well-known Paisley design. The Paisley pattern originated in Persia, and spread to the rest of the world via India and Scotland!
Sometimes simplicity is the best approach, and these rosewater and raisin cookies are just that: simple. Cream the butter, add eggs and then the rest, and you’ll have these lightly rose-flavored buttery raisin cookies.
These raisin cookies are very common in Iran, much like chocolate chip cookies in the United States. Though I don’t think you will find Iranians fussing over finding the greatest raisin cookie recipes and there are no references to chunky, crispy, soft, flat, raised, etc.
A word on texture. Though I do call these treats “cookies”, the texture is quite soft, buttery and sponge-like.
This beauty is another of the Caspian Sea region’s contributions to Persian cuisine. Not only is this pastry unique to this region, but also the two provinces that border the Sea – Gilan and Mazandaran – each have their own versions. Though a walnut paste is the most common filling, possible alternatives include dates, bananas and coconut.
The city of Fuman in Gilan province offers us this pastry in which yeast, milk, yogurt and butter are used to create a tender Brioche-like texture. In Mazandaran province the pastry is more like a flaky shortbread.
My main experience with Koloucheh has been the Mazandaran variety. On every trip back to Tehran from the Caspian Sea, we would stop at the city of Amol in Mazandaran province and load up on a few boxes with 4 servings of the Koloucheh per box!
So today I ventured out to explore and research the recipe for the Gilani style of Koloucheh, and this is what I came up with. And I am in love with it! Still, I will maintain my loyalty to the Mazandarani style, which I will be adding to the blog when I finish eating this batch!
For as long as I remember these delicate and brittle little cookies were present at the tables and spreads of a Persian home. Most significantly these cookies would have their place at the Nowruz table (Persian New Year), which would also meet the company of a variety of other sweet treats, dried nuts, and fruits. These cookies are so popular among Iranians that you typically ended up just buying them from the neighborhood bakery. I actually don’t ever remember my mom making them!
These days, I drive about 15 miles (each way – but only uphill in one direction!) to the nearest Persian bakery and grocery store to stock up on my pantry items. I am frequently tempted by the sight and scent of all these familiar treats that take me back to the sweet memories of my childhood. I do indulge!
I also love cooking and baking and experimenting with the food of my childhood, and some of them I am making for the first time in my life. This is one of those recipes that I have played around with and after a few batches of experimentation, I have found this to be the one!
Valentine’s day has come and gone and I am just getting around to posting this cake recipe on the blog. To state the obvious, Valentine’s day was not always a day that was celebrated in Iran and there was certainly no cake to go with it! But as times have changed, so have some of the traditions and rituals around these holidays. The cake is made up of familiar flavors of warming cardamom, fragrant rose water and subtle tartness of lemon. I made the cake with more almond flour than whole wheat pastry flour and it can easily be converted to a GF cake by eliminating the wheat and either substituting my other favorite grain, sorghum or just using only almond flour. The texture is similar to a light and moist corn cake, so if you prefer a traditional light cake texture, switch to your favorite tested and tried basic cake recipe, and integrate the Persian rose water and cardamom flavors.
Let there be jam! Homemade jams are such an integral part of Persian culture and cuisine. Quince is one of those rare and sometimes underappreciated tart and crisp fruits that are best enjoyed either cooked in a stew or made into a jam. The fruit itself is very aromatic and I can always detect a note of rose scent in it. When making this jam, I make that note much more pronounced, and make a symphony of aromatics by adding rose water and various spices – not necessarily traditional, but magical!
I have such fond memories of my mother making these tasty treats as a young child. Qhotab is traditionally deep fried (though, I bake mine), creating a delicate and flaky textured crust with creamy and aromatic cardamom and rose water walnut paste on the inside. I can still recall the scent of the oil and the sweet pastry as a 4-year-old in the Amirabad region of Tehran, in our first home!
Iranian baklava showcases layers of flaky pastry with nuts, sweetened with a fragrant and buttery syrup of rose water and cardamom. Typical nuts for baklava are pistachios, almonds, and walnuts. I have also made this baklava with orange blossom water.