Welcome to the world of herbs! Herbs play a significant role in Persian cuisine, whether they are served fresh as an appetizer with bread and cheese or cooked into Kuku or Khoresht.
Herbs are integrated into Persian dishes not only to brighten up the colors and bring a brilliant herbal taste, but also to create luscious and earthy sauces. Ghormeh sabzi, Saak, and Khoresht-e Karafs are good examples.
What looks like a soup or a stew, but is neither? It is Aash!
Aash is a slow-cooked Persian dish that combines a variety of beans, grains, sometimes noodles, herbs, spices and meat. Its texture most resembles a thick soup.
Aash is quite versatile and has many variations. It can be a comfort food, but it can also be served “majlesie style” – meaning the kind of meal you’d serve at a fancy dinner party. It can be the main course, or be served in small quantities as part of a family-style spread. Aash has its roots in traditional Iranian holidays such as Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
A peasant food, at its core! And let’s face it, I’d eat like a peasant any day when the dish tastes this rich and yummy, and is yet very simple, quick and inexpensive!
Nargesi’s origin is back in the Caspian Sea region of Iran, where produce and vegetables are abundant. Spinach is a cherished and prized leafy green that is not only eaten raw in salads, but also cooked in various stews. It is a common belief in Iran that spinach adds flavor and more importantly a certain level of viscosity to stews.
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.
This is another gem in the Persian yogurt series. Yogurt plays such a significant role in the cuisine, and is always there to accompany a flavorful layered rice or well-seasoned stew.
The star of this yogurt dish is Museer, a Persian shallot. Museer is best described as a mix between an elephant garlic and a shallot, and is packed with flavor, aroma and pungency.
This variety finds its roots in the the south eastern region of Iran, in the foothills of the Zagros mountain range. However, its popularity has spread throughout Iran and it has become another staple on the Persian table.
I mostly associate eating this yogurt with trips north to the Caspian Sea region. Whether this belief has actual merits or not, it has always been said that you can eat more garlic and not feel awkward about your breath when you are by the Caspian Sea, where the weather is tropical, humid and delightfully warm!
I made this yogurt today in Seattle’s mid 70’s degree Fahrenheit weather under partially cloudy skies and with very little humidity in sight! Far, far away from the magical power of the Caspian Sea to shield me from the consequences of eating so much Museer and garlic!
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!
Iran is the world’s largest producer of pistachios, so it’s no wonder that pistachios are mandatory at any Persian table for celebrations and offerings to guests.
Pistachios are roasted, salted, and typically flavored with various acidic ingredients that are a signature of the Iranian palate for sourness. They are often colored with saffron, another of Iran’s precious offerings to the world.
We’ve all had baklava made from one or another region of the world. Persian versions use a variety of different nuts, and my absolute favorite baklava is made with pistachios, rose water and cardamom.
This soup is very simple in composition but is flavorful and satisfying, showcasing and celebrating pistachios! Top the soup with pomegranate seeds when in season, or with barberries, and see how the rich and creamy flavors brighten and become even more inviting!
Here is another dish in the Kuku series. But this Kuku is quite special, as it highlights a vegetable that has been called the potato of Iran: none other than eggplant. Eggplant is such a unique vegetable, and – as my beloved cooking teacher would say – eggplant is a prima donna ingredient, and I could not agree more!