Stuffed onions with beef, rice and herbs

Dolmeh-ye piaz

دلمه پیاز


Caution: you must be an onion lover to proceed!

Name a culture, and you will quickly realize how many dishes start with some member of the onion family. Onions and all of their relatives are cherished and celebrated in Iranian culture. The onion family includes red, white and yellow onions, green onions, garlic, leeks, garlic chives and shallots. And in Iran, you also have Museer, which is an Iranian variety of shallot that most closely resembles elephant garlic, as well as Tarreh, which is a cross between American leeks and green onions. In the US these ingredients are available dried at Persian markets.

Just about every dish in Iran starts with and includes some member of the onion family. It is customary to have fried or caramelized onions prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator to start off the dishes. Still more dishes are finished off with gently fried garlic, mixed with herbs, as a finishing garnish.

This dish celebrates the art of stuffing vegetables, which in Farsi we refer to as Dolmeh. Thinking of stuffed grape leaves? Yup, that; as well as stuffed peppers, eggplants, potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes and so on!

In this dish, the onions are stuffed with rice, herbs and either beef or lamb, and slowly cooked in a rich broth to create a tenderized and sweet perfection.

A coming together of ingredients in creative ways to improve the overall experience of the dish.

Unity!

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Lamb stew in tomato saffron sauce with caramelized quince

Khoresht-e Gheymeh ba Beh

خورشت قیمه با به

Quince is an ancient fruit that finds its origin in the Mediterranean and Middle East region, which offers the perfect climate for the tree to flourish. Quince is quite tart, dense and aromatic, and is typically not eaten raw; it is rather cooked in stews or baked in desserts or jams.

The fruit is typically harvested in mid to late autumn before the first frost. Iranians particularly love this fruit because of its delicate rose scent as well as its tart flavor. As with most things tart in the Persian cuisine, quince are celebrated and brought into balance with the addition of some sweetener.

For some, pumpkins mark the arrival of the fall season, while for me it has always been the first sighting of quince and pomegranate.

Celebration!

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Eggplant stew with chicken in tangy tomato sauce

Khoresht-e bademjan ba morgh

خورشت بادمجان با مرغ

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.

Pride!

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Rosewater and raisin cookies

Naan-e Keshmeshi

نان کشمشی

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.

Contentment!

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Rice pilaf layered with saffron carrots and candied orange peel.

Havij polo ba gusht

هویج پلو با گوشت

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.

Freedom of choice!

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Petite meatballs in tangy tomato sauce with roasted potatoes

Kal-leh gonjishkie

کله گنجشکی

This dish takes me way back to my childhood growing up in Tehran. I remember loving this dish for its flavor and simplicity, which clearly appealed to my teenage palate. A simple meatball dish with fried potatoes over steamed rice – how can you go wrong with that?

As I prepared this dish I found myself struggling to make the meatballs look uniform and be the right size. The term “kal-leh gonjishki” translates to “little bird’s head”, implying how small and delicate these meatballs should be.

Though I grew up in Iran, I have lived two thirds of my life in the US, where my exposure to meatballs has mainly been to those Italian ones that could practically be the size of a baseball! So, I found myself once again balancing the tension between my childhood memories and what has now become familiar to me. And as I became impatient, the meatballs gradually grew in size!

Looking back on my childhood, I never had to think about how much care went into preparing this dish. Making it now, I’m humbled to think of how much effort and dedication my mother gave as she lovingly prepared dishes that created a sense of continuity in my life. It’s a good reminder of how hard parents work behind the scenes, often unrecognized, to make life easier and to remove unnecessary burdens from their children.

Gratitude!

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Savory rice pilaf cake

Tahchin

ته چین

Rice is at the front and center of the Persian table, and there are quite a few techniques for preparing it, from simple steamed rice to more complex rice dishes in which various ingredients are layered into the rice to create a one-pot meal.

Tahchin translates to “arranged in the bottom” and is a classic casserole-style rice dish prepared by adding tangy yogurt, creamy eggs, golden saffron, and oil to the rice to create an irresistible savory cake.

Tahchin will typically have eggplants, chicken, or other ingredients that are decoratively arranged on the bottom or in the center of the pan. As with most Persian rice dishes, the bottom of the pot becomes crispy during the cooking process and then served upside down, showcasing the coveted crispy tahdig!

For reasons not too clear to me, sadly we didn’t make tahchin in our household when I was growing up. So, I only came to experience this as an adult when I learned how to cook Persian food for myself.

Regrets.

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Cumin Turmeric Rice Pilaf layered with Chickpeas and Potatoes

Zireh polo

زیره پلو

Today I found myself wanting to stay close to home and do all kinds of domestic things. After the chores had been knocked off one by one, I was still longing to do something comforting and truly homey.

Naturally, I ended up in the kitchen, and I started to explore some less well-known Persian recipes. I found myself changing them around just a little to suit my craving for comfort food.

The result of this pursuit was this rice pilaf, based on a dish that originated in the Kerman province of Iran, on the eastern side of the country. The recipe I came across doesn’t have any meat or beans in it; as it is traditional with Persian dishes, the protein is often cooked separately and served alongside of the dish. Alternatively, I can totally see this dish accompanied by a couple of sunny side up eggs, with turmeric sprinkled on top, of course!

I opted to make this dish vegetarian by using chickpeas, but I would venture out and say you could also use lamb, beef, chicken, or prawns for the protein. Enjoy exploring while blending cultures and flavors!

Exploration!

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Beef and yellow split pea stew with roasted potatoes

Khoresht-e Gheymeh

خورشت قیمه

Khoresht-e Gheymeh is a well-recognized and familiar dish to Iranians: a comforting meat and potato stew that has all the familiar flavors of Persian cuisine.

The stew is flavored with the Persian spice mixture called Advieh, containing warming spices such as cinnamon and cardamom, earthy cumin and coriander, and a gentle kiss of ground rose petals. But what truly puts a Persian stamp on this dish is the use of Persian dried limes, Limoo Omani.

Persian dried limes have a strong sour, citrus flavor and a deep, earthy fermented profile.  This unique profile is the result of the preservation process, in which the limes are left out in the sun for a long period to dry out.  The end result is simply just short of magic, with complex and rich multi-dimensional notes of sour and bitter accompanied by intoxicating aroma.

I love nothing more than to give a bag of dried Persian limes to someone who has never experienced them, and then sit back and watch the look on their face as they experience the unique smell. Limoo Omani is another treasured gift of Iran to the culinary world!

Multiple spices and dried limes: that is how we do meat and potato stew! I usually serve this stew with a side of salad shirazi or cucumber and mint yogurt.

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Sweet pastries with creamy walnut and rosewater filling

Koloucheh – Fuman style

کلوچه

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!

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