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.
This is Ghormeh Sabzi, by many accounts Iran’s national dish!
Yes, there are Fesenjoon, Khoresht-e Bademjan and Zereshk Polo, and a myriad of other stews and rice dishes, not to mention a long list of Kebabs. But there is something so very special about Ghormeh Sabzi.
To learn about this dish is to learn some of the very specific nuances of Persian culture, tradition and cuisine.
This dish is an internal contradiction, much like Iran herself. The ancient Persian Empire vs. modern-day Iran; pre-revolution vs. post-revolution; traditional dishes vs. fast food.
You thought only your grandmother made the best meatloaf? Well, who knew, Persians make meatloaf too and they are not shy about stuffing lots of flavors into them. The main component that remains consistent is the signature Persian flavor profile; a touch of sweet that is balanced with sour and the refreshing company of fresh herbs.
Disclaimer: my grandmother did not make us meatloaves!
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.
Khoresh Karafs, a popular stew in Persian cuisine is remarkably flavorful with very few ingredients. Celery is sauteed on its own to enhance its flavor, then combined with herbs, beef, and Limu Omani which brings magic to this dish!
Celery, oh celery! Let’s face it, celery probably isn’t the kind of vegetable that makes you jump up and down with excitement. So bear with me as I try to convince you that this dish is not your average celery stick dipped in ranch sauce, like an edible spoon. Celery has a unique flavor that seems like it’s always best paired with something else: ranch dressing, nut butter, hummus, or various dips.
To make matters worse, celery seems to be an obligatory ingredient in those ever-so-popular smoothies, perhaps to compensate for the sugar content in your “healthy” smoothie!
Persian cucumbers have ruined it for me! When you grow up eating cucumbers in the way that Americans eat apples and oranges, you are in for a disappointment the first time you cross paths with an ordinary cucumber. Persian cucumbers are delicate, high on cucumber flavor, and low on the chalky/bitterness factor. Their skins are sweet and soft, though frequently peeled and sprinkled with salt and pepper, allowing the cucumber to be eaten as you would eat a banana.
When it comes to selecting cucumbers, I always choose this tender and flavorful variety if I can. When I don’t have access to the Persian variety, my go-to is the English cucumber. I feel quite cheated by the regular variety of cucumber as by the time I have peeled the tough and thick skin, I then have to deal with the big, pesky, watery seeds that deliver a good dose of bitterness.
Cucumber salads are very common in Iran, and of course there is the famous and tasty Salad-e Shirazi that has the cucumber mingling with ripe red tomatoes, spring onions, mint, freshly squeezed lime juice, and olive oil. Refreshing and delicious!
This is a slightly different variety in that it uses apples instead of tomatoes and the dressing is a little more complex.
On February 23rd, 2019 I threw a dinner party and invited a few of my very close and dear friends who are self-proclaimed “The Caspian Chef taste testers” and I wanted to offer them a variety of fun and unique Persian food that I was fairly certain they had not had been familiar with.
I was also quite aware that I myself had not had this dish for 37 years. THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS! Ah…the first bite, the familiar taste of home, the playful texture of the fish roe, the tanginess of the barberries, the fragrant and familiar aroma of the herbs were a complete flashback to being a 15-year-old boy and remembering my mom preparing this dish at one of her dinner parties. OK – I know you are doing the math – I am 52!
This is a perfect example of a simple and humble Caspian Sea dish in which large amounts of parsley, cilantro, mint, spinach and green onions are finely chopped and cooked down while brilliant and colorful slices of carrot gently soften in this tangy herb sauce. This dish is typically served with fried eggs or pieces of white fish on top and steamed basmati rice.
Morgh-e Torsh has the power to transport you to the shores of the Caspian Sea! When visiting my mother this weekend, we spent a good few hours in the kitchen talking about the dishes we used to eat that were specific to the Caspian Sea region and this was the first dish we prepared. Our bodies and minds have a tremendous capacity to store nostalgic memories from our childhood such that after nearly 40 years when I took the first bite of this dish, I instantly remembered the tantalizing familiar flavor!