Anar Bij is a hearty and flavor-packed dish from Gilan province in the Caspian Sea region of Iran. Delicate meatballs are gently cooked in a creamy walnut sauce that is then flavored with fresh herbs and pomegranate molasses. Tart flavors, aromatics, and a hint of sweetness combine to make this dish another poster child of Persian cuisine!
If you are familiar with Persian cuisine you will notice similarities between this dish and the highly popular Fesenjoon, a stew of chicken cooked in walnut and pomegranate sauce. Two things set this dish apart, however: the chicken is replaced by meatballs, and fresh herbs create an added depth of flavor.
Shami is often referred to as a meat patty, though realistically it is more about herbs and ground walnuts than it is about the meat. Throughout Iran, you will find a multitude of Shami varieties using different types of meat, often with added chickpeas, yellow split peas, or red lentils.
This version from the Caspian Sea region was one of my favorite dishes when I was growing up. Though I had no idea of the effort that went into preparing them, I knew there was something very special about these patties. There was nothing ordinary about them: Mom used her finger to poke a hole in their centers, so they came in a form you’d more often associate with a bagel or a donut. And all the herbs transformed the meat into something incredibly tasty, rich, and aromatic. I can still remember the scent that would emanate from the kitchen, signaling that mom was cooking Shami again!
You say frittata: I say Kuku; you say (Spanish) tortilla: I say K . . . and we are saying the same thing – almost! It is actually a stretch to call this dish a frittata or a tortilla, but I don’t know a better comparison.
Kuku is an Iranian egg-based dish that combines vegetables, herbs and/or meat mixed into the egg mixture along with spices, and is baked or pan-fried to create a light and fluffy savory delight.
This Kuku is another specialty dish from the Caspian Sea region of Iran. This region has such an affinity for simple but exceptionally flavorful dishes that are naturally plant-forward and rely heavily on abundant local produce.
To most Persians, Sohan Asali is a beloved and familiar sweet that is a prime example of Mehmoon-Navazi, a uniquely Persian style of over-the-top hospitality!
To me, Sohan Asali is a reminder of the nearly forgotten years of 40 years ago when I lived in Iran and celebrated the Winter Solstice, called Shab-e Yalda in Farsi. Shab translates to night and Yalda is the reference to the longest night of the year.
Fall is my favorite season for variety of reasons: the turning of the leaves, the bright and colorful fall foliage, my birthday, and the arrival of harvest-time.
Squashes, persimmons, quinces and pomegranates top the list of seasonal favorites for me. I find the flavors of squashes quite appealing and when you think of it, what’s not to love?! They deliver carbs with a soft texture and a sweet flavor profile that pairs so nicely with many other flavors.
This is fesenjoon, another national culinary treasure of Iran. There aren’t many dishes that give you as much pleasure and joy of eating as fesenjoon! It’s inherently a simple dish, showcasing a perfect blend of simple and yet flavorful ingredients that are abundant in Iran, making it a celebration of natural resources.
The dish starts with walnuts that are ground into a coarse powder and features lightly-browned chicken pieces that are patiently cooked to tenderness in a pomegranate sauce. Choosing the best quality ingredients will ensure you have the best fesenjoon on the block!
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 Khoresh (Persian stews).
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 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.
Zeitoon parvardeh is full of umami flavors, a mixture of olives, creamy ground walnuts, and fresh herbs topped with pomegranate and a unique Persian spice called golpar, a hogweed seed. This is a Caspian Sea specialty that also uses locally grown herbs that are unique to the area and otherwise not available elsewhere. Hence for the recipe, I have simply eliminated it and increased the quantity of the other herbs!
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!