Persian Foods, Iranian Cuisine

Iran or Persia, as one of the ancient civilizations of the world, has its own cuisine. In fact, Iranian/Persian cuisine is one of the oldest and richest cuisines in the world, and is typically vastly different from what is found in other part of the Middle East. Many Persian words about food and drinks are used in other languages, including English language; the words like Candy (Persian root “Qand”), Sugar (Shekar), Lemon (Limu), Pistachio (Pistah), Gizzard (Jigar), Spinach, Caviar, Julep (Gulab), Syrup (Shireh), Sherbet or sorbet or Syrup (form Persian roots “Shireh” (Syrup) and “Shir” (milk). It’s close to other Persian words like Shirin/Shirini (sweet), “Shekar” (sugar), Shahd (sappy), “Sharab” (wine), etc and then was imported into Arabic language), Carafe (Qarabeh [Tong]), Pilaf (Polow), Kebab or Kabob, Sumac, Calabash (Kharbuzeh), Orange (Narang), Alcohol, Sherry (Shirazi [wine]), etc . But the Persian cuisine is not widely recognized, and the main reason is very clear : the Mullahs . In fact, everything in Iran is political, even foods ! The world knows that Iran or Persia is not part of the global community, only because of the Mullahs. But after toppling the Mullahs in Iran, the world would hear a lot about Persian cuisine. Iranian/Persian cuisine has lots of similarity to Turkish and Greek cuisines in some dishes due to cultural contacts with Greeks and Turks. In fact, Greeks learned many things from Iranians in the ancient time, and vice versa. And in the modern time, Turks learned many things from Iranians, and vice versa. In the previous posts, we introduced some traditional Iranian foods like Nan Sangak, Kale Pache, and Abgousht or Dizi and some traditional and special foods for Nowruz, like Sabzi Polo, Ajil, and Cholo Kabab . But the list of traditional and special Iranian foods is very long. Each part or province of Iran has its own list of special foods. It’s so obvious that each ancient civilization should be like this, and its list of special foods should be very long. In this article, we try to list some of the main Iranian foods and then later, in the other articles, we would write more about each of them.

The traditional drink accompanying Iranian dishes is “Doogh“, a combination of yogurt, still or carbonated water, and dried mint. As we said before, “Sherbet” (Sorbet or Syrup) is a Persian word that is used in other language, including English language. So, it’s so obvious that Iranian drinks/sherbets have many special types, such as: Khak shir (herbal drink), Tokhme Sharbati (herbal drink), different kinds of Araghijat (different kinds of herbal drinks), Aab Zereshk (barberry juice), Aab Anaar (pomegranate juice), Sekanjebin, Aab Hendevaneh (watermelon juice), and many others. Iranian dessert dishes range from Bastani-e Za-ferani (Persian ice cream that serves with saffron) to Faludeh (a frozen sorbet made with thin starch noodles and rosewater). In Persian language “Bastani” means “Ice cream”, and Persian ice creams is flavored with saffron, rosewater, etc. There are also many types of Iranian sweets, and non-Iranian sweets that have an Iranian twist, such as the addition of saffron, pistachios, and walnuts. As we said before, Candy (Persian root “Qand”), Sugar (Shekar), etc are Persian words, so it’s obvious that Iranians should have many special types of sweets or Shirini . The traditional Iranian sweets are: Shirini Berenji (a type of rice cookie), Shirini Nokhodchi (clover-shaped chickpea flour cookies), Gaz (special sweet of Esfahan), Sohan (Honey Toffee), Baghlava, Basloogh, Kolouche (a large cookie usually with a walnut or fig filling), Shirini Keshmeshi (raisin and saffron cookies), Noghl (sugar-coated almonds), Nabaat (sugar-candy), Zulbia, Bamieh, Gush-e Fil (Zulbia have been popular in other parts of the world at least since early medieval times ), etc. In fact, each province of Iran, has dozens of special sherbets and sweets, and listing all of them is very hard.

Iranian breads are special and flat breads. There are four major Iranian breads : Nan Sangak (that is considered as the national bread), Nan Lavash (thin, flaky and round or oval, and is also the oldest known bread in the Middle East and Central Asia), Nan Taftoon (Thin, but thicker than Lavash, soft and round.), and Nan Barbari (thick and oval-shaped, also known as Tabrizi Bread, for its origins in and links to the city of Tabriz). In Iran, there are said to be more than forty types of wheat breads from very dark to very light. Iranian bread is the main part of Iranian breakfast. In Iran, breakfast is called Sobhaneh or Nashtayi . The basic traditional Iranian breakfast consists of a variety of Iranian breads, Paneer (White cheese), Kheme or Sarshir (whipped heavy cream), and a variety of fruit jams and spreads. Other popular traditional breakfasts include Haleem or Halim (wheatmeal served plain or more commonly with shredded lamb or turkey -similar to Western oatmeal in some respects; see below picture), Adasi (a delicious boiled lentil; see below picture), and Kale Pache (Kaleh Pacheh) .

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Iranian Polow/Polo (rice) is very famous and very old. It is believed that rice (berenj in Persian) was brought to Iran from the Indian subcontinent in ancient times . Polo is often eaten by Khoresht (stews). Polo Khoresht has many different kinds like: Geymeh, Gormeh Sabzi, Fesnjan, Baghali Polo, Zereshk Polo, Sabzi Polo, etc. Sometimes Polo is eaten without Khoresht, like: Loubi Polo, Adas Polo, Dami or Dam-Pokhtak, Shirin Polo, Albaloo Polo, etc. One of the oldest recipes, which can trace its existence back to the time of Persian empire, is khoresht Fesenjan, consisting of duck or sometimes chicken in a rich pomegranate-and-walnut sauce that yields a distinctive brown color, most often served with white rice . The eggplant (aubergine) is “the potato of Iran”, and many foods are made by eggplant. Iranians call eggplant “Morghe Siah Bijoon”, that means “Black inanimate Chicken ” ! Iranians are fond of fresh green salads dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, etc. Vegetables such as spinach, green beans, broad beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, Sabzi ( herbs like basil, cilantro, fenugreek greens, tarragon, Persian watercress or Shaahi, etc), spring onions, etc are one of the main part of the Iranian/Persian foods.

Now lets take a look at two ancient and famous Iranian foods: Aash, and Dolmeh.

Aash (Iranian Soup)

Aash is a special kind of soup, and can be called “Persian soup”. In fact, Ash is similar to soup but thicker, which is usually served hot. Aash has many different kinds, like Aash Reshte, Aash-e Sholeh-Ghalamkar, Aash Jo, Aash Anar, Aash Alou, Aash Mast, Aash Torsh, Aash Isfanaj, etc. Depending on the type of Aash, it could contain different types of grain, legumes (chick peas, black-eye beans, lentils), vegetables, herbs (parsley, spinach, dill, spring onion ends, coriander, dried mint), onions, oil, meat, garlic, Reshteh (noodle) and spices, such as salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron, etc. Depending on the ingredients, it can be considered a full meal. The most common Aash is Aash Reshteh .

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Aash Reshteh’s ingredients are: Reshteh (noodle; special Iranian noodle), Sabzi Aash (i.e special herbs for Aash, that include: parsley, cilantro, spinach, green onions, etc), chickpeas, red beans or red kidney beans, lentils (optional), onion and garlic, and
Kashk (whey; special Iranian whey) . Iranians eat Aash with a lot of Kashk. In fact, they add some Kashk to their Aash when eating it. Nanaa Dagh (the sautéed mint, onions, and garlic) and Kashk are used for decorating Aash. A good Aash should be very thick, or as Iranians say “Jaa-Oftadeh”, i.e. cooking a good Aash is very time consuming, and at least 2 or 3 hours is needed for cooking a good Aash.

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Aash is a especial food for many occasion, from feast/ceremony to picnic and outdoor activities, like Charshabeh Soori , 13-Bedar , outdoor or indoor parties, Ramedan (a month of Islamic fast), Travel (before, after, or during travel), etc.

Dolme / Dolmeh

The term Dolma describes any vegetable stuffed with rice or a rice-and meat mixture. In fact, Dolmeh is an stuffing/mixture inside a vegetable, like grape leave, bell pepper, tomato, eggplant, etc . The main part of Dolme is the stuffing/mixture, that is a combination of onion, rice, yellow split peas, ground beef, herbs (parsley, cilantro, green onions, dill, Tarragon, mint, etc). Then the (emptied) vegetables are stuffed with the cooked stuffing/mixture, and will be boiled in water.

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Dolmeh Barge Mo (Stuffed Grape Leaves) is the most common of Persian Dolmeh . There are a variety of ways to make the mixture that is wrapped with the grape leaves. In fact, some of the stuffing/mixture is placed on the leaf and then the leaf is wrapped.

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For more Information:

[1] A Collection of Aash recipes (different kinds of Aash) [2] an Aash Reshte Recipe (a special recipe, different from the typical one)
[3] Dolme Recipe
[4] A collection of Persian Recipes
[5] Another Collection of Persian Recipes

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