Some Kossacks prefer to post a GBCW diary, me I prefer to post a really good food diary and disappear into the folds of teh internets as a lurker.....for a while. My life is becoming even more complicated and busier that I thought, which leaves me little time to write about my passionate love affair with food & wine though I will write one more next week, this time it will be about one of my very favorite cuisines in the world, Creole. But enough about me, let's go on a Persian Magic carpet ride!
Persian physicians and philosophers considered food and beverages as the main factor to revive the body: consuming food is a way of weakening or strengthening human character. And I think this is interesting: consuming a lot of red meat and fats was thought to create evil thoughts and make us selfish! However (this is still according to Persian lore): consuming a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, fish, fowl, mixed petals and blossoms of roses create unusual powers and make us gentle and noble creatures.
The ancient philosophy of cold and hot food is linked to ancient Zoroastrian religion of the Achaemenian and Sassanian periods. This philosophy once was shared with other civilizations including China, India, and the medieval West:
From region to region, the classifications may vary. In general, animal fat, poultry, wheat, sugar, some fresh fruits and vegetables, and all dried vegetables and fruits are considered as hot. Most beef, fish, rice, dairy products, fresh vegetables and fruits are considered as cold. Based on your nature, season or illness, you eat cold or hot foods. Even today, the way foods are combined and served takes this into consideration. For instance, walnut, a hot food is combined in a dish that includes pomegranate, a cold food, to make the dish balanced and delicious.
Modern Iranians refined the taste and flavor of food and how it is presented although it still retains some roots in its ancient sources. Since no accurate record of classical Persian cooking is available it is difficult to guess but I know that vast banquets occurred at Persepolis. For instance, Darius of Achaemenian paid special attention to agriculture. Walnut, pistachio, pomegranate, cucumber, broad bean and pea (known in China as the "Iranian bean"), basil, coriander, and sesame were introduced by Parthian and Sassanian traders. The techniques of cooking have been passed down generation to generation. Women have had a great influence in the history of cooking in Iran. The best chefs by far were women. From the palaces of Persian kings to the average housewife, women have had fabulous skills in the preparation of food. The Persian menu is vast and varied and I can only give you a small apercu in this diary.
Iranians cook based on what is in season so the food is as fresh and as best quality as it can be. Fragrance during cooking and at the table plays an important role, the same as the taste. Presentation of food is a major factor. Food is garnished so that it pleases the eye.
Iran was first to use many common herbs such as basil, mint, cumin, cloves, and coriander. Many different foods originated or introduced in Iran such as oranges, pistachios, spinach, saffron, sweet and sour sauces, kabobs, almond pastries, etc. The domesticated goat is believed to have originated in Persia. The goat's ability to subsist in sparse vegetation made it ideal for domestication by nomads. There are still many nomads herding goats and sheep in Iran today.
A word about Persian restaurants: unfortunately Iranian eateries tend to mostly serve various types of Kebab & rice pilaf dishes and you won't really be able to taste much of what Persian cooking has to offer unless you are invited to an Iranian home. For instance the following dish will not be found in a restaurant. I had the pleasure to eat this a few times back in L.A. as our then neighbor was originally from the town of Shiraz, the city of poets, wine and flowers (btw, the oldest sample of wine in the world, dating to approximately 7,000 years ago, was discovered on clay jars recovered outside of Shiraz.)
This is a great dish (sorry, I can't recall the name of it, but I have memorized the recipe and I have done it a few times) it's basically a pilaf rice & lentil dish with a twist: it includes sour cherries. For a side dish to serve 6 to 8 persons you'll need: 2 cups Basmati rice, 2 large yellow onions minced finely, 1/2 cup red lentils, 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced finely, 8 to 10 ounces of dried (pitted) sour cherries - check for bits of kernels - 3 cups of chicken broth, a large knob of unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons of turmeric, 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, salt & pepper to taste.
In a 4-5 quart Dutch oven, melt most of the butter and slowly brown the onions. Add the cleaned lentils and fry a bit; then the same for the cleaned rice. Stir constantly, browning the rice without letting it stick. Add the cherries and 3 1/4 cups liquid made up of cherry liquid, stock, and little water. Add the turmeric and ground cumin then add the necessary salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, stir with a fork, cover tightly, and let cook over the very lowest heat for about 20 minutes.
This is crucial to a pilaf: fluff up the rice with a fork (never a spoon) adding the remaining butter as you go. Serve immediately. The contrast of the sour cherries to the lentils and the rice is spectacular. This goes well with a lamb dish or just a vegetable curry.
The next dish is not complicated and should be served as often as possible because it is 1) easy to do, 2) nutritious, 3) cheap to produce! Dolmeh-yeh Seeb-Zamini (potato filled with lamb mince)
For 4 persons you will need: 2 medium potatoes per person, peeled and with some of the inside scooped up; 1 pound of lamb mince (beef ok), 2 large onions, minced finely, 4 garlic cloves, minced, 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil, 2 to 4 tablespoons of tomato paste, 2 eggs, 1 cup of chicken stock and a handful of the following herbs: flat parsley, mint, spring onions, garlic chives, tarragon, basil. Chop up all the herbs and set aside.
Fry the onions in a little sunflower oil over medium heat until golden. Add ground meat, garlic and fry further until meat changes color. Add chicken stock, salt, pepper and the tomato paste. Cook until meat is done. Let it cool off for a while. When cool, add raw eggs, salt and black pepper, and all the herbs. Boil your potatoes gently. When almost done (check with a fork) remove, drain and set aside to cool. Then fill them with the mince and bake them in a slow oven with a sheet of foil as cover. I've had this dish countless times (it almost sounds Irish) and I usually add a little lemon juice when it's done.
Next is the Maast-o-Khiar, a side dish made with yogurt, cucumber, onions, mint, salt, and pepper. It's great with a spicy dish or on its own. This will make 4 servings: 1 pint of plain yogurt, 1 small cucumber, 1 medium onion, grated, a handful of mint leaves, finely chopped, salt & pepper to taste. Beat yogurt well with a whisk until it flows smoothly. Add mint, grated onion and cucumber, salt and pepper to yogurt and mix well. Leave in the refrigerator for two hours, then serve. I love the way Iranians use yogurt in their food.
There's this heavenly dessert they make and it's called - appropriately - Yakh-dar-Behesht or Ice in Heaven. You need to purchase rose water to make this delicacy or it won't taste as it should.
Say for 4 servings (double up ingredients if you need to make more) you will need 55g (2oz) ground rice flour, 15g (1/2 oz) ground almonds, 80g (3 oz) superfine sugar, 375ml (13 fl oz) milk, 45ml (3 tbsp) whipping cream, 60 ml (4 tbsp) rosewater, juice of a lime, and if you can find them, a small handful of candied rose petals to add as garnish on the top. I've seen this done with crushed pistachios on top as well.
In a large saucepan, combine rice flour, ground almonds and sugar, cooking over very low heat until thickened and it bubbles gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. If mixture becomes too thick, add incremental amounts of additional milk. Cook for another five minutes. Remove from heat then stir in whipping cream, rosewater and lime juice. Add sugar to taste. Pour into individual bowls or glasses. Decorate with rose petals or whatever you fancy. Refrigerate until cool and firm.
And a bonus recipe for Morabaa-yeh Seeb which is a simple apple jam with rose-water and lime juice. Since I have now over 50 apple trees I'm going to make jam like crazy, and this one is dead easy.
For a smallish jar you will need 2kg of apples, 2 kg of granulated sugar, 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice and 1/2 cup of rose water.
Wash and peel the apples. Cut each into thin slices, removing the seeds and the hard middle core. In a large cooking pot, place the apples and cover with water. Bring it to a boil, add sugar and cook for 20 minutes over medium heat, then add the lime juice and the rose water. Cook for a further 10 minutes. It should be thickish by now. Use a blender to make it finer if you wish. Personally, I much prefer when it's a little lumpy.