Cuisines get to be a true reflection of every country and the habits of their residents. They are a doorway to cultures and an easy, super-delicious chance to learn about the world. Today, we are taking you on a journey to the exceptional Persian Cuisine from Iran.
Thanks to the stereotypes the media have been pouring into our heads about Iran, we know very little, if nothing at all, about the country nor its deeply rooted culture, history, and the influence the Persian civilization had on the world. That said, we are not talking politics here, we are talking culinary delights and everything food.
Though distinctive in and of itself, Iranian cuisine has always been in contact with those of the neighbouring countries, influencing and being influenced by them. It exchanged recipes with Greece and recreated ones from Turkmenistan. It exported food menus to Russia and bought herbs and spices from India. It made tea in two stacked teapots like Turkey and cooked noodle soups like China.
That sure resulted in some similarities. But even if many dishes from West and Central Asia may seem to have the same ingredients, they all taste deliciously different. Every country adds in their own preferences as well as their culinary flavours.
For instance, if the recipe says boil, they might simmer. If they have to barbecue, they could use an oven grill. Or if they have to cook in an aluminium pan, they may use a pottery casserole instead. Tiny changes, extremely different, unpredictable tastes.
And just like noodles in China are not the same as noodles in Japan and are definitely completely unlike those in South Korea, Iranian dishes are inherently different from other central and western Asian dishes, even though they might look similar.
Having said that, today we bring you four savoury Iranian main course dishes, perfect for weekend lunch and dinner—you surely can cook them on weekdays but they kind of take a little more time than available for people with full-time jobs.
Such an experience will leave you in awe at how special and sadly unknown Iranian cuisine is. It might even ignite curiosity about what the rest of the country is truly like.
So let’s hop to the recipes.
Four Flavourful Dishes from Persian Cuisine
Generally, Iranian cuisine mainly comprises rice, meat, vegetables, and nuts. Fruits such as apricots, prunes, pomegranates, plums, and raisins are also frequently used as well as herbs, spices including saffron, cinnamon, and parsley, and other sources of flavouring. It is how all of those are combined that makes the difference in every dish.
1. Sabzi Polo
Or herbed rice.
This is a famous dish in Iranian cuisine as it is one of the ones served during the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which starts in March every year and lasts for about two weeks. The dish itself features basmati rice and fresh herbs. What is special about this dish is that it is served upside-down. This results in a layer of tahdig—that crispy rice layer cooked at the bottom of the pot.
The dish is traditionally served alone though some people like to add along grilled chicken breasts or salmon. Others like to add lettuce or tortilla bread at the bottom of the pot to make the tahdig. Here, we will just stick with the original recipe.
The recipe takes around two to three hours to make.
- 2 1/2 cups of basmati rice
- 1 large bunch (2 1/2 cup) of finely chopped cilantro
- 1 large bunch (2 1/2 cup) of finely chopped parsley
- 1 large bunch (2 1/2 cup) of finely chopped dill
- 1 large bunch (or 2 cups) of chives or scallions
- 1/2 cup of minced dried dill
- 1/4 cup of minced garlic
- 1/4 cup of canola or grapeseed oil
- 1/4 cup of saffron threads
- 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons of whole milk yoghourt
- 1 egg yolk, preferably of a large one
- Kosher salt
Add the rice into a large bowl and add cold water. With your hand, stir the rice in the water then pour it off. Rinse the rice up to seven times until the water comes out clean. Then soak the rice for an extra 30 minutes after adding some salt. Pro tip: soak it overnight.
Then in a large nonstick cooking pot, add water until the pot is half full. Add two tablespoons of salt and a drizzle of oil and bring to a boil. Then add the rice and let it boil over high heat for 10 minutes or until it is al dente; soft but not overcooked.
Take the rice off the stove and drain the extra water. Remove it from the pot and set it aside for now. Wipe the pot out and add the oil. Then in a smaller bowl, add the yoghurt, egg yolk, oil, and two teaspoons of saffron. Mix well then add them to the oil in the pot.
In a different bowl, add the chopped parsley, dill, chive, dill, and garlic and mix them all. Then add them to the rice and stir until they are evenly distributed. Add the herbed rice to the pot (where the oil and the yoghurt mixture are) and cover it.
Cook over moderately high heat until the rice starts to steam. Uncover the rice and add two tablespoons of saffron and 1/4 cup of boiling water then the sliced butter.
Cover the pot with parchment paper or a paper towel then tightly with the lid. Cook the rice over low heat for around 45 minutes until it is fully cooked. You will know this anyway from the captivating fragrance that will fill your kitchen.
Once the rice is cooked, uncover it and remove the parchment paper, put a large plate on the pot and carefully flip it over. Since your pot is nonstick, the rice should come out easily, covered with the crunchy layer of tahdig.
2. Khoresh Gheymeh
Our next dish is a visual appetite stimulant, not just because it looks so yummy that it will open up your appetite in mere seconds, but also because of the variety of ingredients and flavouring used to make it.
Koresh Gheymeh is a heartwarming potato-meat stew that is very popular and a must-try dish for anyone exploring Iranian cuisine. This main course dish features, besides meat cubes and fried potatoes, peas and a very special Persian spice mix of cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, and rose petals. This is called Advieh!
The delicious stew is preferably served with either a Shirazi salad (next recipe) or a cucumber-garlic-yoghourt salad.
The recipe takes a total of two hours of both preparation and cooking.
- 1/2 cup of yellow split peas
- 1 large diced onion
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 1/2 kilo of stew meat cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup of tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon of Advieh
- 3 dried limes
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
- 10 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground saffron
- 2 large potatoes cut into fries
- Salt and sugar
Add the yellow peas into a bowl with one and a half cups of water and bring them to a boil. Then cover the pod, lower the heat, and let the peas simmer for around 12-15 minutes. Turn the heat off, drain the water and set the peas aside.
On moderate heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and then the diced onion. Saute it for around 15 minutes then add one teaspoon of ground turmeric and continue to saute until the onion turns out golden brown. Lastly, add the meat cubes and cook with the onion for five minutes on moderately high heat.
Add the tomato paste and cook the mixture for two minutes then add one and a half cups of boiling water. Cover the stew and cook for 45 minutes. After that, uncover and add salt to your preference, half a teaspoon of sugar, dried lime, pepper, and Advieh. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes.
While the stew is cooking, add four tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and half a teaspoon of turmeric and mix them well with the potatoes. Then on a sheet of parchment paper spread on a tray, add the potatoes, single-layered, and place the tray in a 180°C oven. Roast the potatoes for 30 minutes or until golden and crispy. At around 15 minutes in the oven, make sure you flip the potatoes over to the other side.
Now back to the stew. After it has cooked for 45 minutes, add the cooked peas, stir it with the stew and let it simmer for another 15 minutes on low heat then check if the meat is fully cooked. The stew should not be runny or dry but rather dense. So adjust it by adding water to get the preferred consistency. Add a quarter teaspoon of saffron and a little bit of rose water to the stew and mix well.
Take the stew off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then serve in a large bowl and top it with the roasted fries.
Khoresh Gheymeh can be served with herbed basmati rice.
3. Shirazi Salad
Named after the city in the west of Iran it originated from, Shirazi salad is a healthy, tasty mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, and other vegetables and herbs. It is a side dish to serve along with the main course, notably, kabab koobideh or lamb meatballs.
This salad recipe is incredibly easy and takes only 15 minutes to make.
- 3 large tomatoes
- 1 large English cucumber
- 1 medium-sized red onions
- 1 medium-sized bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons of dried crushed mint or 1/2 cup of fresh chopped mint
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro
- Sour grape juice (if available)
- Lime juice
- Virgin olive oil
- Black pepper
Chop the tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, and onion into small pieces. Make sure the tomatoes you pick are quite firm, so your salad does not turn out very juicy. Then add the chopped parsley, dill, and cilantro.
In a small bowl, add two tablespoons of olive oil, three tablespoons of fresh lime juice, a pinch of salt, black pepper, crushed dried mint, and sour grape juice and whisk them until evenly mixed. If grape juice is not available, you can still do without it.
Add the dressing to the chopped veggies and mix them all.
It is best to leave the salad to chill for about an hour in the fridge until the ingredients settle and the flavours deepen.
4. Ash Reshteh
Here is another dish that is very popular during Nowruz festivals, though it is pretty much served year-round too.
Ash Reshteh is a Persian dish of beans and noodle soup. Like all other ingredients, it is rich in savoury flavours. But it is quite distinctive for multiple other reasons. This dish is extremely nutritious and healthy. The noodles used in the recipe are different from spaghettis; they are saltier and have more starch.
The soup also has a different base than that of other chicken, crème, or tomato soup bases.
This recipe takes around 30 minutes of preparation and 90 minutes of cooking; a total of 2 hours.
- 1/2 teaspoon of dried crushed mint
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 3 cloves of grated garlic
- 1/4 cup of dried soaked chickpeas
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup of green lentils
- 1/4 cup of soaked kidney peas
- 1/4 cup of soaked navy beans
- 1 cup of chopped spinach
- 1 cup of chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup of chopped dill
- 1/2 tablespoon of flour
- 1 cup of chopped parsley
- 1/2 of chopped green onions
- 1/4 cup of chopped fenugreek leaves
- 45 grams of linguine noodles
- 1/2 cup of kashak or sour cream
- 1 tablespoon of lime juice
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
- Water (better if you have lamb stock)
Note: for better results, it is recommended you soak the chickpeas, kidney beans, and navy beans overnight.
Slice the onion very thinly then add them to the oil in a large cooking pot and saute for 15 minutes on medium heat until it is golden brown. Add the grated garlic halfway through and stir well.
Take the pot off the heat, add the turmeric and stir it with the onion/garlic mixture. Take some of the mixtures, stir them with the dried crushed mint, and set them aside for garnish.
Drain the water from the chickpeas, kidney beans, and navy beans then add them to the rest of the onion/garlic oil mixture. Then pour in three cups of water or preferably meat stock along with half a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of ground black pepper. Bring them all to a boil.
Lower the heat and let the soup simmer for an hour or until the beans are fully cooked. After that, add the lentils and let them all cook for 15 minutes more.
After that, add all the chopped herbs and stir them with the soup. Add in water as needed and let it simmer for around 45 minutes. The result should be soft, pulpy, dense soup.
In a separate bowl, add the flour and a little bit of soup. Mix them well then add them back to the soup. Then add the noodles and let them cook in the mixture for 10 minutes or so. In the end, it should be cooked but not completely; al dente.
Add in salt and lemon juice, and adjust as preferred. Then add the sour cream and top it with the onion/garlic mixture you set aside before.