Persian cuisine or the cuisine of Iran is diverse, with each province featuring dishes, culinary traditions and styles distinct to their regions.
It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from chelo kabab , khoresht , aash , kookoo (vegetable omeletes), pollo , and a diverse variety of salads, pastries, and drinks specific to different parts of Iran. The list of Persian recipes, appetizers and desserts is extensive.
Herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. The main Persian cuisines are combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. To achieve a balanced taste, characteristic Persian flavourings such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes.
It is believed that rice (berenj in Persian) was brought to Iran from southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent in ancient times. Varieties of rice in Iran include champa, rasmi, anbarbu, mowlai, sadri, khanjari, shekari, doodi, and others. Basmati rice from India is very similar to these Persian varieties and is also readily available in Iran. Traditionally, rice was most prevalent as a major staple item in northern Iran, while in the rest of the country bread was the dominant staple.the rice of used in the persian food have good smell and grow in the north of iran
Methods of cooking rice
There are three primary methods of cooking rice in Iran:
Polo : rice is prepared by soaking in salted water and boiled, (parboiled rice is called Chelo.) Chelo is drained and put back in the pot to be steamed. This method results in an exceptionally fluffy rice with the rice grains separated and not sticky. A golden rice crust is created at the bottom of the pot called Tah-deeg (literally "bottom of the pot"). Tah-deeg can be plain or with spreading lavash or other thin breads or slices of raw potatoes on the bottom of the pot. Meat, vegetable, nuts and fruits are sometimes added in layers or completely mixed with the chelo and then steamed, such as Baghali Polo, Lubia Polo, Zereshk Polo and Sabzi Polo. When Chelo is in the pot the heat is reduced and a piece of thick cloth or towel is place on top of the pot for absorbing the extra steam.
Kateh : rice that is cooked until the water is absorbed completely. This is also the traditional dish of Gilan Province (described in detail below).
Damy : cooked almost the same as Kateh but at the start ingredients that can be cooked throughly with the rice are added such as grains and beans such as lentile in "Adass Polo". In making Kateh the heat is reduced to minimum when the rice and other ingredients are almost cooked. If kept long enough on the stove without burning and over-cooking Damy and Kateh can also produce Tah-deeg. Damy literally means "Steaming."
There are four major Iranian flat breads:
Nan-e barbari: thick and oval-shaped, also known as Tabrizi Bread or Nan-e Tabrizi, for its origins in and links to the city of Tabriz.
Nan-e lavash: thin, crispy and round or oval, and is also the oldest known bread in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Nan-e sangak: Triangle-shaped bread that is stone-baked.
Nan-e taftoon: Thin, but thicker than Lavash, soft and round.
Other breads include:
Nan-e shirmal: Made like barbari, except with milk instead of water, in addition to a bit of sugar, and is eaten during breakfast or with tea.
Nan-e ghandi: Sweet bread made like taftoon, and is eaten during breakfast or with tea.
Nan-e gisu: a sweet Armenian bread, and also is eaten in the morning or with tea later in the day.
Nan-e dushabi: bread made with grape syrup.
Nan-e tiri: like lavash.
Nan-e tokhme-ru: breads with sweet-smelling seeds on them.
Nan-e khoshke-shirin: sweet brittle bread baked in gentle heat.
Nan-e khoshke-tanur: brittle bread baked in gentle heat.
Nan-e kopoli: any kind of thick bread.
Second only to rice is the production and use of wheat. There are said to be more than forty types of wheat breads from very dark to very light. From crisp to limp, and at least one type of flat bread will be a part of every meal. Nan-e lavash is an example of the thin crisp bread with good keeping qualities, while nan-e sangak is a fresh yeast bread, baked on hot stones and eaten while still warm.
Fruits and vegetables
Iran has terrific agriculture, so many fruits and vegetables, especially what a lot of countries consider exotic are easier to come by. A bowl full of fruit is common on most Persian tables and dishes of vegetables and herbs are standard sides to most meals.
Iran is one of the top date producers in the world; some of the most succulent dates come from there.
For generations, Iranians have been eating various fruits, vegetables, and herbs for their health benefits that have only recently been discovered in other parts of the world. For example, onions and garlic, pomegranate, and sabzijat (various green herbs) are regular ingredients in many Persian dishes.
While the climate of the Middle East is conducive to the growing of fruits, the orchards and vineyards of Iran produce fruits of legendary flavour and size. These are not only enjoyed fresh and ripe as desserts but are also imaginatively combined with meats and form unusual accompaniments to main dishes. When fresh fruits are not available, a large variety of excellent dried fruits such as dates, figs, apricots and peaches are used instead. The list of fruits includes fresh dates and fresh figs. Many citrus fruits, apricots, peaches, sweet and sour cherries, apples, plums, pears, pomegranates and many varieties of grapes and melons.
While the eggplant (aubergine) is "the potato of Iran", Iranians are fond of fresh green salads dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and a little garlic. Vegetables such as pumpkin, spinach, green beans, broad beans, courgettes, varieties of squashes and carrots are commonly used in rice and meat dishes.
Tomatoes, cucumbers and spring onions often accompany a meal. A small sweet variety of cucumber is popularly served as a fruit. The term "dolmeh" is used to describe any vegetable or fruit stuffed with a rice or rice-and meat mixture: vine leaves, cabbage leaves, spinach, eggplant, sweet peppers, tomatoes, even apples and quince.
To underline both the skill and imagination of Iranian cookery, a few examples of the main ingredients in Iranian specialties would include duck, pomegranates and walnuts; lamb, prunes and cinnamon; spinach, orange and garlic; and chicken and sliced peaches sauteed in onions and butter, seasoned with cinnamon and lemon juice.
The above are only a few examples of the combination of meats and vegetables, or meats and fruits plus unusual seasonings that may go into "chelo khoresh", the favorite Iranian dish that is served at least once daily. This dish of crusty baked rice is topped by one of the sauces listed, or one of dozens more limited only by price and availability of ingredients.
Khoresht Beh (Quince Stew) , is an example of using fruits in Iranian cooking :chunks of lamb are stewed with slices or cubes of tart quince, and yellow split peas; this dish is always served with rice.
Drinks and dessert
The traditional drink accompanying Iranian dishes is called doogh. Doogh is a combination of yogurt, water (or soda) and dried mint. However many domestic soda beverages such as Zam Zam Cola and its competition Parsi Cola are widely consumed with meals. Both Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola have officially licensed bottling plants in Mashad, with their products not subject to U.S. sanctions against Iran, likely due to the licensing deals being worth less than economic investment limits under the sanctions. Other drinks are several types of especially prepared sherbets called Sharbat and khak sheer. One favorite is Aab-e Havij, alternately called havij bastani, carrot juice made into an ice cream float and garnished with cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices. There are also drinks that aren't served with meals. These are Sheer Moz (banana milk shake), Aab Talebi (cantaloupe juice), and Aab Hendevaneh (watermelon juice). These drinks are commonly made in stands or kiosks in streets on summer days and on hiking trails. Aab Anaar (pomegranate juice) is also popular and has recently (2007) become popular in North America, specifically for its supposed health benefits including its high anti-oxidant levels (much higher than green tea). Although firm scientific evidence demonstrates that the touted health benefits of pomegranate are yet unproven and largely a marketing tactic by one U.S. company in particular.
There are many dessert dishes, ranging from Bastani-e Za'farani to the faludeh, a sort of frozen sorbet, made with thin starch noodles and rose water. Persian Ice Cream is flavored with saffron, rosewater, and chunks of heavy cream. There are also many types of sweets. The sweets divide into two categories: "Shirini Tar" (lit. moist sweets) and "Shirini Khoshk" (lit. dry sweets). The first category consists of French-inspired pastries with heavy whole milk whipped cream, glazed fruit toppings, tarts, custard-filled eclairs, and a variety of cakes. Some have an Iranian twist, such as the addition of pistachio, saffron, and walnuts. The second category consists of more traditional sweets: Shirini-e Berenji (a type of rice cookie), Shirini-e Nokhodchi , Kolouche (a large cookie usually with a walnut or fig filling), Shirini-e Keshmeshi (raisin and saffron cookies), Shirini-e Yazdi , Nan-e kulukhi (a kind of large and thick cookie similar to clod inside without any filling), and more.
Three othersthat is, Zulbia , Bamieh and Gush-e Fil are very popular. Bamieh is an oval-shaped sweet dough piece, deep fried and then covered with a syrup (traditionally with honey). Zulbia is the same sort of dough, also deep-fried, but it is poured into the oil so that it twirls,then covered with the same syrup (or honey) . It has become popular in other parts of the world, and is known as funnel cake in North America, and Jalebi in India. Goosh-e Fil (lit. Elephant's ear) is also deep-fried dough, fried in the shape of a flat elephant's ear and then covered with sugar powder. Of course, no discussion of Persian desserts would be complete without one of the classics, Halvardeh (Tehrani for halva-arde, wirth halva, an Arabic loan word meaning 'sweet' and arde, Persian for Arabic tahini. Halva comes in various qualities and varieties, from mainly sugar, to sesame seed extract, which is known as tahini in the west (the aforementioned Persian arde), with pestach, and Iran produces some of the best.
There are certain accompaniments (mokhalafat) which are essential to every Iranian meal at lunch (nahar) and dinner (shaam), regardless of the region. These include, first and foremost, a plate of fresh herbs, called sabzi , a variety of flat breads, called naan or noon , cheese , sliced and peeled cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and onions, yoghurt, and lemon juice. Persian gherkins (khiyarshur) and pickles (torshi) are also considered essential in most regions.
Tea (chai) is served at breakfast. At other times it is served based on the region, usually many times throughout the day. For example, in the province of Khorasan it is served immediately before and after lunch and dinner. The traditional methods of tea preparation and drinking differ between regions and peoples.
Kateh is the traditional dish of Gilan, and is simply Persian rice cooked in water, butter and salt until the water is fully absorbed. This method results in rice that is clumped together and is the predominant style of cooking rice in the Caspian region. In Gilan and Mazandaran, kateh is also eaten as a breakfast meal, either heated with milk and jam, or cold with Persian cheese (panir) and garlic. Kateh is commonly eaten in other parts of Iran because of its short cooking time and easy preparation, and is prescribed widely as a natural remedy for those who are sick with the common cold or flu, and also for those suffering from stomach pains and ulcers.
The famous Iranian caviar and Caspian fish roes hails from that region, and is served with eggs, in frittatas (kuku sabzi) or omelettes.
Gilan and Mazandaran is probably home to the most numerous list of recipes compared to other regions. Some Gilani and Mazandarani delicious dishes are:
Badenjan Torshi (pickled eggplants),
baqala bij ,
Darar (a Meze),
Felfel Torshi (pickled piments),
Mast o Khiar (a Meze),
Morabaye Bahar Narenj,
Morabaye Gol Mohammadi,
Morabaye Zoqal Akhteh,
Piyaz Torshi (pickled onions),
Rob e Narenj,
Rob e Anar,
Rob e Sir Torsh,
Sir Torshi (pickled garlic),
Spinach thick soup (Ash-e Esfenadj),
Zeytun Parvardeh (a Meze),
The Gilani variety of rice is considered one of the best in Iran, where it has been in use since the fourth century BCE.
See Khuzestan: People and Culture
Gaz is a sweet that originates from the city of Isfahan, located in the central plateau of Iran .
"Khoresh-e mast"(yogurt stew) is a traditional dish in Isfahan. Unlike other stews despite its name it is not served as a main dish and with rice; Since it is more of a sweet pudding it is usually served as a side dish or dessert. The dish is made with yogurt, lamb/mutton or chicken, saffron, sugar and orange zest. Iranians either put the orange zest in water for one week or longer or boil them for few minutes so the orange peels become sweet and ready for use. People in Iran make a lot of delicate dishes and jam with hull of fruits. This dish often accompanies celebrations and weddings.
Isfahan is famous for its Beryooni. This dish is made of baked lung and mutton that is minced and then cooked in a special small pan over the fire. The food is generally eaten with a certain type of bread, "nan-e taftton".
See also Biryani.
AzerbaijanGhormeh sabzi(Herb Stew) and Gheimeh(Split-pea Stew) are traditional stews of Azerbaijan. Now, they have also became popular in other parts of Iran.
Aash (Thick Soup) is popular food in Azerbaijan. Varieties of Aash (Thick Soup) in Azerbaijan include :
Kahskh Aash (Dried Whey Thick Soup)
Turshulu Aash (Sour Thick Soup)
Yogurtlu Aash (Yogurt Thick Soup)
Isfanaj Aashi (Spinach Thick Soup)
Aash Mast (Yogurt-soup)(in Ardabil)
Ghabli is traditional dish in Azerbaijan.This dish is made of rice, lentil, meat, potato and groats.
Garniyarikh ("the torn abdomen" in Azeri).That is some kind of Dolma which is filled with meat, garlic, and almonds.
Kufteh Tabrizi A kind of Kofteh that unusually large. (see also Kufteh Tabrizi)
Tabriz is famous for its delicious cookies in Iran , some of which are Ghorabiye, Eris, Nogha , Baklava and many others.
Ghovatou in Kerman
Ghaliye Mahi (fish soup) in Bushehr
Angosht-pich in Hamadan
Pashmak and Baghlavaa in Yazd
Morasah-Polo in Tehran
Kaak, Naan-berenji, Khoresht-e Khalal and Sibb-polo in Kermanshah
Yekaveh, Gheimeh Tarreh, Ash-e Shalami and Bourany in Kurdistan
Traditional Iranian table settings
The traditional Iranian table setting firstly involves the tablecloth, called sofreh, and is spread out over a Persian rug or table. Main dishes are concentrated in the center, surrounded by smaller dishes containing appetizers, condiments, side dishes, as well as bread, all of which are nearest to the diners. These latter dishes are called mokhalafat(accompaniments). When the food has been served, an invitation is made to all those seated at the sofrehto help themselves.
Structure of meals'Breakfast (sobhaneh or nashtayi )'
The basic traditional Iranian breakfast consists of a variety of flat breads , butter, Tabrizi white cheese (paneer), feta cheese, whipped heavy cream , and a variety of fruit jams and spreads. Other popular traditional breakfasts (which require far more preparation) include haleem(wheatmeal served plain or more commonly with shredded lamb or turkey - similar to Western oatmeal in some respects), asheh mohshalah(thick soup). These latter breakfasts are typically regional specialities, and many cities and towns all across Iran feature their own distinct versions of these dishes. Both asheh mohshalahand haleemare typically prepared the night before, to be served the next morning, and haleemis usually only served at certain times of the year (haleem specialty restaurants are only open during those times), except in southern parts of Iran, where haleemis always present. Kaleh pachehis almost always only served from three in the morning until sometime after dawn, and specialty restaurants (serving only kaleh pacheh) are only open during those hours.'Lunch and dinner (naahaar or shaam)'
Traditional Persian cooking is done in stages, at times needing hours of preparation and attention. The outcome is a well-balanced mixture of herbs, meat, beans, dairy products, and vegetables. Major staples of Iranian food that are usually eaten with every meal include rice, various herbs , cheese , a variety of flat breads, and some type of meat . Stew over rice is by far the most popular dish, and the constitution of these vary by region. Tea (chai) is the drink of choice on nearly every occasion, and is usually served with dried fruit, pastries, or sweets.
You can usually find tea brewing throughout the day in most Iranian homes. Doogh, a yogurt drink, is also quite popular. One of the oldest recipes, which can trace its existence back to the time of Persian empire, is khoresht-e-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.
Though strictly banned some time after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, alcoholic beverages may be readily available in Iran, but they are not openly available. The most common beverage is called aragh-e keshmesh, which is domestically produced, with the best variety available in the province of Qazvin. Vodka is the second most commonly available alcohol, with most quantities imported directly from Russia. Some domestic varieties of vodka are available, but cannot be easily obtained (the brand "55"). Beer is the third most common alcoholic beverage, with much of it imported from northern Europe via Turkey. As with vodka, domestic beer is available, but not easily obtained. Other imported liquors such as Scotch whisky, gin, and higher quality vodkas from Poland are available in some major cities, but at a much higher cost (typically even more expensive than the Western average) and as such are considered luxury items.
Wine has been a major part of Iranian culture since ancient times, and this tradition has continued despite current governmental restrictions. The major wine-producing centers of Iran are Qazvin, Orumiyeh, Shiraz, and to a lesser extent, Isfahan. Red wine is the most common variety and also the most popular, with white wine also enjoying a strong position in the north. Wine-producers are often, but not always, either of Armenian or Zoroastrian background, as non-Muslim minority groups are entitled the right to produce wine (and other alcoholic beverages) for their own use. Though it is illegal for them to sell wine to other Iranians (and to foreign visitors), this rule may not be followed and their wine may be obtained in those parts of the country where it is produced or distributed. The Armenian producers of Orumiyeh and Isfahan are, in particular, renowned for their sweet, sparkling red wines.See also Shiraz (grape).
Fast food, imported and adapted foods
Popular fast food items in Iran include chelow kabab (literally "rice and kabab"), joojeh kabab , naan o kabab (literally "bread with kabab"), kabab sandwiches, and a number of different derivatives of traditional slow-cooked meals. An increasing preference for American style food amongst a younger generation of Iranians has resulted in the establishment of many pizza, steak, hamburger, and fried chicken establishments, but Western food is sometimes served alongside staples such as those mentioned above, and is often prepared differently (most notably with pizza). Chinese and Japanese cuisine has also become popular in recent years, primarily in Tehran, and Italian and Mediterranean restaurants are also featured.
Persian cuisine in the West
One of the main reasons that Persian cuisine is not widely recognized is that it is often confused with Middle Eastern cuisine, a much broader and more general term, and this confusion is further perpetuated by restaurants and markets providing authentic Persian cuisine that label themselves as such.
Many Persian super-markets and restaurants are labelled as Middle Eastern, International, or Mediterranean in order to broaden their appeal to the Western consumer. In reality, Persian cuisine is one of the oldest and richest cuisines in the world, and- except for the shared dishes with neighbouring cuisines, during Ottoman contacts- is typically vastly different from what is found in the greater Middle East.
It should be mentioned that Persian cuisine has lots of similarity to Turkish and Greek cuisines in its Kebabs. Although not widely recognised, Persian cuisine is gaining popularity in multicultural cities, especially in London, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Washington, D.C., and Toronto, which have a significant Persian population. Los Angeles and its environs, in particular, are well known for the number and quality of Persian restaurants which are usually centered around Kebab, but almost always also serve various stews as well. Americans who are not of Persian persuasion often will not venture into the more complex dishes, such as the stews.
Another reason for the relative obscurity of Persian cuisine is the lack of professional restaurant management. Many Persian restaurants (at least in smaller towns or those with smaller Persian populations) are started by immigrants who have little or no experience in the food and catering business. This lack of experience often means the proprietors focus most of their energies on preparing and providing good quality food but very little on marketing, ambience and service. Many such businesses die in obscurity despite the high quality and authenticity of their food.
References and footnotesNew Food of Lifeby Najmieh Batmanglij (ISBN 0-934211-34-5)
Zam Zam Cola
Culture of Iran
Iranian Dining Table Presenting Iranian meals and foods in six main categories