Persian (or Iranian) food is a favourite of mine, but something I haven’t cooked for a long time. It is similar to Indian food and the food of other areas in the Middle East; namely Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan. Some would say that these countries food cultures are similar to Persian food, after all, they were there first! Ancient Persia, Darius the Great and all, have always sparked my imagination. I hope one day to visit (soon).
THE BEAUTY OF PERSIAN CUISINE
Persian food is beautifully spiced and rich. It’s roots are of course ancient and the oldest Iranian cookbook was written in 927 and was called ‘Kār-nāmeh dar bāb-e tabbākhī va sanat-e ān’ or the “Manual on cooking and its craft”. It offers an exhaustive insight into the complexity and importance of Persian food to the people and the culture. This amazing food tradition has been passed down through the generations, normally from mother to daughter, meaning that the dishes served in Tehran today will not have varied greatly from the time of the ‘Kar-nameh’. This all means that Persians take there food very seriously, authenticity is a must.
Persian food is captivating, I love the emphasis on fresh produce, in London I have seen Iranian housewives shopping down at the markets and they only accept the very freshest of ingredients (giving the stall holders feedback if things aren’t up to scratch!) Persian cuisine uses large amounts of fresh herbs, sometimes it seems they replace the use of vegetables!
A LITTLE HISTORY…….
Persian food has influenced the world of cooking, much more than we know, giving us delights such as ice cream and kebab. Dare I say it, many of North Indian dishes are heavily derived from Persian cuisine. In Mughal times especially, Persian cooks were in high demand in the courts of the ruling caste. These trends filter down into the melting pot of India’s culinary traditions.
The whole vast area of the Middle East has been linked throughout history; cultures mingling and merging throughout the centuries. Iran is a very fertile land with a wonderful array of produce; pistachios, spices, dried limes, fruits, pomegranate, green herbs, the flavours of rose and saffron, all spring to mind and the colours alone get my imagination flowing.
TEHRAN VIA LONDON
My first taste of Persia came in a London backstreet, a place where farsi filled the air and a smiling man made fresh flat breads in a stone oven. The food was so fresh and the flavours striking. I started to experiment with Iranian cooking and found a whole new range of flavours and ingredients to play with. Dried limes for example are unique revelation!
Persian food is very traditional and each dish has set rules to follow, not something I am completely comfortable with, but the results are generally outstanding. My best memories of these Iranian days were the rice (polo) cake that I made. The sort of dish that is so easy and looks very unique, the rice takes the shape of the the pan and forms a nice golden crust. You cut into it like a cake! Served with a delicious Ghormeh Sabzi (Veg and Kidney Bean Stew – Iran’s National Dish) and you have something quite special to enjoy.
Although Persian main dishes revolve around meat and rice, I have found the creative combining of ingredients can easily be related to veggie foods. There are also many vegan stews, salads etc that are popular in Iran, like this Khoresh Bademjan or Aubergine Stew, which traditionally would have a lump of meat in it.
AUBERGINE – ‘THE POTATO OF IRAN’
Aubergine (Egg plant to some) is a staple in Iran and is even known as the ‘potato of Iran’. I love making stews, the gentle simmering nature, the way they fill the house with the homely smell of food. The use of cinnamon here adds such a warming flavour to the dish and the lentils keep nice and firm, giving the stew a very hearty feel.
I know how passionate Iranians are about their food, so I felt it right to seek advice for this recipe and stumbled upon a top Iranian food blogger, Azita at Turmeric and Saffron. Azita’s recipes are traditional and made with love and care, many handed down from her mother. This to me is real heart and soul food, cooked with love and care and a cornerstone of family life and culture all over the world. It is surprising how many of our memories of loved ones revolve around food (or maybe that’s just me!) I have changed the recipe slightly, but kept the authentic flavours in tact.
Iran is such a vast and fascinating land, the dishes served will vary greatly in different regions, I’ll just have to go for a visit and try them all myself! Hopefully you’ll see some holiday snaps on the B.H.K soon. It’s great to be back in the Iranian cooking flow and I hope to be making much more Iranian food.
This makes a big pot full, good enough for four hungry mouths.
3 large aubergines (peeled, sliced into large chunks and salted with 2 tablespoons of salt)
2 courgettes (chopped into large chunks)
4 medium tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
1 large onion (diced)
4 cloves of garlic (crushed and chopped)
3/4 cup yellow split peas (rinsed)
3 tablespoons sunflower oil for frying onions etc
1/2 cup (60ml) oil for frying aubergines
3 tbs tomato puree
3-4 cups of water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
sea salt and cracked pepper (to taste)
1 lime or to taste (juice) or 2-3 tablespoons sour grapes (ghooreh).
This is Persian food, meaning a very particular way of preparing the dish. Well worth the effort!
Leave your aubergines for 30 minutes with salt rubbed into them. Then place the salted aubergines in a large container filled with water; put a heavy bowl or a heavy lid on top of the eggplants to hold them down for ten minutes, this will get rid of the bitterness. Remove aubergines from container and pat dry completely before frying. (You can skip this step if you’re pushed for time).
Fry the aubergines in 1/2 cup (60ml) of hot oil until brown on both sides, remove and then add the courgette and fry until golden. Place all on a plate lined with thick kitchen paper to drain some of the excess oil.
Using a knife, mark each tomato with a shallow X at the top, place them in a pot of boiling water for five minutes before pulling off the skin, then chop or slice them thinly or just chop the tomatoes skins on (for the time deprived).
In a large saucepan, heat the oil, add chopped onions, saute until translucent then add the garlic, stir well. Sprinkle in the turmeric, salt and pepper and cinnamon. Mix thoroughly. Cook until onions begin to caramelise.
Add dry split peas, fry for five minutes, this will keep the peas more firm in the khoresh. Then add chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and three cups of water to cover all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and cook for an 35 mins on medium heat.
Add the fried aubergine and courgette to the mixture, adjust the seasoning and add more water if needed.
Cook for another 15 minutes, until all is nice and tender. Add the lime juice or two tablespoons of sour grapes (ghooreh). Let it sit for 10 minutes off the heat, with the lid on. This allows the stew to cool a little, flavours can be impaired by really hot food.
With steaming rice, soya yoghurt (or whipped silken tofu) and a fresh salad shirazi. This dish may also be served with sour grapes (ghooreh), which you can buy in many world food stores.
We Love It!
Jane and I can sit at our table in the Beach House, up in the clouds, and dream of exotic far off lands and ancient cultures…to the blue mosque of Isfahan and back before dessert…..traveling the world one plate at a time. This stew is that good!
The aubergine (or brinjal or eggplant…) is native to India, this fruit comes in all shapes and sizes and is now grown around the world. It is very low in calories and contains much soluble fibre. The skin of aubergine is high in anti-oxidants and it is a good food to help high blood cholesterol and aids metabolism.