In all ancient cultures, food and food preparations are highly developed traditions. Iran is no exception. Delightful recipes have been handed down from generation to generation and now make Iranian food is on subtlety of flavor, combining a wide variety of fruits, herbs, vegetables, nuts, grains and meat. On the whole, the ingredients in Iranian foods are common to Americans, but the combinations of ingredients and the way certain ones are used in recipes are different, which is what makes this cuisine (this is, a characteristic style of preparing food) so interesting.
The Importance of Rice
Probably the one important food or ingredient in various dishes is rice. High-quality long-grain rice is most often used and this type of rice is grown in northern Iran is areas around the Caspian Sea. In addition to plain white rice, which is called chelo, there are several categories of rice dishes, depending on how they are cooked and what kinds of things are added to them.
Rice is generally prepared by boiling the uncooked rice in a large pot filled with very salty water, then draining the salty water off when the rice s almost fully cooked. The rice is then placed in a pot with melted butter on the bottom, topped with butter and simmered over low heat. As the rice simmers, it forms a crispy crust at the bottom called tadiq, which is a favorite of all children in a household, and adults too. If the tadiq turns out well, this is a sign of a good cook. Sometimes thin, flat bread which is something like a flower tortilla, is placed at the bottom of the rice pot (on top of the melted butter, of course) and sometimes potatoes are sliced and placed at the bottom of the pot for a tasty change in the flavor of the tadiq. Once the rice is cooked, it is served topped with various stew-like sauces called khoresh, which are mixtures of meat and vegetables or fruits.
Generally, rice prepared as plain white rice, chelo, or mixed with other ingredients, polo, must be fluffy. In other words, the grains should not stick together. There are some categories of rice, however, that are sticky. Even when rice is not the main feature of a meal, it is used widely in such dishes as ash, which is the name of a variety of very thick soups or porridge. Ash is eaten mostly in the winter and includes meats, beans, herbs, and fruits.
To prepare a meal, traditionally Iranian housewives must spend hours cleaning, chopping and cooking. Sometimes several neighbors or relatives gather in one place and share the work. The socializing makes these rather boring tasks more fun.
Types of Bread
Bread is also an extremely important part of the Iranian diet. There are dozens of flat bread varieties. Sangak and taftun are eaten for supper; in the summer months, lighter foods such as yogurt, feta cheeses, fresh herbs, cucumbers, and plenty of fruit, including several varieties of melons and grapes, all served with flat bread, are more appetizing in late evening.
In addition to regular meals, Iranians enjoy snacks, sometimes in mid-morning and often in the afternoon hours mostly fresh fruits and vegetables. Lettuce dipped in a sweet-and-sour mint syrup is, for example, a common summer snack foods. Another favorite is cucumbers sliced lengthwise and rubbed with salt and pepper and powered rose petals. Fruits on the whole are extremely important in the Iranian diet. In fact, hardly a day gors by for an Iranian without having some fruit, the variety of which depends on the season.
As in most cultures, special holidays and celebrations usually call for special dishes. During Noruz, the Iranian New Year, which corresponds with the first day of spring, for example, fish is served with rice mixed with a variety of green herbs and vegetables, such as leeks, parsley, and coriander, and many delightful confections are an important play of the festivities. And on Winter Solstice night, the longest night of the year, which is usually on or about December 21, Iranians celebrate with a watermelon, the last of the season, which has been put away and saved especially for this occasion, along with a variety of sweets and mixed nuts. Sweets, such as cookies and pastries, are usually reserved for guests.
(Braised poultry in walnut and pomegranate sauce served over rice)
2 1/2 cups of walnuts, finely ground
2 medium onions
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
4 1/2-5 lbs. chicken or duck, cut in servig size pieces
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons salt
4-5 teaspoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
3-4 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 cups of water
1/4 cup bottled pomegranate syrup (or substitute 1 can of cranberry jelly, in which case you would not add the sugar)
1. Brown the walnuts in a heavy skillet, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Transfer walnuts to a 5-6 quart pot.
2. Saute the onions lightly in butter or oil. Remove onions ith a slotted spoon and add to the walnuts. Set the skillet aside.
3. Add all the remaining ingredients except the chicken or duck to the walnut onion mixture. Mix well. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
4. Brown poultry in a skillet, adding more butter if necessary. Add the meat to the sauce, cover, and simmer about more, stirring occasionally to prevent to prevent sticking. (For a shortcut, the poultry can be browned and then cooked in a pressure cooker and added to the simmered sauce, then simmer together for 10 mintues more.)
(Date and nut sweet)
2 lbs. pitted dates, chopped
1 lb. walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 lb. flour (4 cups)
1/2 lb. butter (1 cup)
- Mix together the dates and walnuts.
- Heat the mixture in a skillet over low heat and stir until it is well mixed.
- Sprinkle cinnamon on a flat dish or cookie sheet. Spread the date and nut mixture on it. Even out the surface with a spatula.
- Put the flour in a pot over medium heat. Stir until it becomes light brown in color.
- Add the butter; stir until butter is completely melted and mixed with four and the flour is well browned.
- Spread this mixture in a layer on top of the dates. Even out the surface with a spatula.
- Sprinkle lightly with sugar.
- When cool cut into pieces.