Iranian (Persian) cuisine mainly consists of herbs, vegetables and rice alongside mutton/beef, chicken and sometimes fish. The frequent use of fresh green herbs and vegetables in Iranian foods made them a healthy choice for most households. Iran has a long history in agriculture, and the use of fresh fruit in Persian recipes is very common. Persia has always had four seasons and that gave the huge variety to Persian cuisine from spicy tropical food to hot pot fatty dishes that are most popular on a chilly winter.
A visit to Iran reveals a stunning variety of culinary delights to you. From caviar, pickled vegetables, and smoked fish in the north to Samosas, “Falafel”, “Ghalyeh Mahi” and shrimps in the south.
Here are 10 general Iranian staple cuisine to try:
1. Baaghaali Polo (rice- fava beans- mutton/chicken):
In Iranian cooking rice can be cooked simply (occasionally seasoned with butter and saffron) which is called “chelo”, or cooked mixed with other ingredients which is called “Polo”. Polo can be made with herbs, vegetables, beans, nuts, dried fruit, meat and even noodles. Baaghaali polo is particularly good in the spring, when fava beans are young and tender and dill is fresh. The other main ingredient is mutton/chicken, a very popular staple in Persian cuisine.
2. “Ghormeh Sabzi” Stew (herbs-kidney beans- fried mutton chops)+ “Chelo”:
Made from herbs, kidney beans and mutton, a green well-cooked Ghormeh Sabzi is one of the toppest in the list. The stew is seasoned with dried Omani limes. These limes are extra intense and sour with a bittersweet taste that gives the stew a unique flavor. The other ingredients are fenugreek leaves (with a taste unfamiliar to most westerners), parsley, chives and spice.
3. “Fessenjaan” Stew (pomegranate paste- ground walnut-chicken)+ “Chelo”:
This iconic Fessenjaan stew is mainly of tart pomegranate paste, ground walnut and chicken. Ground walnuts, pomegranate paste and onions are slowly simmered to make a thick sauce. Sometimes saffron and cinnamon are added and maybe a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity. Fessenjaan has a long background. At the ruins of Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire, archaeologists found stone tablets as far back as 515 B.C. inscribed with words: walnuts, poultry and pomegranate preserves, the key ingredients of Fessenjaan.
4. “Gheymeh Baademjaan” Stew (eggplant – chopped mutton)+ “Chelo”:
This stew has the shimmering red-gold color of tomatoes cooked with turmeric and a sheen of oil on top, a prized characteristic in Persian cooking. It has a tart tang (because of tomatoes, lemon juice, and sometimes the juice of unripe grapes) and is accompanied by the fried eggplant slices, onions, mutton and seasoning.
5. “Zereshk Polo” (barberry- rice)+ Chicken Stew:
Iranians love sour tangs. Barberry has a vibrant red color with sour taste. This classic rice dish is studded with the red barberries. The rice is cooked with plenty of saffron and butter which helps to soften the sour taste of the barberries.
6.” Aash-e Reshteh” Pottage (noodles and beans):
An enriched pottage full of noodles, beans, peas, herbs and leafy greens like spinach and beet leaves. It’s topped with fried mint powder, crunchy fried onion & garlic and sour “kashk” (a fermented whey product eaten in the Middle East that tastes close to sour yogurt). The noodles which made their way to Iran from China are thought to represent the many routes of life, and this pottage is traditionally served when someone sets off on a long journey.
As it is very popular, AaSh reshteh is served in most of ceremonies and feasts like “Chahaarshanbeh suri” and Nowruz (the Persian new year.)
7. “Lubia Polo” (green bean fruit i.e. pod- mutton-rice):
Lubia polo is one of the popular polos in Iran which consists of chopped bean pods fried with onions and chopped mutton, tomato paste, rice and seasoning. In some occasions, fresh or canned green peas can be used instead of green beans fruit as a result the name changes to “Nokhod polo”.
8. Kebab (mutton/beef or Chicken or sheep liver/kidney/heart or ground meat )+ “Chelo”/bread:
Kebabs in Iran have more variety than what you might think. First, there’s “koobideh”, ground meat seasoned with ground onion, salt and pepper. It sounds simple, but its correct preparation is a master skill. There is also kebab-e “Barg” ( thinly sliced mutton or beef, flavored with lemon juice, onion, saffron and butter). Chicken kebab, known as “Joojeh”, is traditionally made from lumps of chicken flavored with lime, onion, saffron and butter.
If you’re lucky you’ll find “Jigar (mutton liver) kebab, garnished with fresh basil leaves and a wedge of lime.
9. “Kashk-e Bademjaan” (Kashk- eggplant)+ bread:
Kashk-e Bademjaan is one of ancient and authentic foods of Iran which is prepared quite fast. This tasty food consists of mashed fried eggplants and Kashk topped with fried onion, fried spear-meant powder and walnut and is usually served at nights
10. “Dizi (Aabgusht)” + bread:
Dizi is also one of the oldest foods in Iran which is made from mutton, potato, beans, peas, tomato past, Omani lime and seasonings. It has a slightly different recipe in different cities of Iran.
This strong, nutritious and delicious food is usually served for lunch and has a special interesting eating method. First you have to separate the liquid from the solid part, soak bread lumps into the liquid and eat it as starter. Then you have to mash the solid part using a special hammer-like tool and eat the mashed stuff as main course.
To read about Iran local foods, click here.