Colors of Global Cuisine: Persian

Hailing from a region traditionally known for its abundant agriculture, Persian cuisine offers a diners a wide range of delicious dishes made with a stunning array of meats, vegetables, fresh and dried exotic fruits, yogurts and cheeses, beans, nuts, and seasonings. These are imaginatively incorporated into fragrant and unusual flavor combinations – you might find pomegranates paired with duck, or candied orange peels and sour cherries in rich meat stews.

Kebabs on the grill
by Chewy Chua

Iranian chefs have a rich variety of fruits and several herbs and spices to choose from when garnishing their dishes. Saffron, cinnamon, parsley, onions, garlic, turmeric, and cardamom – to name a few – can be found in many Persian recipes. However, this cuisine is known for its subtlety and is never overpowering – even the use of garlic is limited in order to avoid offending fellow diners.

by Niall McAuley
by zoyachubby

Aromatic Saffron Strands

by pietroizzo

On the Grill The Spice Stand

The classic standbys of Middle Eastern food – lamb, wheat bread, eggplant, and yogurt – are also important components of many Persian recipes. It is said that there are more than forty types of wheat breads, and at least one type of flat bread will be a part of every meal. One thing that sets Persian cuisine apart, however, is its extensive use of rice (berenj) as a base for several dishes. Long-grained varieties are preferred and served with almost every evening meal, frequently in the form of chelow – rice expertly cooked with yogurt and saffron until a thick, golden crust forms at the bottom of the pan. It is then paired with grilled meats or savory stews.

Along with lamb and other meats, many types of local fish are eaten. Iran’s beluga caviar, lightly salted sturgeon roe, is world-famous.

Persian caviar
by jamesjyu

Goat milk is used to make the cheeses and buttery yogurt used in much Persian cookery, from marinades for meat to traditional drinks. Yogurt can be prepared simply at home by adding a little yogurt to fresh milk and allowing it to ferment. Sun-dried yogurt culture can also be conveniently stored as a powder and reconstituted later.

by Chewy Chua
by su-lin

Caviar on Ice Kebabs

The most well-known Persian dish in Western countries is probably the kebab, and in fact the chelow kebab is the national dish of Iran. These kebabs are often made with lamb, beef, or chicken marinated in lime juice, saffron, and garlic. The meat is threaded onto flat metal skewers and grilled over hot coals, resulting in a kebab that is slightly blackened on the outside but juicy and tender inside. It is served with buttered chelow, a whole grilled tomato, onions, and a dash of somagh (subtly tart powdered sumac).

by jembe

Chelow khoresh, consisting of a savory stew or sauce served over chelow, is another popular Persian dish. There are many varieties of these stews. They can include such creative combinations as duck with walnuts and pomegranates; spinach, orange and garlic; chicken and peaches sauteed in onions and butter; or cinnamon-seasoned lamb with prunes.

Some side dishes and accompaniments are considered essential to every meal and are served alongside the main dish regardless of the region. These include sabzi (a plate of fresh herbs including basil, coriander, cilantro, fenugreek, tarragon, and Persian watercress), flat breads, panir (a Persian variant of feta cheese), sliced and peeled cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and onions, yogurt, and lemon juice.

by kwei

Powdered Sumac Mint and Yogurt

Traditionally, Persian meals are also accompanied with doogh, a drink consisting of yogurt, water or soda, and dried mint. Many fruit-based drinks are also popular, including aab anaar (pomegranate juice), which has experienced a surge in popularity in North America due to its high anti-oxidant levels and resulting health benefits.

by sosij
Persian love cake
by notti cabirian

A Persian meal is often rounded out with fresh fruits such as pomegranates, quinces, dates, or peaches, but there are many desserts and sweets to choose from as well. There are two general types of sweets: shirini tar (“wet sweets”), such as pastries and cakes, and shirini khoshk (“dry sweets”), which include the more traditional rice cookie shirini berenji, the chickpea cookie shirini nokhodchi, the fig- or walnut-filled cookie kouloucheh, and more. Another well-known Persian dessert is Persian ice cream (bastani-e gol-e bolbol), flavored with saffron, rosewater, and heavy cream.


Love Cake Forbidden Fruit


Persian Recipes

  – For over a hundred authentic Persian recipes, visit Farzin Mokhtarian’s website. Or, try the recipes below (click through for details at the Food Network).



Previous articles in this series:
Colors of Global Cuisine: Thailand

Parsiri AudcharevorakulAbout the Author, Parsiri Audcharevorakul
Parsiri is a marketing consultant from Boston, Massachusetts. She shares her own work and writes on design, illustration, and more at parsiri | blog, and likes to hear from indie artists and up-and-coming design businesses. She is also a COLOURlover, of course.

Author: parsiri