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The Art of Persian Cooking

Iranian food is inventive, rich and varied. It is exotic yet simple; healthy, yet colourful. Iranian food is not spicy. Herbs are used a lot, as is fruit – from plums and pomegranates to quince, prunes, and raisins. The main Persian cuisines are combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish and plenty of garlic, onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. To achieve a delicious taste and a balanced diet, unique Persian spices such as saffron, diced limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes.

From a cultural point of view, Persian food has always been considered to be an art providing enjoyment to both body & mind. Consuming food is a way of weakening or strengthening human character. Consuming a lot of red meat and fats was thought to create the evil thoughts and to make us selfish. However, consuming a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, fish, fowl, mixed petals & blossoms of roses create unusual powers & make us gentle & noble creatures.

Rice – usually flavoured with saffron – is a staple, along with vegetables. Iranian rice from the rainy plains of Mzandaran and Guilan is considered by many – not only Iranians – – to be one of the world’s best.

Since rice is the daily food of the majority of Iranians, they have developed a special method of cooking the rice in order to preserve all its natural flavour and produce a light and fluffy delicacy.

In Iran rice is served in two basic ways, either as polo or chelo. Chelo is rice prepared in several stages, boiled, steamed and served separately. Polo, often called pilaf in the West, is the name applied to rice with which other ingredients are mixed in the cooking process. The rice is always fluffy and tender, never sticky and soggy. Saffron is very frequently used to flavour and colour rice.

The preparation of polo is indeed an art, and the Iranians are the connoisseurs of this art. Although rice has been known as the product of China and India, the only way the people of these countries know how to prepare rice is just by plain boiling. But Iranians, who have introduced the art of cooking rice to their neighbouring countries, consider polo as the essence of an exquisite dinner, steaming it and using other various methods.

One of the most celebrated dishes is Ghormeh Sabzi, a subtle concoction of lamb, herbs, and lemon that takes great skill and hours to prepare. Another is Fesenjan, chicken in a pomegranate sauce with walnuts.

Chelo Kebab is the queen of all kebabs and is a specialty of Iran. Most people know what shish kabab is, and many of them have already tried it either in Middle Eastern restaurants or have made it themselves at home. But be sure you have never tasted chelo kabab unless you have visited a good Iranian restaurant.

Chelo kebab is derived from two words; chelo, meaning cooked rice, and kebab, meaning broiled meat or fowl. To prepare the real chelo kebab one should use fillet or lamb. The secret of good and tasty chelo kabab lies in marinating of the meat. The meat should be properly marinated in onion juice and sometimes in yoghurt for a day or two.

Dolmeh, the Iranian stuffed, usually stands for any kind of vegetable and fruit stuffed with meat and rice. Dolmeh Barg, literally meaning stuffed leaves, is the name for stuffed grape leaves. This is a real favourite of the Middle Eastern nations. It is difficult to trace the origin of this dish. Whether it originated in the vine-growing regions of the Caucasus or in the Middle East is not known for sure. Whatever its origin, it is the favourite dish of Turkmans, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Azarbaijanis, Armenians, Turks, Greeks, Arabs and the Iranians.

Khoresh in Persian stands for a stew type of sauce which is usually prepared with meat or fowl combined with fresh or dried vegetables, fresh or dried fruit, and sometimes nuts and cereals.

The word Kufteh, which literally means pounded in Persian, refers to any type of ground meat that has been formed into a meat ball. Iranians make a variety of meat balls and use them in soups, khoreshes, and as a basis for quick meals. It is said that the best kufteh is made in Azarbaijan, and that Azerbaijanis have the secret of the best flavoured kufteh. Kufteh Tabrize is the most famous variety of kufteh prepared in Iran.

Kuku is a type of dish usually made of vegetables and eggs. Eggs are the bases for these casserole dishes and serve as the binding agent.

Maast (yoghurt), which is now popular in the West, had been known to the Middle Easterners by different names. In Iran, yoghurt is the food of the rich as well as the poor. Walking down the avenues at lunch hour in major cities, you will see the mason cobbler, the carpenter, the storekeeper, all using yoghurt as a part of their daily food. In Iranian restaurants, you will find yoghurt served in many different forms.

Yoghurt may be served with diced cucumbers, Spinach, green onions, chopped fresh dill, and a pinch of salt and pepper as a salad dish. As a dessert or as a pick up between meals, yoghurt can be served with sugar, fresh fruits, canned fruits, preserves, or honey.It is served with meals, used to make very delicious warm or cold soup, or served as a dessert. For generations, Iranians have served yoghurt as a soft drink in summer as well. This drink has served as a perfect substitute for salt tablets.