Edited on December 26, 2014 to add: This is the recipe that I used to make fesenjan for a New York Times Magazine article about Diverse Holiday Feasts From Five New York Families. I’m delighted to add that my fesenjan recipe then went on to make it on Sam Sifton’s Most Popular Recipes, 2014! Wowza! Akh joon, fesenjoon & thank you maman joon for passing on your wonderful recipe.
There is a popular khoresh made with ground walnuts & pomegranate syrup, called Khoresh ‘eh fesenjan — but you can call it fesenjoon when you are on a more khodemooni (that is “intimate”) footing. Fesenjoon is just too delicious for its own good: tangy, sweet, yummy; and the texture is heaven, soft but granular and thick. Not surprisingly, it is among the top tier of special foods coveted and served for Norooz — the Persian New Year, which is just around the corner.
It would be hard to find an Irooni (colloquial for Iranian in Farsi) who does not like Fesenjoon. Most likely, a typical reaction would be: “Fesenjoon? Ākh joon!” (Or: Woot! As we say in English.) And if you are a faranghi (that is, a non-Persian) odds are great that once you are properly introduced to fesenjoon, you’ll start pining for your next quality-time together.
If there’s any justice in the world, your khoresh ‘eh fesenjan should be served over a perfect bed of fluffy rice imbued with the fragrance of saffron. Should you be so lucky, inhale deeply, and eat a hearty serving, and take care to form just the correct proportion of rice and khoresh in every spoonful. Since you can’t very well bring measuring devices and rulers with you to the dining table, just eyeball it to gauge the optimum proportions. Don’t worry. Practice makes perfect.
Now, there are regional variations on the classic fesenjoon recipe, with some that opt to use meatballs, ducks, quince, eggplants or even fish in lieu of chicken; and some recipes that use pistachios, almond, or hazelnuts instead of walnuts. In addition to the regional variations, the classic fesenjoon khoresh itself is subject to distinct touches from one home cook to the next when it comes to the list of ingredients, method of preparation, and the favored ratio of sweet to savory to tartness.
This recipe is how my esteemed mother has been making her khorosh ‘e fesenjon for almost forty years. In our family, we think it’s the bee’s knees, it moves some of us to do a happy dance, and nearly all of us request it for our birthday dinners.
(Note: Every recipe for this blog is made from scratch and shot from every angle until it begs for mercy. Logistically, however, it was not possible to make fesenjoon in time for publishing this post. Please, then, accept these candid action-shots of fesenjoon, captured in its natural habitat – during a family dinner at last Norooz. Recycling is good for the environment in any event.)
But anyhow. Less words. More fesenjoon.
[This post scheduled to publish while I’m on my Epic Trip to Iran, part 2.]
Recently I craved decluttering — a veritable urge to get rid of extra and extraneous stuff that extended not just to physical things but also my thoughts (getting all deep and philosophical on you here and progress report is that the abode of my thoughts still needs a good and proper and vigorous khoneh takooni and maybe even refurbishing) and also all the computer and digital stuff and junk as well. I don’t know about yours but my computer desktop and folders — bulging and busting at the seams — were in need of a good non-sentimental editing. The process of feng shuing my digital life has been a fun, comforting, purifying, unnerving, daunting and overwhelming endeavor all at the same time! Fraught with fussy deliberations! Is it best to save beaucoup MBs and delete a bunch of slightly different versions of a photo in a series, or do I risk ruing the day in the future where one or more of these would have been perfect and by then it’s too late and they are in that big cyber trashcan up in cyberheaven? Mostly, in my zest, I’ve answered this modern philosophical dilemma with brutal keystrokes of destruction: control+Q! Deleting with gusto! It has not been all annihilation, however; the counterpart of the editing journey has been getting reacquainted with forgotten scribblings (oh when will I ever get to organize and purge those) and lots of photos that I really like but have never used. I thought I’d share some of the pix with you. Hence this post. A post which may become a series. Who knows. I’m juggling way too many series over here as it is. So as this is not being entirely random, we have a theme: orange!
Orange you going to humor me and enjoy this decluttering post? 😉
In this fifth installment of “Drinking in Iran” — a photo-essay series documenting the tasty drinks (aka nooshidani) yours truly had to sip, gulp, swig, imbibe, taste, devour, knock back, or merely gaze at covetously during my sentimental and epic trip to Iran — I thought it was high time to talk about one of the most popular Persian soft drinks, and that would be … doogh.
Iranians love doogh! But what is doogh? Let’s commence with our pictorial journey to find out. (Warning: there may be many yummy Persian food pix along the way as well. Accordingly, proceed your viewing pleasure with caution.)
This is tahchin, or upside down Persian rice. Tahchin is made with half-cooked rice that’s mixed with yogurt, saffron, and egg; layered with chicken or lamb; packed and molded (nice and snug) into a casserole dish; cooked in the oven; inverted into a serving dish; and garnished with barberries. Maybe also with slivered pistachios if available. Because: why not!
Tahchin is pretty yummy. One of my favorite Persian rice dishes. It used to be the treat I asked for on my birthdays.
Laya made tahchin for me when I was in Los Angeles. (Recipe: All the way at the end!)
This is my lovely friend Laya. In her kitchen. In the City of Angels. (Vicinity of Tehrangeles.) California. United States of America. Planet Earth. Universe. (What comes after the Universe?)
NOTE: The tahchin inverted in the serving dish.
NOTE: The plate of sabzi khordan – an eclectic mixture of radishes and herbs which is the ever faithful sidekick of all Persian meals.
NOTE: The green sticky tape over the camera on ye ol’ faithful laptop of mine. (Yup, still there!)
This is a closer look at the tahchin, and the aforementioned sabzi khordan (aka plate of fresh herbs and radishes.)
You know how you always find bottles of ketchup and mustard in a diner in the U.S.? Well, you would be hard pressed to find a mealtime Persian table without sabzi khordan. My father, for example, would not even conceive of such a travesty!
THIS: Is an up close and personal shot of my plate of tahchin in action.
THIS: Makes my mouth drool every time I look at it.
THIS: Is torture! TORTURE!
Note the pool of yogurt to the side. As is the wont of most Iranians (and certainly the wont of yours truly) yogurt is nearly always served and enjoyed alongside with most types of Persian food. Like a sauce. It brightens and crackle pops all the flavors & textures.
In this post about the Persian winter fete of Yalda, I thought it’d be fun to share some behind-the-scenes photos of the very recent time when I cooked up a batch of khoresh ‘eh fesenjan (using my mom’s awesome recipe) for a Shab-e-Yalda Persian celebration recipe that was featured in the article Diverse Holiday Feasts from Five New York Families in the New York Times.) Sometimes a blog is just a journal. A keepsake. And this event is certainly one that I want to keep for the sake of not just an amazing milestone for Fig & Quince, but the pleasure and fun of having shared it with an awesome family I am privileged to know and call friends. So I hope you’ll indulge me sharing some photos and tidbits and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
What is Yalda?
The long (there’s a pun here but you won’t know it till later, ha!) and the short of it is that the ancient Persians loved (and modern Iranians continue to love) to take any opportunity to make a ‘sofreh’ — an elaborate spread laden with edible yummies and symbolic objects that I like to dub by a highfalutin moniker of “tableau vivants” and also a less pompous nickname of “still lifes” — and to make a big festive whoop out of greeting seasons with joyous celebrations.
There is Norooz: hello sweet young thing Spring! Mehregan: hello moody enigmatic Fall! And Yalda: why howdy dominatrix Winter! (Come on, don’t act shocked. You know that Winter whoops your you know what. And some of you like it.) What about summer, you ask? Well, Summer, bouncy lass as she might be, seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to ancient Persian celebrations. Which is fine. Summer is widely worshiped across the world (and it does a popular kid good to see what it feels like being excluded) while winter always gets the short shift and the cold shoulder.
But not in Iran! On the eve of the longest night of the year (winter solstice or shab ‘e Yalda in Farsi), Iranian families gather together and stay up long after dinner — munching on ajeel & seeded pomegranates sprinkled with golpar (ground angelica) and whiling the time away by catching up with each other, telling stories, and consulting the poetry of the Persian lyric poet Hafez for glimpses into the future – a type of bibliomancy that is called fal-e-Hafez. Knowing Iranians, if it’s possible to have music; there will also be music, and if there’s even the slightest chance to get up and shake one’s groove thing, there will also be dancing. (Providing ample opportunities for beshkan zadan.)
This ancient Persian tradition of greeting winter not with gritted teeth but by spreading a festive spread of pomegranates, ajeel, candles, flowers, sacred texts and books of poetry and engaging in story telling, dancing and poetic divination is the celebration called Yalda and after Norooz, it is the most widely observed national, secular festival in Iran.
This post written earlier and scheduled to publish while I’m off on my excellent adventure to Iran.
Hi everyone! A bunch of us Persian food bloggers (there’s a whole host of us out there apparently) gathered together under the tutelage of our fearless leader My Persian Kitchen to offer you a Norooz linkup roundup bonanza. The links to all these amazing Persian food bloggers and cookbook writers is below. (We may each spell Norooz differently, but ultimately we’re paying homage to the “New Day” Iranian New Year, born at the birth of spring, and replete with myriad pretty traditions.)
I’m packing and preparing for my trip as I write this post. Since time is of the essence, I hope you’ll accept and enjoy this pictorial roundup offering of some Norooz-themed vignettes, DIY, traditions and of course food! Infused with the colors, optimism and the beautiful promise of that most charming of seasons: spring!
“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” Rainer Maria Rilke
Well, it’s not spring yet but it will be soon. Soon! Let’s plant seeds!
If you are celebrating Norooz or Easter, don’t forget to grow some sabzeh – sprout some lentil and wheat grass. It’s easy, here’s a DIY guide to growing sabzeh. Just make sure you do a better job than I did with that dude to the right. Poor chap, that is quite a scraggly head of hair. He needs some grass plugs!
Speaking of scraggly hairdos, here’s a sabzeh that is definitely ready for 13 bedar and its journey down a stream!
Do you want to color eggs for Norooz or Easter? It’s a symbol of fertility, birth and renewal and it’s fun. You totally should!
Here’s a step by step DIY guide to coloring eggs with natural homemade dye made following the instructions of the doyenne of good and laborious taste: my beloved Martha Stewart. (If you’re going to try just one homemade dye, cabbage offers the prettiest family palette of hues. I love the cabbage dye for eggs. Love it! Try it!)
Whether you are of Iranian persuasion or not, let’s face it, it’s always a good time for fessenjoon – the yummy Persian pomegranate and walnut stew. Fessenjoon: akh joon!
And while you are at it, you may want to take a Persian rice from plain to Pawabunga and make a rice dish that is a pretty spectacle fit for any festive feast.
Why not mix ground almonds, cardamom, confectioners sugar and rosewater formed into the shape of a mulberry (or even a Rubenesque pear like the divinely talented El Oso Con Batos did) bathed in a bed of granulated sugar and crowned with a pistachio stem? This marvel is tut and it is a confection that is tout delicious and cute. Pop pop pop into your mouth it goes. Recipe here!
And if you’re still wondering what’s up with haft seen and what do those seven S’s mean, do check out this illustrated Guide to what’s in Haft Seen and the symbolism behind this tableau vivant.
There is an Iranian custom that a traveler must bring back a present for each and every member of family and extended relatives. That present is called a soghati. I definitely hope to bring soghati for all of you. Sharing some of the highlights of my journey to Iran. Meanwhile, let’s feast our eyes upon a token of the promise of spring’s beautiful soghati – arriving soon at our doorsteps.
Now let’s go and check out these awesome Persian food bloggers and taste the wonderful Norooz palooza treats they have in store for you.
Ahu Eats: Norouz 2014 Recipe: Toot – Persian Mulberry Marzipan Candy
Café Leilee: Northern-Iranian Style Herb Stuffed Fish
Fae’s Twist & Tango: Naw-Rúz, A New Year Recipe Round-up!
Family Spice: Norouz Twist on Kookoo Sabzi (Persian Herb Quiche with Chard and Kale)
Lucid Food: Persian Raisin and Saffron Cookies for Norooz
My Persian Kitchen: Naan Gerdooee ~ Persian Walnut Cookie
Simi’s Kitchen: New Blog for Nowruz!
Spice Spoon: Noon Berenj – Thumbprint Rice Flour Cookies with Saffron & Rosewater for Persian Nowruz
The Pomegranate Diaries: Nowruz Inspired Pistachio, Rosewater and Cardamom Shortbread Cookies
Turmeric & Saffron: Loze Nargil – Persian Coconut Sweets with Rosewater and Pistachios for Nowruz
West of Persia: Happy Nowruz, Recipe Roundup, and a Classic: Kuku Sabzi on TV
Zozo Baking: Nane Nokhodchi for Nowruz
To those of us celebrating the Persian new year: Norooz ‘etoon Pirooz!
To all of us on the planet (save for our down-under friends): Happy Spring!
And to our Oz and Kiwi friends: Happy Autumn! (A most poetic season.)
Basically: Happy, happy, happy!
Last year winter was a weakling. This year, winter is a brutish pahlavan! When it is bitter cold out there, nothing beats coming home to the aroma and flavor of a bowl of hot and delicious abgoosht (also spelled abgusht.) Literal translation of abgoosht is “meat broth” which sounds decidedly … not that appetizing. Proving that a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet. Sorry Shakespear! Less literally, abgoosht may be translated as a hearty lamb soup with marrow, chickpeas and white beans — a wintertime staple across every corner of Iran.
My beloved Kermanshahi paternal grandmother, Shah Bibi (khoda biyamorz, RIP) made my favorite kind, where the color of the broth was almost red. Shah Bibi used a good bit of ghoreh (sour grapes) – my father reminds me – and she topped it with a generous heap of freshly sauteed dried mint so that the whole house turned mouth-wateringly fragrant – I vividly recall myself. One of the best smells you can possibly imagine!
Abgoosht is an informal dish with a customized ritual of eating. One custom is to take a piece of bread, tear it into many small pieces, and drop it in the broth. This is called “noon terid kardan.” My mom cleverly points out this is somewhat reminiscent of using crackers or croutons with soup. So yes – think of it as insta-cracker-croutons — just ancient Persian style!
The other custom is to make goosht ‘eh kubideh (which literally means “mashed meat”) by removing (using a slotted spoon) all the solid bits (the beans, potatoes and meat) of the broth, mashing it all up to a mashed-potato type consistency, seasoning it with salt and pepper to taste, serving it seapartely alongside with the broth, and gobbling it up with bread and torshi (Persian pickles.) Noosheh jan! In my humble opinion, perhaps the best part of eating abgoosht is the goosht kubideh. I could rant and rave, but until you try and taste it for yourself, you’ll have no earthly idea of just how good it is. So. Good. However, a cook must decide which part of abghoost she wants to shine more brightly. If favoring the broth, the cooking time should be longer to release the flavors of the ingredients, which in turn means the goosht kubideh part won’t be as rich and tasty. If opting for the tastiest possible goosht kubideh, however, the cooking time should be shorter so that the meat, chickpeas and beans retain their flavor.
It is not Sophie’s Choice – but it is a choice that a cook must consider when making abgoosht.
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing via email Ostad Najaf Daryabandari, the researcher and author of an invaluable 2 volume encyclopedic Persian cookbook. Among other things, I posed the following questions to Mr. Daryabanari: 1) What would you consider the masterpiece of Iranian food? 2) What is your favorite Iranian food? 3) If it were possible to only share one Iranian dish with the rest of the world, which would you pick? And to each question, Mr. Daryanbandari’s answer was … wait for it … abgoosht!
Which initially, I confess, perplexed me. After all, we have such show-stopping stunners as jeweled rice, or fesenjoon (pomegranate & walnut Persian stew) in our cuisine. Surely more deserving of the spotlight and admiration. But admittedly, while not at all glamorous, abgoosht has a plain yet profound goodness about it. It is a dish that delivers — solidly, pleasingly, without airs, yet with abundant flavors, sweet fragrance, texture and it is filling and nutritious.
My mom points out to me that when meat is cooked with its bones and donbeh (fat) such as it is traditionally meant to be when preparing an authentic Iranian abghoosht, it releases all its nutrients and good fat. “Good calories!” My mom notes. She further points out that abghoost is a bidardesar recipe (hassle free, easy peazy, made in a dizi) that could be made in one pot, simmering slowly, so that even in the busiest of households, they could start one, leave it on the stove, and get on with other things. An economical way as well for even the poorest of households to make sure that each family member got the nutrients and flavor of even a small piece of meat. No less important historical a figure than Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna) observed that abgoosht is a balanced and important type of Iranian food that could even be eaten daily. So in sum: a convenient food, full of nutrients, economical, and one specifically singled out as special by at least two important figures in the culture of Iran. You couldn’t ask for better P.R.!
The recipe I’m sharing is of a basic abgoosht my mother makes. Picking up after my lovely paternal grandmother, Shah Bibi (khoda biyamorz, RIP) my mom also uses lemon juice (or abeh ghoreh if she can find it) for the broth; and plenty of sauted dried mint as a garnish. The room fills with a heavenly scent, stomachs grumble with happy anticipation, and one, if one is mindful that is, says shokreh khoda (“thank you God”) with each lovely bountiful spoonful.
Noosheh jaan (sometimes spelled nusheh jaan) literally means: “may it be sweet for your soul”,”may it be a pleasure to your being”. That sounds quite florid, but in common parlance, the utterance simply signifies: bon appetit, good appetite! It is what we say to everyone at the table before we commence to stuff our faces with delicious, delicious, ridiculously delicious Persian food.
Is it too late to take stock of 2013 and reminisce about the past year? Are we over the newness of this year already? Please tell me it isn’t so — 2014 is only a hint over two weeks old, still shiny and filled with promise and potential and hope, and surely not in need of some botox yet — what, with 349 whole days left till 2015. (Although actually, while that sounds like a lot of time, let’s face it, it may go poof and vanish just like a dandelion caught in a gust of wind.)
Did you make any resolutions? Are you sticking to them? I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but I do have a few mottos I have adopted throughout life that I do my best to live by, and come a new year, I polish them up so that they burnish more brightly on the forefront mantlepiece of my mind. They serve me well, so I’ll share them with you:
Perfect is the enemy of Good. (Another variation of this motto is: Done is better than Perfect. Quilt artists are fond of this aphorism. Understanding this wisdom liberated me beyond measure. Ending a bout of years-long self-fulfillment paralysis. May it do the same for you. Whatever you want to do, just do it. Who cares whether it is perfect or not?)
Don’t drown in a cup of water. (I forget where I came across this. It is simple yet profound wisdom. I interpret it to mean: don’t freak out, don’t fret over little things, handle conflict and travails with grace, have faith.)
Be Bold. Whatever you do or dream you can, begin it. (Ghoethe said this and I’ve already waxed plenty poetic about it.)
Be kind. (Kindness is a gift to oneself as much as it is to others. I try to remind myself of this and practice it. Even on the subway!)
It is the sign of the times we live in that blogs also have occasion to review and take stock of their performance in the year past. WordPress sends out an “annual report” for all the blogs they host. A nicely designed and engineered report with a fun and festive fireworks animated GIF and interesting statistical analogies that among other things also identifies the 5 most popular posts of the year on one’s blog. A few cool bloggers shared their top 5 blog posts of 2013 list, and I thought I’d be a copy cat (MEOW!) and do the same.
Let the countdown to Fig & Quince’s top 5 posts of the year begin:
A yummy & truly simple vegetarian (can also be made vegan style) eggplant dish from the Northern (shomal) region of Iran. The story and recipe delightfully narrated by Yvonne joon, a most charming racounter, and the very first Fig & Quince guest blogger. I’m not surprised that out of the 60 odd posts on the blog last year, Yvonne joon penned one of the top five. She is witty, pretty, kind and oh so bright and her friendship I count as one of the great bonuses of having started this here blog.
Bearing some resemblance in looks (if not taste) to the Mexican mole, fesenjoon (also called fessenjan), is known as the king of khoresh. Made with a mixture of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, fesenjoon’s flavor is tangy and sweet and rich and its texture is heaven: soft but granular and thick. It is almost unbearably delicious when served with rice. Trust!
Persian rice is a science and art to itself and the measure by which one gauges the true talent of an Iranian cook. This post, part 1 of a Rice 101 series, is an introduction to the rice (polo) and also to tadig (also spelled tahdig sometimes) or the bottom-of-the-pot crunchy crust of the rice that is the most coveted offering at any Iranian dinner table.
Oh, I get so happy looking at these pictures. They bring back fond and wholesome memories! They are from this past March when I sprouted lentils and sprouted wheat and watched them grow. Sprouting seeds, called “sabzeh sabz kardan” is one of the many very pretty customs of the secular and ancient celebration of the Persian New Year aka Norooz. I confess I’m still smiling looking at the photos – they are synonymous for me with spring! I may just rush spring and sprout some seeds right away just for the sheer pretty pleasure of it. ( A step by step guide to grow sabzeh at the full post.)
And, ta da, drum roll, the number 1 most viewed post:
Perhaps not surprisingly, yet another Persian Rice 101 post, this one a pictorial step by step guide to making the perfect Persian rice took the #1 most viewed post. All credit is due to Persian rice itself, which truly, is the best rice in the world. It just is! The directions may seem exhaustive, but give it a try or three, and once you get the hang of it and it becomes second nature, you can make a fluffy pillowy bed of fragrant and perfectly steamed rice with one arm behind your back and win friends and influence people. Promise!
So that was Fig & Quince’s highlights in 2013, according to Word Press. For 2014, I have some theme adjustments (that I hope you’ll like) and a few fun plans for Fig & Quince up my sleeve. One of the plans intersects with my personal life and it is major and so dear to me that just thinking about it makes my heart go: thump, thump, thump! I hope I can realize it. I pray it will happen. I will weep if it does (with joy.) I will weep if it doesn’t (with sadness. And I might just burst.) Hint: its realization involves getting on a plane! 😉 Please wish me luck!
And in conclusion and as I bid you adieu till we read again, I hope the new year has been treating you kindly thus far and that it will coddle and pamper you till the next one and I hope that you are either keeping up with your good resolutions or have the good sense not to beat yourself up if you have not.
Recently, the wonderful editors of Mashallah News — an online publication devoted to shaking up Middle Eastern stereotypes — asked me to contribute to their “food” theme series. I was only too glad to do so, and a nostalgia-filled rhapsody of the poetics of Persian food was thus born! I would be delighted if you would read it, so, begging your kind indulgence, it follows in its entirety below.
Eyes are the windows to the soul, per an old English proverb. In a similar vein, it can be proposed that a nation’s cuisine is the window to the heart and soul of its countrymen. Praise be, then, for much like its people, Iranian food is sensual and oft poetic.
That Iranians are sensual and romantic at heart may seem a preposterously incongruous claim at odds with the image of the country, mired as it is in polemics and controversy, but only if one overlooks the fact that the ancient and majestic tree of Iranian culture is branched out of thousands of years old roots that bear solid testament to a heritage of lyrical and aesthetic nourishment, accomplishment and sensibility. A sensibility reflected in everything from a proclivity to the arranging of beautiful, elaborate and symbolic celebratory tableaux vivants for weddings, Norooz (New Year) and the fete of Yalda (winter solstice); to an inordinate fondness for gardens and fountains and flowers and nightingales; to a talent for creating delicately charming ornate design in painting, carpets, textiles and architecture; to a coquettish flair for flirting; and to an unabashed affinity for and partiality to poetry.
In some cultures a love of poetry is the true sign of the dork, the nerd, the socially clueless and inept. But in Iran, appreciation of poetry—far from branding one as “uncool” and banishing one to social Siberia—is not only accepted but is even taken for granted and reciprocated amongst people of all ages and walks of life. It is not unusual to find groups of friends or family sitting around eating, drinking and making merry while chewing the fat or playing backgammon all while trading lines and verses of the poems of Hafiz and Sa’adi and Khayam and Rumi and Ferdowsi as the muse inspires and circumstances dictate. A cantankerous shopkeeper may quote a poem to site his ire; a grandparent may well call on one of the epic poets to drive home a moral lesson to a grandchild. After all, poetry is what saved the Persian language—the epic poem of Shahnameh, to be precise, is credited with this historical accomplishment—and that may explain why a love of poetry flows in the veins of most warm-blooded Iranians, whatever their walk of life, instead of being the rarefied passion of elite intellectuals and cultured intelligentsia as it is in most other places in the world.
People unfamiliar with Iranian food often assume it is hot and spicy, much like its politics or its perceived climate, but it is not. Iranian food—fragrant and pretty with its signature playful combination of sweet and tart and savoury—is downright poetic at heart.
After all, how many cuisines count rosewater, cardamom, pistachios, rose petals, dried mint and saffron as staple pantry provisions? How many have a dish called jewelled rice, so named because barberries, pistachio slivers, and candied orange peels peek out of a nestling pillow of aromatic saffron rice gleaming, much like the gems one would expect to find spilling out of a treasure chest if one perchance happened to abracadabra open the door of Ali Baba’s fabled cave?
How many cuisines have since the ancient times revelled in the glory of the pomegranate, a fruit that is a testament to a divine design, bearing a crown with a charming disarray of tendrils and jewel-like seeds. Pomegranate is a mainstay symbol of the Yalda celebration spread, in which a bowl of its seeded ruby arils, sprinkled with a touch of ground angelica or salt, forms a refreshment to offer guests, or else its nectar turned into a paste brooding with ground walnuts to make the chocolate-coloured stew of Fessenjan, which some call the khoresh of kings?
And, probably more than any other cuisine in the world, Persian food harvests flowers! Countless bushels of Mohamadi roses are every year distilled into aromatic rosewater; red and pink rose petals are dried so that they can be crushed and used as a pretty and aromatic sprinkled garnish for food. Vast fields of purple crocus are harvested for the long, fragile, burnt amber threads of saffron that turn an effervescently sunny golden shade when ground and touched by hot water, a drop of it turning a bed of steamed rice into a pretty sunset. A bevy of fragrant herbs and blossoms are distilled to make aragh—a refreshing and medicinal beverage—with mint, chicory, musk willow, sweet briar, palm pods, citrons and orange blossom. So many flowers, the very names of which are not merely mellifluous but also summon up an instantaneous sense of delight and pleasure.
Sometimes, the seductive charm of Iranian food is overt but guileless, like a yogurt and cucumber soup, garnished with inter-crossing paths of crushed rose petals and dried mint; or overt and artful like a dark amber halva infused with saffron, rosewater and cardamom, sprinkled with pistachio powder in a curlicue design.
Sometimes, it is covert, like a Salad Shirazi, a salad that is beautiful because it is stunning and is stunning because it is the epitome of simplicity—an edible haiku—nothing more than a choir of cucumbers and tomatoes and onions, singing with lemon juice and olive oil and crushed dried mint.
And sometimes, the disarming charm of Iranian food is downright lyrical, because if fluffy and fragrant saffron rice made moist with a stream of succulently savoury khoresh is not transcendental lyricism in a spoon—then, pray tell, what is?