Some of my fond memories of my epic trip to Iran include sprints over to my Aunt Fuzy’s house and spending a bunch of fun quality times there with a few of my favorite relatives.
Aunt Fuzy (isn’t that the cutest nickname?) is known for her refined elegance, wit and kind nature.
Khaleh Fuzy is also famous for her fabulous torshi — Persian pickles, that is!
Would you like the recipe and to see more pix? Sure you do! CLICK here to continue!
Last year around this time, my mom and I set up a Fig & Quince table (of goodies and books) at the Children of Persia 9th Annual Walk. (All ‘ye Metro DC area folks who like a good cause & delicious Persian food: Mark your calendars for their 10th Annual Walk.)
For our goodies we offered: Persian mixed trail (ajeel); Persian honey almond saffron brittles (sohan ‘e assal); and 3 types of Persian pickles (torshi.): 1) mixed veggies pickles (torshi makhloot); 2) eggplant pickles (torshi ‘ye bademjoon); and 3) grape pickles (torshi’ ye angur.) The pickles were the first to go, and fast! Everyone loves a good torshi.
The eggplant and mixed-veggies pickles were my mom’s tried and true (and stellar, I might add) recipes – but making torshi ‘ye angur (grape pickles) was a novel one for us both. Its recipe one I’d found while scouring Najaf Daryabandari’s Persian cookbook (a masterpiece) for information and inspiration. (I actually had the honor and pleasure of meeting the gentleman on a few occasions during my trip to Iran. Full story: soon!)
I was excited about pickling grapes and my mom was game as well but she was rather skeptical about whether it would taste good. Turned out, the result was just wonderful. Sweet, sour, a little bit salty, and crunchy. In a unique, pleasantly palatable way.
Want some good news? Aside from its favorable taste and texture, grape torshi is ridiculously easy to prepare. Requiring not so much a recipe as know-how. So simple in fact that I won’t even bother with the usual recipe format and will just do a step by step pictorial.
By way of ingredients all you will need are: white vinegar, salt, sterlized airtight glass jars, and a good batch of nice, dent-free, firm, crunchy (no smooshy ones, oh no no no) red or black grapes. We used black grapes, as you can see.
Gently wash & dry grapes. Taking care that none of the grapes separate from the stalk.
Allow grapes to dry completely. (Leave to drain in a colander, or, lay on cloth.)
With a kitchen scissor, cut the grape bunch into separate stalks, each stalk having at least 3-4 grapes on it.
Fill pickling jars with a few grape stalks. (Don’t stuff the jar – leave wiggling room for the grapes.)
Add vinegar (enough to cover grapes, leaving some room at the top.) Sprinkle with a dash of salt. Close lid.That’s it. Your job is done.
Now, according to the original recipe, it’ll take a month before this pickle has ‘settled’ and is ready to serve, but we tried it only one day afterwards, and honestly, it was good to go!
Definitely try this. It’s an interesting way to enjoy grapes and with its melange of sweet, sour and salty taste, it makes a unique condiment that goes quite nicely with meat or a rich dish.
Recently, a dear and too-long-no-see cousin (my pessar amoo to be exact) came for a visit to New York and after a day of expedition in the city thrilled us all by showing up with a foraged harvest of the beauties you see in the picture below. Leave it to an out-of-town explorer to unveil the secret delights of your city!
If you have to ask, “what the heck are these?” you are certainly not of Persian persuasion. If, however, when looking at this picture your mouth waters and you are all at once covetous, excited, and deeply curious as where this loot was found — you are almost certainly a hyphenated or sans-hyphen-Iranian in diaspora.
A popular summer fruit called zoghal akhteh in Iran, this berry-like fruit (dubbed “Cornelian Cherry” in the West) is rarely if ever eaten in the U.S. — and then, mostly by the birds! Unless foraged by Iranian, Russian, Turkish, or Eastern European enthusiasts who have since the ancient times enjoyed its goodness.
Cornelian Cherry’s taste is a combination of tart and floral – hard to describe. The less ripe it is, the harder the flesh and more astringent the flavor, but when dark red and ripe, it is more sweetly floral than tart and has a soft mushy texture.
In Iran, zoghal akhteh is mostly enjoyed as a fresh fruit – sometimes sprinkled with salt; and it is also sold dried (tasting like a tangy combination of raisins and cranberry) which is a very popular snack to munch on. Zoghal akhteh is also preserved and turned into sharbat (floral or fruit-based Persian syrups that are diluted with ice cold water to make fabulous summertime drinks) and moraba (jam) and marmalade and torshi (pickles.)
The zoghal akhteh torshi or pickle is exceedingly simple to prepare and does not require a recipe so much as an assemblage direction:
With the remainder of my beautiful bounty of zoghal akhteh, I made a divine bottle of sharbat; several jars of meh-but-not-too-bad moraba aka jam; and a batch of pretty, pink, and delicious marmalade. Respective recipes to follow in separate posts later this week, so keep your eyes peeled.
You may remember that shirin (as in shirin polo ) is an adjective meaning “sweet” in Persian. Perhaps you even recall that Shirin is also a popular name for girls in Iran.
Torsh, in turn, is an adjective that means “sour” in Persian, and to the best of my knowledge, there are no Iranian girls running around who are named Torsh. Although, if you are an unmarried female of a certain age, some may call you a dokhtar torshideh, which stands for a spinster but literally means a “soured girl.” That certain age, by the way, used to be twenty at one time — to wit, this witty ditty:
dokhtar ke resid be bist
bayad be halash gerist
which loosely translates to:
if a girl is still a maiden by twenty
you should cry for her and plenty
And of course a girl was supposed to remain a maiden until lawfully wed. Ahem.
But back to our story!
Torshi – as in “something sour” – is what pickles are called in Iran. They can be made with cooked or raw fruits, or vegetables, or herbs (or a combination thereof) preserved in vinegar and salt, and jazzed up with spices. Some types of torshi are ready to eat immediately after being prepared, while some require being aged (as little as a week or two to as long as seven years for a particular type of garlic torshi) before they are ready to be served.
A good torshi is a tangy, tasty, textured condiment that enhances the pleasure of the main dish. Iranians can’t get enough of torshi: it is an oft-present presence at sit-down family meals, and at least one type if not more variations of it are certain to be offered as part of the accoutrements of a typical festive Persian dinner party.
Torshi ‘ye bademjan is one of my favorite homemade Persian pickles. I appreciate the eggplant flavor and its soft yet slightly crunchy texture. It is by no means an effortless relish to prepare, but on the other hand, it does not require a panoply of ingredients and spices as some high-maintenance types of torshi are known to demand. Aside form vinegar, all you will need are a few good eggplants; plus a little bit of turmeric, black seeds (they look like black sesame seeds and are also known as black cumin or nigella seed), angelica powder, and corriander seeds, and you are good to go.
If you like eggplants and tangy condiments, you will very much enjoy this.
In this last installment of docu posts about my super sweet Trip to Kermanshah, I really wanted to give you a mouthwatering, lusty tour of all the yummy food I ate during this visit. Everything from the Kermanshahi classic stew of khalal ghaimeh va zereshk (almond & barberry with cubed meat stew) to the spectacular Persian rib kabab (dandeh kabab) we devoured after touring tagh bostan, to gojeh sabz (unripe green plums) to all the toothsome shirini Kermanshahi (boxes and boxes) I got to take and I had to savor. However, somehow or other, I managed to either neglect to take photos or when I did, I took mostly blurry or poorly lit or horribly composed photos. You won’t need to scold me as I’ve already had a stern, scalding talk with myself (“one more mess up like this, buster, and you will be turning in your food blogger badge, doing a 100 push ups, making 100 servings of piyaz dagh without a break, and ruing the day you started a food blog.”) I promise, I shall know better from now on. This terrible mistake will not happen again.
That said, I hope you’ll still enjoy this as-is tour de food of Kermanshah, Iran. (Aside: I was rather pleased with myself for thinking up that “tour de food” phrase — I never have claimed to be forootan, have I — but Dr. Google busted my chops once again by shrugging and saying “Meh! So what! So have a gazillion other people.” Hmmmf! Doctor Google may be smart and all but he could certainly employ a kinder less artist-killer bedside manner.)
In any event, let’s commence our lusty oftentimes blurry foodie tour of Kermanshah shall we? Rolah jan, berim روله جان بریم as one might say in = the Kermanshah dialect!
Well to begin with, consider the cover photo of the Persian fruit roll up. These are called “lavashak” and they come in a variety of colors and flavors, depending on what type of fruit or mixtures of fruits has been used in its creation. Super popular as a snack, specially with kids, lavashak is sold in supermarkets and bazaars and delis all over Iran, but of course, some households make their own. One of those households being that of my cousin Roshanak, who is in the practice of making lavashak with all kinds of fruit from apricots to black plums to red mulberries, such as the one pictured above. It was so good! Akh! Ooof! My mouth is watering thinking about it.
Let’s move on before I drown in a pool of drool!
Gentle reader, hello and welcome to part 4 of the Trip to Kermanshah series!
As you saw for yourself the other day when we strolled through the Grand Bazaar of Kermanshah you can find everything there from shirini kermanshahi to gold jewelry to grizzly rows of severed cow’s heads (let us not speak of those yet or better yet never again!)
I omitted mention of the thriving farmer’s market bustling with all manners of fresh fruit and vegetables and herbs just outside and around the bazaar. Saving its tale for now.
Back tracking a bit, and as I pointed out recently, you may by now have noticed a pattern with Persians and their passionate penchant for unripe produce! Let’s just go ahead and call it an impetuous love affair!
To wit, we have unripe almonds (chaghaleh badoom چاقاله بادوم ), unripe green plums (gojeh sabz گوجه سبز), and just recently we made the tart yet invigoratingly pleasant acquaintance of unripe sour grapes (ghureh غوره) all of which are specimens of things not yet ripe yet beloved by Iranians and consumed with relish as either a fruit snack, or as a cherished culinary ingredient, or for its medicinal benefits, or for all of the above.
While writing about ghureh I did wonder if I were missing any other unripe fruits and vegetables that have sweet-talked their way into the Persian palette, and while writing this post I realized I’d forgotten about at least one more such instance.
During the tour of Kermanshah’s farmer’s market I came in close contact with mountain grown wild pistachios called vanooshk ونوشک and I was also tickled to find out about the nibbling possibilities of freshly harvested chickpeas!
Here’s what transpired:
I was walking and talking with my cousin Roshanak but out of the corner of my eyes I couldn’t help but notice this lady munching off what appeared to be torn off tree branches! WHAT!
Inquiring minds want to know and I played my tourist card and before my cousin could stop me, pounced on the poor woman and asked what she was nibbling on. As was wont of almost everyone I interacted with during my trip to Iran, the lady was super nice and friendly and warmly informed me that she was enjoying snacking on freshly picked green chickpeas or nokhod kham as we call it in Farsi.
[Aside: In the photo above please do note the presence of my nemesis, okra, piled on trays at the bottom and in the center of the photo. My father loves okra, particularly Persian okra stew (khoresh ‘e bamiyeh) but it’s the one thing I can not abide to eat in any way, shape or form.]
The freshly-harvested-chickpeas-snacking-nice-lady offered me to try some of the nokhod ‘e kham and I confess I was not shy enough to refuse and I heartily agreed to pick and munch. I no longer recall the precise taste but I do remember that the green chickpeas were kind of crunchy and overall: pleasant. Certainly a most intriguing way to snack!
Afterwards, my cousin Roshanak laughed and said “Vai, Azi jan, chera inkaro kardi? You shouldn’t eat unwashed things!” But you know what, I pretty much threw caution to the wind during my trip, or rather, I was not even conscious of the need to be cautious, to be honest. I ate and drank what was offered and was available or seemed novel, tempting or interesting and it was all good and I lived to tell the tales! And I do have a few fun tales left to tell in that regard!
Before leaving the bazar’s farmer’s market, Roshanak wanted to buy something. A little something called vanooshk!
Here’s a mound of vanooshk, piled high. It bears a striking resemblance to unripe sour grapes, n’est ce pas?
What is vanooshk? Well, it is the fruit of a tree called “baneh” that grows in the mountains of Iran. In Farsi, vanooshk is also known as wild pistachio or mountain pistachio. In English the tree is known as the Persian turpentine tree and if you want to get all Latin about it, the tree is called Pistacia atlantica.
To the best of my knowledge, vanooshk is not nibbled on raw, but is used to make everything from torshi (Persian pickles) to ash and abghoosht (thick hearty Persian soups) to khoresh (Persian stews.) At least, Kermanshahi folks do so. My visit was not long enough for me to taste any of these culinary marvels. Alas!
Gasp! What have we here? Do check out this gorgeous pile of fresh grape leaves as well! Oh my! These beauties! What I wouldn’t give to get my grubby hands on some right now to make dolmeh ‘ye barg ‘e mo دلمه برگ مو (stuffed grape leaves, Persian style.)
My cousin Roshank has a beautiful bagh (a term referring not to a farm per se but a piece of land, private garden, used strictly to grow fruits and vegetables) and before I left Kermanshah she made sure to give me a tote bag packed and filled with freshly picked grape leaves from the trees of her own bagh that I took with me to Tehran, as one of the many sweet and charming souvenirs of my trip to my father’s city of childhood.
Now for good measure, I present you with a short video below that captures just a minute of the escapades of the day …
And let’s end with this nice smiley vendor
… who was a little grumpy at first but hammed it up like a champ when I asked him to pose with a vanooshk bouquet. Damesh garm!
Back soon with the next installment of this Trip to Kermanshah series.
For my first and only full day of sightseeing in my paternal homeland, my awesome and adorable cousin Roshanak started off by taking me to the Grand Bazaar of Kermanshah — a sight for saucer-sized eyes. Try as I might and even armed with digital equipments, there’s no way that I can truly translate and transcribe the experience and sights of the bazaars in Iran, but In this post, part 3 of the Trip to Kermanshah series, I’m going to show you some of the things I did see with my very own eyes that were nice and interesting and at times, wondrous.
Of course, what you’ll inevitably find in any bazaar in any city in Iran, be it ever so humble a market or so grand as to be Grand, are stalls after stalls of dried herbs and spices and advieh (Persian mixed spices.) All manners and diverse types of specially-mixed-combinations of spiced (advieh) for everything from making torshi to polo to soups to BBQ chicken. There’s something inherently mesmerizing about gazing at piles of colorful spices, don’t you find? It makes you want to dive into them and touch and inhale all of them!
Let’s go stroll through rest of the bazaar together, shall we? It’ll be fun and filled with marvels, I promise. Just make sure your scrolling finger is all pumped up and ready! Click for lots of fun pix!
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 fourth 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 — brings us to covering that universally beloved beverage without which most of us would lose our ever loving mind. Namely: coffee! Cup of joe, java, or gahveh (قهوه) as we say in Farsi.
In other words: that without which life as we know it is surely not worth living! Hyperbole? I think not.
Coffee and cafe culture in Iran is well and alive and robustly kicking. There is a historic cultural precedent for coffee shops in Iran going a long way back to gahveh khaneh (literally “house of coffee”) where people – albeit mostly men – met to drink coffee or tea, play backgammon, smoke ghelyoon and basically gab and socialize and even do business; and onwards to more modern iterations of cafes and also hybrid coffee-shop-pastry-shops known as cafe ghanadi or cafe confectionaries. (Peruse this Iran Review article of Old Cafe Confectionaries of Tehran for an interesting read.)
Now let’s grab a cup of nice strong coffee (milk, no sugar please) and take a look at yours truly’s slightly jittery and entirely intoxicating caffeinated pictorial journey.
Cafe Lord Confectionary. I was taken here by a friend who by a lucky stroke of fortune was also visiting Tehran in Norooz (a dear friend who, by the way, is the brains behind Rtister – a fashionable operation!)
After she left, I pored over the map of Tehran and tried to get familiar with this sprawling metropolis of my vatan.
The writing at the bottom of this take-out coffee cup reads: “You will soon feel better.” Heh!
I imbibed this much-needed cup of coffee at the Tajrish branch of Lamiz Coffee Shop — a trendy chain of coffee shops in Tehran. (A business establishment that seems to cultivate, pride themselves on, and encourage a distinctly hipstersque aura and culture. To wit!) To which one may say: chera ke’h na? Why not indeed.
I ended up at this coffee shop thanks to another good friend who showed me around Tajrish. A very fun outing and venture.
(If you’ve been reading for awhile, you may recall that I wrote about the whole escapade here earlier: A Modern Coffee Shop & a Traditional Tea House Joint | A Stroll in Tajrish Square & through the Tajrish Bazaar.)
Then I ended up at this other cafe off of Jordan Avenue with my cousin.
We toasted to her birthday with frothy foamy coffee and a slice of cake. It was a good place to people watch too!
At some point, a street musician walked in. He was warmly received and in turn he really warmed up the place with his cheerful music. Quite a lively scene!
Another day. Another #latteart coffee. Another outdoor garden Persian cafe. Tough life!
Note the calligraphy logo of the sugar packet. It’s striking, isn’t it?
I distinctly remember nursing this coffee and keeping up with my blogging duties at the Mehrabad Airport in Tehran while I was waiting for my flight to Shiraz.
This coffee: Hit. The. Spot!
But you know the coffee that really hit the spot when I was in Iran?
Nescafe instant coffee!
On a road trip with two friends — making our way from Tehran to the Caspian sea.
Prepared over the hood of Afooli’s SUV!
it didn’t hurt that we saw this view on our road trip either!
Ah, Mount Damavand! How majestic and glorious and breathtaking are you? The pictures do not do you justice.
So you drink the Turkish coffee (thick bitter black without sugar of course) until only a little bit of it is left behind. You then make a niyat (solemn wish or query) and turn the cup bottoms-up over the saucer. The designated fortune teller then tells you what the future holds by “reading” and deciphering the significance and meaning of the the trail of the coffee – looking at the marks and ridges and shapes it has left behind. After that initial reading, you make another silent “niyat” (a thing you hope for or are curious about) and make an imprint with your index finger in the center of the cup. The fortune teller then “reads” that and makes remarks meant to answer your niyat. And that’s it.
Fal ‘eh gahveh (fortune telling with Turkish coffee) in Iran is a plausible possibility to take place at a social gathering. Usually, every family has at least a couple of people (men or women) who claim to possess this coffee-fortune-telling gift and skill. Sure enough, at a family luncheon at my aunt’s Fuzzy’s home (more on my lovely aunt later when I share her famous torshi recipe), one of my cousins said, “let’s have Turkish coffee and I’ll read everyone’s fortune.” Of course she didn’t have to make that offer twice. Turkish coffee was promptly brewed, we all drank our coffee, and we all eagerly and solemnly lined up for our ‘fal ‘e gahveh.” It was a lot of fun!
This ritual is mostly meant to be an entertaining parlor game, an old cultural custom which is not really meant to be taken seriously at all — although sometimes, astonishingly and bewilderingly, the prophecies land right on the money.
And with that, let’s end on this buzzed note of caffeine and occult.
Wishing you much good fortune and very many mugs of delicious coffee (if that’s your poison of choice) until we meet again. Believe it or not, there are still 3 more pending Drinking in Iran installments. Who knew there were so very many things to be said on the subject? And believe me, this has only been a perfunctory coverage, merely scratching the surface. Ah, that scratch feels good! 😉
(For now that is!)
Hi all! Let me kick start this festive post by saying that it is part of an effort by a whole gang (a veritable tribe) of us Persian food scribblers who gathered together to bring you a roundup of recipes in honor and celebration of Mehregan. Please scroll all the way to the end to see the index link to all these wonderful writers’ delicious posts: a lovely bounty in honor of a festival of love and bounty!
What is Mehregan? Dating back to 6000 years ago, Mehregan is an ancient Persian thanksgiving celebration of harvest and bounty — also referred to as Festival of fall, as it marks the harvesting season and is a tribute to nature. The word ‘mehr’ in Farsi means affection, kindness, love. It is also the name of the seventh month (coinciding with the zodiac sign of Libra) in the Persian calendar, dedicated to Mehr: the Zoroastrian Goddess of Light, Knowledge, and Love.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need tell you that Mehregan is no longer widely celebrated in modern Iran, except in a few cities such as Yazd and Kerman where there still reside a considerable Zoroastrian population, which was the religion of ancient Persia. But at one point in the history of Iran, Mehregan was as important a festival as Norooz, the Persian New Year.
In ancient Persia, the year was divided into two seasons: summer and winter. Norooz heralded the beginning of summer and Mehregan heralded the beginning of winter. Each festival was a major celebration and ancient Persian kings gave two audiences a year: one at Norooz and one at Mehregan. A perfect and harmonious symmetry. The two festivals share many rituals and symbolism in common, including: wearing new clothes; thoroughly cleaning one’s home; preparing a feast and celebrating with friends and family; setting a decorative and symbolic table with things like sweets, nuts, water, mirror, various grains for prosperity (such as wheat), fruits (specially pomegranates and apples), flowers, wine, coins (similar to haft seen) and burning candles and wild rue.
It’s funny how some of this knowledge may not be conscious but runs in one’s blood! A good few weeks ago I was minding my own business when all of a sudden I had a deep yearning – practically a physical craving – for a thorough spring cleaning. I wanted to khoneh takooni, which as you may remember means ‘shaking the house’ and refers to the vigorous spring cleaning that is one of the cornerstone traditions of the Persian New Year. It struck me as funny then to have this unseasonal instinct for spring cleaning with fall approaching and I even tweeted about it. (Because remember: if you don’t tweet or Instagram it, it did NOT happen!) And it was only when researching Mehregan for this post that I realized that my seemingly uncalled-for craving for a spring type of khone takooni was merely the ringing bell of ancient memory and instincts!
Now what kind of food does a Persian food blogger make in honor of Mehregan? Well, I once again invite you to explore the index link at the very end of this post to see the wealth of offerings. As for yours truly, since Mehregan is a festival of Thanksgiving, I chose the stuffed chicken as an homage to the stuffed turkey at the table of American Thanksgiving feast. As for reshteh polo, I chose it for two reasons. One is a nod to the meaning of ‘mehr’ which as I mentioned means love and affection and so I wanted to make something that I love and have much affection for and that is … carbohydrates! Thus: reshteh polo – a type of Persian rice made with noodles! Because if Persian rice on its own is not awesome enough, imagine it embellished with soft noodles and punctuated with the bewitching taste and texture of dates and raisins sauteed in caramelized onions. Oh, have mercy! A heavenly carb-load! The other less gluttonous reason is that reshteh is the Persian word for thread and in a pun, it also means clue, and as such, Persian noodle rice is one of the dishes served for the Persian New Year in that it symbolizes one having a grasp on the threads of their life!
A delicious way of saying: Get a clue!