Anaarbaji & Golestan | A Gilani Dish & a Persian Preschool in Berkeley

Hi everyone! As part of the continuing series of guest posts scheduled while I’m off on my excellent adventures in Iran, this is a guest post, made possible by Laila – a lovely reader of this blog – and chef Hanif Sadr. Laila’s story; the story of Golestan (a full immersion Persian preschool in Berkeley); and chef Hanif Sadr’s delicious recipe for this lush meatball stew hailing from the Northern region of Iran are all fantastic – so let’s just hurry and get to those. Enjoy!

A Gilaki Dish and Golestan for Kids in Berkeley – A Guest Post by Laila:

I stumbled upon Fig and Quince while looking for cooking inspiration, and I found the holy grail… I have seriously been hooked since. (Editor’s note: Thank you!) I am a native and current resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, the first of three children of an Iranian father and an American mother, married to a Jewish Mendocino County native. Quite an eclectic mix we are!  I have been so lucky to have recently found opportunities to get in touch with my family’s culture and history, and to give my own children access to the richness and depth that comes with being Iranian.  I’m a psychotherapist/social worker by day, but lately my passions include kitchen adventures involving cilantro, cumin, and pink sprinkles, attempting to put together the intriguing puzzle that is the Persian language, and being exhausted by the dizzying delight that our little ones, Soraya and Ezra (ages 3.5 and 10 months) bring us.

The Golestan Center for Language Immersion and Cultural Education (Golestan Kids) in Berkeley, California, is a multi-classroom preschool, after school program, and resource for educators worldwide. Founded in 2007, thanks to the tireless efforts of a handful of families, Golestan has become a haven for anyone seeking connection with Iranian culture. The program is for children ages 2-5 and elementary school aged children as well, and is conducted entirely in Persian. The school day is steady and rhythmic, and includes art, science, movement, story-telling, gardening, music, outdoor play, and of course, food to tie it all together.

The children participate in the cooking and preparation in whatever ways they can, and are learning to distinguish tastes and textures. They eat family style, and respect particular mealtime rituals including setting the table, the before-meal blessing, an after-meal gratitude song, waiting until all are finished to get up from the table, and clearing their own dishes after the meal. As a result, children feel excited about and involved in the process of choosing food, preparing it, and eating together.  In fact, while chopping the sabzi for the recipe below, my three-year-old daughter came and peeked over the counter, asking for a “taste of herbs, please.”  I gave her a piece of what I thought was parsley, she tasted it, made a face, and stated with confidence, “Spicy.  This is NOT parsley.  THIS is cilantro.”

The kitchen is the center, the heart, of Golestan. The chef, Hanif Sadr, takes thoughtful measures to ensure that the food that the children and staff eat represents the culture at our roots and stays true to the school’s mission flowering above us.  Hanif does all of the school’s grocery shopping by bicycle, feeding approximately 40 children and 15 staff daily. The philosophy behind the cooking at Golestan is this—fresh, unprocessed food makes for happy children and a healthy planet.  Organic and local produce and ingredients are used whenever possible.  Pasture raised, organic grass-fed meat is sourced from a farm nearby.  The only processed food is organic pasta.  Even the whole grain bread and crackers are made in-house.  The menu is chosen to reflect the children’s increasing awareness of the world around them—on Fridays, they eat foods from the country they learn about that day.

The recipe below comes from the Gilan province of Northern Iran. Gilan’s lush, humid climate allows crops such as tea, rice, citrus, and kiwi to flourish.  Parsley, cilantro, mint, and spinach are indispensable ingredients used in most all cooking.  Pomegranates, as well as the thick-skinned, sour citrus fruit Narenj, are reduced down to make tart, concentrated syrups that impart bright flavor to Gilaki dishes. Hanif is from this region and prepared this dish for the children at Golestan when they learned about Shab-e-Yalda. It was very well received by their tender taste buds!  It is generally eaten with rice—Kateh, to be precise.

Because the school has a “no nuts” policy due to allergies, Hanif replaced the walnuts with sunflower seeds. This did make the dish slightly less deep and rich, but it was still quite successful. He uses ground beef in his recipe, but chicken or turkey could be substituted easily, or the meatballs could be omitted entirely for a vegetarian version of this delicious, simple dish.

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (turkey, or chicken) for meatballs

For stew:

  • 1 pound walnuts

    ¼-1/2 bottle (5 oz. or so) Pomegranate molasses (or to taste)

    3 white onions

    2 cloves garlic

    ½ bunch mint

    1 bunch parsley

    2 bunches cilantro

    2-3 tsp lime juice (or to taste)

    1-2 tsp turmeric

    salt & pepper

  1. Make meatballs separately in whatever method you prefer; mixing the ground meat with a grated onion, salt, pepper, and spices if you desire, and either steaming them or frying them to brown their outsides. It is not necessary to cook them completely, as they will be added to the stew to finish cooking.
  2. Chop herbs coarsely and pulse, along with garlic and ½-1 onion, in food processor until finely minced.
  3. Sauté minced herbs, lime juice, salt, and pepper, and sauté over medium heat until the herbs lose most of their water (5-10 minutes).  If you want to accentuate the pomegranate flavor, add 2-3 tsp of pomegranate molasses to the herbs.
  4. In a food processor, puree walnuts and 2 onions. You may need to add water to make the mixture resemble a thick paste.  Move mixture to heavy bottomed saucepan, add 1-2 cups of water, salt, pepper, and 1-2 tsp turmeric, and boil for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add meatballs and sautéed herbs to boiled walnut and onion mixture.  Add pomegranate syrup to taste, using additional lime juice if you prefer a sour stew, and/or additional pomegranate syrup if you prefer a sweet stew.
  6. Add ¼-1/2 cup water if needed, and boil ingredients together for at least an hour, stirring occasionally, and watching closely to prevent scorching at the bottom of the pot.

Note: If the stew is too thin, you can add ¼-1/2 cup rice flour – whisked in ½ cup boiling water – to thicken it.

Best served with rice. Nush-e-jan!

Thank you Laila jan & Hanif Jan for a yummy recipe and a lovely guest post. Now I wish I were a kid in California and I could go full immersion to Golestan!



And you guys, don’t forget to keep in touch with me while I’m away via Facebook and Twitter. or Instagram. Miss you and I’m waiving hello – as I eat a fresh out of the oven noon’eh sangak – all the way from Iran!

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Comments (11)

  • tinywhitecottage 10 years ago Reply

    Lovely guest post! Looking forward to your return Azita! 🙂

  • Amanda 10 years ago Reply

    Beautiful post! I love meeting all of your readers :O)

  • Francesca 10 years ago Reply

    Great post and lovely recipe! I wish we had something similar for Italian kids around here. It would be such a great way to meet kids and families that share the same cultural heritage.

  • The Novice Gardener 10 years ago Reply

    That looks yummy! Loved reading the post!

  • Bizou 10 years ago Reply

    What a nice coincidence. I also live in Berkeley, had passed the Golestan a million times & always thought what a nice idea to have the Persian Koodakstan (kindergarten) for kids here in Berkeley. But had no idea they run such a beautiful program. I think I will go there in person & if lucky get to meet with Leila. What a nice surprise. Thank you.
    I am also so excited about this Gilaki recipe specially that I do have some blood in me from that part of Iran to be exact Mozandaran.(from my maternal grand mother)
    Azita jon you have managed your blog in such a perfect way while experiencing your Persian adventures as if your here yourself, how ever I think we all still miss you. Thank you & happy times in Iran.

  • polianthus 10 years ago Reply

    Lovely guest post Laila, great story, what a lucky daughter you have to be able to go to such a school. I remember my school dinners which were pink semolina and spam with mushy peas, none if it fresh, non of it organic, but or course those were different times and not in Berkeley. Recipe looks great too, the sauce sounds interesting like a Khoresteh Fesenjoon but with herbs added in on top of the walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Hard to imagine what that tastes like.
    Azita, you are doing a great job of keeping your blog alive while you are away, and your adventures are great, but someone it’s still not totally the same. Cannot really understand why.

  • Coco in the Kitchen 10 years ago Reply

    Soraya is a doll! My lil Daisy likes to garden w Daddy, too.
    What a lovely dish. I must try this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  • rhubarbandrosewater 10 years ago Reply

    Now I wish I could go preschool again! That sounds like a wonderful school, not comparable at all with the Catholic school I endured…
    The recipe sounds so good! Finally a reason to add some pomegranate molasses to our pantry. I’ve always seen it in the stores, but never cooked with it before!

  • apuginthekitchen 10 years ago Reply

    I have heard of immersion schools this sounds fantastic and that stew, oh my does it sound delicious!

  • Sophie33 10 years ago Reply

    What a lovely & cool guest post, my friend! That 3-year old girl will be a foodie & is it now, already, I hear!! This dish sounds very refreshing! It is like how I love to eat!

  • keyvan 9 years ago Reply

    nice dude 🙂

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