With Roots Planted in Persian Cuisine

This post is about something that has really been, in theory, a long time in the making.  The decision to finally do something about it was inspired by a recent question from a new co-worker.  Actually, it is a question that I have been asked many, many times before.  And my response has evolved into something that has pretty much become my standard response now.

And the question that I have been asked so many times?  It goes something like, “I have never had Persian cuisine/food before, what is it like?”  At first, I had a hard time trying to describe it because, after all, it is hard trying to describe such a complex cuisine in only a few words.  But now, I have managed to come up with a response which I think gives someone at least a general and basic idea about the food.  It goes something kind of like this:  “Persian food centers very much around rice (polow), bread and stews (khoresht) which use all kinds of vegetables, fruits and usually a protein (often either chicken, beef or lamb).  Onions are a staple in almost all dishes and spices and herbs are used heavily, with the most common being, in my opinion, turmeric, cinnamon, dill, parsley, cilantro, saffron, and mint.  Iranians love the combination of sweet and sour (foods that are considered “torsh”) while spicy foods are not as common.  And while different regions of Iran might alter some of the spices or herbs used in certain dishes and have dishes that are special to that region, for the most part, many dishes are known and consumed no matter what part of the country you are in.”  Now, remember that my response is a very generalized summary but the closest I can really come to trying to describe the cuisine in only a few words.

And then every time I describe Persian cuisine, I vow to start cooking more of it.  At the moment, when I am craving a favorite Persian dish, I go home to my parents’ house and eat the amazing things my mom makes (she will even take requests sometimes!).  She is, without a doubt, the most amazing Persian-food cooking chef I know and she is not even Persian herself (although my sisters, dad and I call her an honorary Persian).  She lived there for years and learned how to cook the dishes from an expert, my grandmother.  Combine that with a crazy talent for cooking and you end up with the most delicious Persian food you will ever have and it was all made by a pretty, blue-eyed lady born and raised in southern Virginia. :)

My mom on our balcony in Qazvin, Iran about 30 years ago.

In my quest to learn more about the art of cooking Persian food (eating it is something I am already quite well-versed in), I thought it would be fun to share some of my experiences and efforts here on the blog.  And perhaps, in my  little way, I could introduce others to this amazingly delicious cuisine.  I often feel guilty that I do not cook it more often.  I guess I have always been intimidated by it because most of the dishes are not exactly things that you can just “whip up.”  Often, the dishes are pretty labor intensive and time consuming in the sense that they require a lot of prep and cooking time.  But, the result is always so worth it in the end.

A lot of the recipes are going to be inspired by or come directly from my mom.  I may also reach out to some of my extended family members, including some of my aunts, uncles and family friends.  I will also refer to a few Persian cuisine cookbooks, my favorite being New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij.  What I hope for in the end…to become more comfortable cooking the food that I love and have grown up eating and to also, hopefully, introduce others to a cuisine that is not as well-known as it should be (in my humble opinion). :)

My first recipe to get started is Lubia Polow (Rice with Green Beans).  It was, and still is, one of my favorite rice dishes.  The recipe, full of aromatic spices, fresh green beans and small chicken meatballs will make the kitchen smell so good.  (I do not know what it is but whenever I smell Persian food cooking, I am instantly comforted and transported back in time.  I wonder if that happens to other people…whether certain smells of things cooking transport them back in time too?).  While my version of Lubia Polow has meat in it,  the dish can easily be made vegetarian if you like.

So, the final results of all the hard work…a really yummy rice which could possibly give my mom’s lubia polow a run for its money.  (Okay, well…maybe possibly).  :)

Lubia Polow (Rice with Green Beans) (inspired by my mom and New Food of Life)

2 cups of white basmati rice
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped fine
2-3 cups of fresh green beans (you can use frozen here too), cut into 1-inch pieces
15 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained  (you can also use fresh tomatoes, approx. 2-3 big tomatoes, chopped)
1 TBSP of turmeric
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of advieh-e-polow (persian rice spice mix)*
2 1/2 tsp of salt
3 tsp of olive oil
1 TBSP + 2 tsp of high-heat conducting oil
1 tsp of lime juice
1 lb of ground chicken breast
1/2 tsp of garlic powder
pinch of ground pepper

* Advieh-e-polow is a spice mix that is used quite often in Persian cooking.  There are other types of advieh that are used for stews (khoresht) and for pickled vegetables (torshi).  I looked at the spices contained in the advieh I used and the ingredients are cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, ginger, cloves and Rose Bud flowers.  Sounds pretty amazing, huh!  Usually, my mom and I, like most Iranians we know, buy the mix pre-made from the Persian store, so I am not quite sure of the ratios if you wanted to make your own.  New Food for Life includes a recipe for it but the recipe does not include the ginger or cloves that were in the mix I used.  While I plan to come up with an advieh mix soon, for now, you can either buy advieh online, buy it at a Persian market/Middle Eastern market near you, you can use Najmieh Batmanglij’s version (2 TBSP of ground dried rose petals (make sure you use the kind prepared for consumption), 2 TBSP ground cinnamon, 2 TBSP ground cardamom, and 1 TBSP ground cumin; combine these spices and store in an air-tight container) or you can even just use a pinch of whichever of the spices you have.  My mom also said that the rice would still taste really good without the advieh and that sometimes she doesn’t even use it.  Since I had it, I used it.

1.  First, rinse your basmati rice.  This will probably take a few rinses.  Put your rice in a bowl.  Cover the rice with water.  Swoosh your hands through the rice. Pour the water out (or through a strainer).  Cover the rice again with water, run your hands through the rice, and then empty the water again.  Repeat this 4-5 more times until the water in the bowl is rather clear.  (I rinsed my rice about 5 times).  The rinsing process not only cleans the rice but also helps get rid of some of the starches that might make the rice sticky, which is not something you want when making Persian rice dishes.

2.  Place the 2 cups of rice and about 4 cups of water in a saucepan. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil  Bring to a boil and then let it boil for about 6-8 minutes more.  To know when the rice should be removed from the heat and drained, taste a few grains.  They should be soft but still have a bit of toughness in the center of the grain.  Once you drain the rice in a strainer or colander, set it aside.

3.  Saute the onions with 1 TBSP of oil on medium heat until they begin to brown.  Add the chicken meatballs and brown.  (Form the meatballs by combining the ground chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt).  Once the meatballs are browned, add the green beans, tomatoes, turmeric, cinnamon, advieh, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir.  Cover and cook for 25-30 minutes.

4.  Once the vegetable/meat mix is cooked, set aside.  Then take a large, non-stick saucepan and heat 2 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is heated, add half of the rice to the pan in a layer.  Next, layer half of the meat/vegetable mix, then add the rest of the rice in a layer and then top with the remaining meat/vegetable mix.  Before covering the rice, use the handle of a wooden spoon to make a few small holes in the rice which go almost all the way down to the bottom of the pot.

5.  Combine 2 teaspoons of olive oil with 2 TBSP of water and 1 tsp of lime juice.  Stir and pour all over the rice.

6.  Cook for about 10 more minutes on medium-high heat.  Then cover the pot with 2 paper towels and place a tight-fitting lid on top.  Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 35-40 more minutes.  (The paper towels help keep in the steam).

7.  When you are ready to serve, a very common presentation method is to invert the rice on a plate so that you can present the tahdiq (the highly coveted crust of rice that forms at the bottom of the pot).  Another common presentation method is to ladle  the rice onto a big serving platter so that it forms a mound-like shape.  Then you can put the tahdiq on a separate plate when serving.  As seen below, I chose to invert my rice.  To do so, I just took a plate that was larger than the rim of my pot.  I removed the lid to the pot and placed the plate upside-down on top.  Carefully and quickly, I flipped the pot of rice over so that it ended up right-side up on the plate.

8.  Serve while warm.  Enjoy!

“Sing because this is a food our starving world needs. Laugh because that is the purest sound.” ~ Hafiz (famous 14th century Persian poet)

**It has been quite a while since my last post but I am excited to say that my computer problems have been remedied and I can get back to doing something that I have discovered that I truly love doing.  Not being able to be active in the blogging community this last week has really made me realize just how much I have enjoyed being a part of it!  So, yay to a new fully-functioning computer and yay to being able to blog again!

155 thoughts on “With Roots Planted in Persian Cuisine

  1. This is a wonderful start to learning about your heritage – every picture you have taken looks delicious :D
    Look forward to more exotic dishes!

    Choc Chip Uru
    Latest: Marbled Muffintopcookiecake Hybrid

  2. So glad your computer is working again. I would totally freak out if my computer broke because all my pictures, homework, and documents are on here (reminder to get my harddrive backed up? I think so).

    This looks delicious! You make even rice and green beans look fancy.

  3. This looks and sounds delicious. It’s interesting because you never really hear about Persian food. I guess it’s all lumped into the “Middle Eastern Food” category. What a great way to educate the public on Persian food!

  4. Very interesting. I’ve had Persian cuisine several times. I find the rice that’s used is quite different than the varieties used for Chinese, Japanese & Southeast Asian dishes.
    Also have had rice pudding with saffron. Great stuff.

    Hope you reveal more of this cuisine on the blog.

    • Persians generally use basmati rice which I don’t think is common in Chinese and Japanese cuisine (but I could be wrong). Basmati has a flavor and aroma that is quite unique compared to other types of white rice. I do hope to share more. Thank you so much for the compliment.

      • Basmati is more in Southeast Asian traditional cooking..Vietnam, etc. particularily Thai cooking uses it.

        There are different grades and varieties of even basmati. What I’ve had with Persian cooking was quite different than even the basmati rice I’ve had with Indian cuisine, Thai cuisine. The Persian basmati version had a much thinner, lighter grain. I assume a Persian grocery store offers 10-15 brands of rice in large sacks…because many decent sized Asian stores offer that.

  5. WOOOHOOO! Congrats on being WordPressed!! As soon as I saw this post, I passed it to my husband who is Persian :) I am so happy for you, for your memories and for the culture to be shared with many! Congratulations and well-deserved!

  6. I love lubia polo, but I have never seen it with ground chicken. Sometimes we make it without meat at all, to accomodate some of the vegetarians in our family, but this looks so yummy….makes me hungry just looking. HOORAY I am well versed at Persian eating also, but no so much cooking….tryng.

  7. Really lovely blog post. I love iranian food and the spices are similar to a lot of the Indian cooking that I do – similar to your ma I have learned a lot from my Indian mother in law ;o). Your recipe looks delicious.

  8. Your dish looks so tasty, I am definitely going to try it! My boyfriend cooked me Persian rice the other day from a packet with all the added spices and fruits/veg which was lovely, but we have been talking about doing it properly for ages, so now I will!

  9. Very awesome! I’ll be trying this recipe later, and watching for more. Your description of your moms cooking is making my mouth water. :) For my parents anniversary some time back we did a Persian themed meal and had a really fun time trying the new recipes.

  10. I love the image of your mom, on the balcony….the sun, the urbanity, the painted balcony… It makes a place we only know from the news suddenly look like a home, like an amazing holiday location, like a place filled with people, not with news items.

  11. I love the tahdiq! Your recipe is similar to chicken biryani (which is of course influenced by Persian cuisine) but I love the addition of green beans. I will have to try it this way the next time. Have you ever tried making polows or other rice dishes with brown basmati rice? Just curious.

    • Love chicken biryani! I have never tried using brown basmati myself but my Mom has. It definitely took her some trial and error but she has got it down. She said she would teach me and then I will, of course, share it here. :)

  12. salaam! I’ll have to start following your blog, my husband and I are of mixed Persian-American background too…I generally cook Persian food from the central plateau area and your quite right, each region adds its own twist. I have a friend from the bandari region and I tasted her advieh a few times and I sore it tasted almost like curry! Quite different frm our najabadi and esfahani blends! Just to add, about the rice…while its considered quintessentially Persian, esp the manners of which its cooked…in all honestly, up until maybe 30-40 years ago few Iranians outside of the wet northern areas and the borderlands near Iraq (marshy and et) really ate rice regularly. I remember being told that the only time anyone EVER ate rice was max 2-3 times a year! NoRuz ofcourse and at a wedding celebration and even then the amt of rice was very small. The central region is rather dry and rice just doesnt grow well, although in some small villages now adays due to modern irrigation, some places do and the rice they grow is actually very short, round and kind of sticky. Its soo good. But yah, up until a few decades ago, rice was a luxury for most Iranians of any background and eaten just at special occasions, bread was the norm and in the central region, it was a lot of barley bread people ate! I just wanted to share this because I keep swearing to myself and my family the NEXT time we go to Iran I’ll bring a tape recorder and hunt down all the elderly people down in the village to get their rememberances of the olden times and food traditions from back when. Dont get me wrong, I love the fancy, urban Persian cusine, like the loobiyah polo and the fesenjoon and the gormeh sabzi and oh, I could go on! but in all truth, I get more pleasure and satisfaction from making the old time, villager dishes which few people make anymore, because they are kind of dying out. Anyway khaharam, I’ll be folloing the blog. en’sha’Allah!

    btw…early sal-e no mobarek!

    • Salaam! Thank you so much for sharing that information with me. I did not know all of that information about the use of rice in dishes. I knew that bread was a staple but I did not know that about rice. Khaley-mamnoon for sharing! I wish my grandmother was still alive so that I could ask her about how the food changed between her childhood versus her elder years. I will have to ask others in my family. That would be an interesting thing to share. When you learn more about the old time, villager dishes, I would love if you could share some of those with me. I would love to learn more about the history of the food and how it changed. Thank you for visiting my blog. And early sal-e no mobarak be shomah.

  13. Wow! This is a great post. I was lucky enough to grow up in an area of Virginia with a good selection of Persian restaurants, and it has always been one of my favorite cuisines. I am looking forward to trying this and any other Persian recipes that you share. Thank you so much, and happy cooking!

  14. I love that you’re sharing these recipes with people. Our dishes are almost never acknowledged in “international” cookbooks and Iranian food is so distinct and different from its surrounding cultures that it really does deserve to be explored. Great post!

  15. Looks delicious, and reminds me a little of Indian biryani. I loved your post – and can relate to this condition of always having enjoyed a certain heritage cuisine at home, and now seeking the kitchen secrets of an earlier generation…

  16. Oh, thank you! You’ve taken me back to a few happy memories of my own. In middle school, I had two best friends: Kim and Mahdis. Mahdis was Persian, and she lived just a short walk from my house. Once in a while, we traded lunches — my Lunchables or sandwich for her falafel or polow. On a few joyous occasions, her family invited me to eat dinner with them.

    She lived with her father, mother, grandmother, and aunt, and though I wasn’t sure who cooked the meals I ate, I thanked all of them, because it was an entirely wonderful experience. I’ve had the privilege of traveling extensively and meeting many different people, and sharing meals has always been the best way to understand their hearts, even when we don’t share a common language.

    While I loved Mahdis, at first I only knew her at school and the persona she adopted while there — until we went to her house for those dinners. Then I began to really know her depth and complexity, and it strengthened our friendship all the more. I miss her, we lost touch, but this blog post brought her back to me for one sweet moment.

  17. I am a zoroastrian that has lived in India for song long we no longer know anything about persian cooking. We do not get the ready mix spices spices here for I think a certain proportion is
    necessary to get thecorrect flavours. I have a recipe website too at http://www.rodas-recipes.com.

  18. Thank you for sharing! Your descriptions of the food items are lovely. I LOVE trying foods from across the cultures, but for some reason it never occurred to me to try more Persian food! I’ve eaten it once before and the food was delicious.

    Can you please name me some specific dishes to try, preferably ones bursting with flavor, lol?

    • I feel as if most Persian dishes are bursting with flavor. :) Two dishes which are very famous in Iran include a dish called Fesenjoon (a stew made with walnuts and pomegranate) and a dish called Gormeh-Sabzi (a stew made with all sorts of pureed greens). I hope to share many more recipes.

      • Ohhh yes fesenjoon! I believe that’s the dish I tried before and it was fabulous! Definitely will have to try out some exotic Persian specialties soon….thanks once again:)

  19. Thanks for this post. I have always wanted to know how to attain that “crust” of Persian rice…this is great. Love the photos and background history. Thank you. Looking forward to your next recipe.

  20. Love your post, as well as Persian food. Just this last weekend, I attended a party thrown by a persian group of friends, and oh the wonderful spread of food they serverd. My favorite at the moment is Fessenjune.

  21. I have decided it’s easiest to make a khoresh then mix it with plain cooked rice. I did this with the lubia polo. How about your thoughts about kachi ? Look forward to more articles. Lisa

  22. Pingback: With Roots Planted in Persian Cuisine | Infos Press

  23. Hi! I loved this post so much that I ran to the market and picked up ground chicken and saffron and rose water and made it! Here are a few photos of the polow i made :) I’ve never made Persian food before and it turned out amazing!!!

    (it’s iphone quality so bear with me!)

    1. http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/16/polow2.jpg/
    2. http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/717/polowc.jpg/
    3. http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/837/polow3.jpg/

    Thank you so much. I’m totally into Persian/Iranian foods!

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