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. :)
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!