Iranian cuisine or Persian cuisine refers to the traditional and modern styles of cooking related to Iran. Situated in the Middle East, the Iranian culinary style is unique to Iran, though has historically both influenced and has been influenced by Iran's neighbouring regions at various stages throughout its history. Specifically, these have been mutual culinary influences to and from Mesopotamian cuisine, Anatolian cuisine, and especially the Central Asian cuisine. Many foods famously associated with Middle Eastern, and indeed World cuisine have their origins in Iran, such as kebab and ice cream.
It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from chelow kabab (rice served with roasted meat: barg, koobideh, joojeh, shishleek, soltani, chenjeh), khoresht (stew that is served with white basmati or Iranian rice: ghormeh sabzi, gheimeh, fesenjān, and others), āsh (a thick soup: for example āsh-e anār), kuku (vegetable souffle), polo (white rice alone or with addition of meat and/or vegetables and herbs, including loobia polo, albaloo polo, sabzi polo, zereshk polo, baghali polo and others), and a diverse variety of salads, pastries, and drinks specific to different parts of Iran. The list of Persian recipes, appetizers and desserts is extensive.
Fresh green herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. Typical Persian main dishes are combination of rice with meat, lamb, chicken, or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. To achieve a balanced taste, characteristic Persian flavorings such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes.
|Tah-chin, a savory saffron rice-cake with a filling, commonly marinated chicken fillets|
|The ubiquitous Persian Kabab is often served with both plain rice and Tah-chin. Photo: :Zereshk|
It is believed that rice (berenj in Persian) was brought to Iran from the Indian subcontinent in ancient times. Varieties of rice in Iran include champa, rasmi, anbarbu, mowlai, sadri, khanjari, shekari, doodi, and others. Basmati rice from Pakistan is very similar to these Persian varieties and is also readily available in Iran. Traditionally, rice was most prevalent as a major staple item in the rice growing region of northern Iran, and the homes of the wealthy, while in the rest of the country bread was the dominant staple. The varieties of rice most valued in Persian cuisine are prized for their aroma, and grow in the north of Iran.
There are three primary methods of cooking rice in Iran:
prepared by soaking in
salted water then boiling
it. The parboiled rice
(called chelo) is drained
and returned to the pot to
be steamed. This method
results in an exceptionally
fluffy rice with the rice
grains separated and not
sticky. A golden rice crust
is created at the bottom of
the pot called
"bottom of the pot").
Tah-deeg is served plain,
with thin breads such as
lavash or slices of
potato. Meat, vegetables,
nuts and fruits are
sometimes added in layers or
completely mixed with the
chelo and then steamed, such
Baghali Polo, Lubia
Polo, Zereshk Polo and Sabzi
Polo. When chelo is in the
pot the heat is reduced and
a piece of thick cloth or
towel is place on top of the
pot to absorb excess steam.
Chelo is plain rice served as an accompaniment to a stew or kebab (chelo khoresh badenjan, chelo kabab), while Polo is rice mixed with something (such as Baghali Polo, Zereshk polo, Loubia Polo). They are otherwise cooked in the same way.
|Kateh||rice that is cooked until the water is absorbed completely. This is also the traditional dish of Gilan Province (described in detail below).|
|Damy||cooked almost the same as Kateh but at the start ingredients that can be cooked thoroughly with the rice are added such as grains and beans such as lentil in "Adass Polo". In making Kateh the heat is reduced to minimum when the rice and other ingredients are almost cooked. If kept long enough on the stove without burning and over-cooking Damy and Kateh can also produce Tah-deeg. Damy literally means "steaming". A special form of Damy is Tah-chin, that is a mixture of yogurt, lamb (or chicken) and rice plus saffron and egg yolks. However, chicken Tah-chin is more common than lamb Tah-chin.|
|Sangak bread and some other breads. Photo: Hamed Saber|
Bread is called نان (nān) in Persian, which has been borrowed as Naan in English. There are four major Iranian flat breads:
|Nan-e barbari||thick and oval-shaped, also known as Tabrizi Bread or Nan-e Tabrizi, for its origins in and links to the city of Tabriz.|
|Nan-e lavash||thin, flaky and round or oval, and is also the oldest known bread in the Middle East and Caucasus.|
|Nan-e sangak||Triangle-shaped bread that is stone-baked.|
|Nan-e taftoon||Thin, but thicker than lavash, soft and round.|
|Nan-e Shirmal||Made like barbari, except with milk instead of water, in addition to a bit of sugar, and is eaten during breakfast or with tea.|
|Nan-e Gandhi||Sweet bread made like taftoon, and is eaten during breakfast or with tea.|
|Nan-e gisu||a sweet Armenian bread, and also is eaten in the morning or with tea later in the day.|
|Nan-e dushabi||bread made with grape syrup|
|Nan-e tiri||like lavash|
|Nan-e tokhme-ru||breads with sweet-smelling seeds on them|
|Nan-e khoshke-shirin||sweet brittle bread baked in gentle heat|
|Nan-e khoshke-tanur||brittle bread baked in gentle heat|
|Nan-e kopoli||any kind of thick bread|
Second only to rice is the production and use of wheat. There are said to be more than forty types of wheat breads from very dark to very light. From crisp to limp, and at least one type of flat bread will be a part of every meal. Nan-e lavash is an example of the thin crisp bread with good keeping qualities, while nan-e sangak is a fresh yeast bread, baked on hot stones and eaten while still warm.
Fruits and vegetables
Iran's agriculture produces many fruits and vegetables, including what some other countries may consider “exotic”. A bowl of fresh fruit is common on most Persian tables and dishes of vegetables and herbs are standard sides to most meals.
For generations, Iranians have been eating fruits, vegetables, and herbs for health benefits that have recently been discovered in other parts of the world. For example, onions and garlic, pomegranate, and sabzijat (various green herbs) are regular ingredients in many Persian dishes.
The climate of the Middle East is conducive to the growing of fruits, and the orchards and vineyards of Iran produce fruits of legendary flavour and size. These are not only enjoyed fresh and ripe as desserts but are also imaginatively combined with meats and form unusual accompaniments to main dishes. When fresh fruits are not available, a large variety of excellent dried fruits such as dates, figs, apricots and peaches are used instead. The list of fruits includes fresh dates and fresh figs, many citrus fruits, apricots, peaches, sweet and sour cherries, apples, plums, pears, pomegranates and many varieties of grapes and melons.
While the eggplant (aubergine) is "the potato of Iran", Iranians are fond of fresh green salads dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a little garlic. Vegetables such as pumpkin, spinach, green beans, broad beans, courgettes, varieties of squashes and carrots are commonly used in rice and meat dishes. Tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions often accompany a meal. A small sweet variety of cucumber is popularly served as a fruit.
The term dolma describes any vegetable or fruit stuffed with rice or a rice-and meat mixture: grape vine leaves, cabbage leaves, spinach, eggplant, sweet peppers, tomatoes, even apples and quince. The most popular dolmas in Iran today are stuffed grape leaves, which are prepared by lightly parboiling the fresh leaves in salted water, then stuffing them with a mixture of ground meat, rice, chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, split peas, and seasoning. The dolmas are then simmered in a sweet-and-sour mixture of vinegar or lemon juice, sugar, and water. Fillings vary, however, from region to region and even from family to family. Stuffed cabbage and grape leaves are the only dolmas that can be served hot or cold. When intended to be served cold they generally do not contain meat, however. Fruit dolmas are probably a specialty of Persian cuisine. The fruit is first cooked, then stuffed with meat, seasonings, and sometimes tomato sauce; the dolmas are then simmered in meat broth or a sweet-and-sour sauce. In recent decades new variations have been introduced, largely under Western influence: Potatoes, artichokes, green peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables are also stuffed.
To underline both the skill and imagination of Iranian cookery, a few examples of the main ingredients in Iranian specialties would include duck, pomegranates and walnuts; lamb, prunes and cinnamon; spinach, orange and garlic; and chicken and sliced peaches sautéed in onions and butter, seasoned with cinnamon and lemon juice. Khoresht Beh (quince stew) is an example of using fruits in Iranian cooking: chunks of lamb are stewed with slices or cubes of tart quince and yellow split peas; this dish is always served with rice.
The above are only a few examples of the combination of meats and vegetables, or meats and fruits plus seasonings that may go into chelo khoresh, a favorite Iranian dish that is served at least once daily. This is a dish of crusty baked rice topped by one of the stews listed, or any one of dozens more, limited only by price and availability of ingredients.
Ab ghoreh, the juice of Ghoreh (unripe grapes) or Verjuice is used in various Iranian dishes. For example, it is an ingredient in Ash e sagh, a soup prepared with spinach, leeks, yellow split peas, and seasonings.Ab ghoreh is also used to simmer dolma-ye Kadu, stuffed summer squash. Ab ghoreh flavors several types of Khoresh like Khoresht-e Alu Esfenaj(stewed lamb with spinach and prunes),Khoresht-e Havij (stewed lamb with carrots), and Khoresht-e Chaghaleh badam (stewed lamb with fresh, unripe almonds). Unripe grapes are used whole in some dishes, such as Khoresht-e ghoreh (lamb stew with sour grapes). Ab ghoreh was frequently used until not too long ago also as a souring agent for a number of pickles, dried pickles, and spices . As a spice, Ghoreh powder (gard-e Ghoreh) was sometimes reinforced by Ab ghoreh and then dried.
Drinks and desserts
The traditional drink accompanying Iranian dishes is doogh, a combination of yogurt, still or carbonated water, salt, and dried mint. Other drinks include sherbets known as Sharbat and Khak shir. One favorite is Aab-e Havij, alternately called havij bastani, carrot juice made into an ice cream float and garnished with cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices. There are also drinks that are not served with meals. These include Sheer Moz (banana milk shake), Aab Talebi (cantaloupe juice), and Aab Hendevaneh (watermelon juice). These are commonly made in stands or kiosks in streets on summer days and on hiking trails. Aab Anaar (pomegranate juice) is also popular and has recently (2007) become popular in North America. Sekanjebin is a thick syrup made from vinegar, mint and sugar, served mixed with carbonated or plain water. It can be drunk mixed with a little rosewater or used as a dip for Romaine lettuce.
Dessert dishes range from Bastani-e Za'farāni (Persian ice cream, also called Bastani-e Akbar-Mashti or Gol-o Bolbol) to faludeh (a frozen sorbet made with thin starch noodles and rosewater). Persian ice cream is flavored with saffron, rosewater, and includes chunks of heavy cream. There are also many types of sweets, divided into two categories: Shirini Tar (lit. moist sweets) and Shirini Khoshk (lit. dry sweets). The first category consists of French-inspired pastries with heavy whole milk whipped cream, glazed fruit toppings, tarts, custard-filled éclairs, and a variety of cakes. Some have an Iranian twist, such as the addition of saffron, pistachios, and walnuts. The second category consists of more traditional Iranian sweets: Shirini-e Berenji (a type of rice cookie), Shirini-e Nokhodchi (clover-shaped chickpea flour cookies), Kolouche (a large cookie usually with a walnut or fig filling), Shirini-e Keshmeshi (raisin and saffron cookies), Shirini-e Yazdi (small cakes originating from the city of Yazd), Nan-e kulukhi (a kind of large thick cookie without any filling), and others.
Other popular sweets include Zulbia, Bamieh and Gush-e Fil. Bamieh is an oval-shaped piece of sweet dough, deep-fried, and then covered with a syrup traditionally made with honey. Bamieh is similar to tulumba, but much smaller, 2 or 3 centimeters wide at most. Zulbia is made of the same sort of batter, also deep-fried, but poured into the oil in swirls, then covered with the same syrup (or with honey). Goosh-e Fil (lit. elephant's ear) is also made of deep-fried dough, in the shape of a flat elephant's ear, and then covered with powdered sugar. One of the classics, Halvardeh (Tehrani for halvā-arde, from halvā, an Arabic loan word meaning 'sweet', plus arde, the Persian word for tāhini). Halvā comes in various qualities and varieties, from mainly sugar to sesame seed paste (the aforementioned Persian arde), and pistachios.
There are certain accompaniments (mokhalafat) which are essential to every Iranian lunch (nahar) and dinner (shaam), regardless of the region. These include a plate of fresh herbs, called sabzi khordan (basil, cilantro, fenugreek, green onion, mint, radish (black, red, white), savory (marzeh, origany or sweet fennel), tarragon, Persian watercress or (shaahi), a variety of flat breads, called naan or noon (sangak, lavash, barbari), fresh white cheese (panir, somewhat similar to feta), walnut, sliced and peeled cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and onions, yogurt, and lemon juice. Persian gherkins (khiyarshur) and mixed pickles (Torshi) are also considered essential in most regions.
Tea (chai) is served at breakfast. It may be served at other times, based on the region, usually many times throughout the day. For example, in the province of Khorasan it is served immediately before and after lunch and dinner. The traditional methods of tea preparation and drinking differ between regions and peoples.
|Ghalieh Mahi||"Fish Stew"||Bushehr and Khuzestan and Hormozgan|
|Koloocheh and Masgati||"brittle biscuit" and "Rose water confection"||Shiraz|
|Iranian Azerbaijan||Ahari||East Azerbaijan|
|Rahatol holgum||West Azerbaijan|
Kateh is the traditional dish of North of Iran (provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan) and is simply Persian rice cooked in water, butter and salt until the water is fully absorbed. This method results in rice that is clumped together and is the predominant style of cooking rice in the Caspian region. In Gilan, Golestan and Mazandaran, kateh is also eaten as a breakfast meal, either heated with milk and jam, or cold with Persian cheese (panir) and garlic. Kateh is commonly eaten in other parts of Iran because of its short cooking time and easy preparation, and is prescribed widely as a natural remedy for those who are sick with the common cold or flu, and also for those suffering from stomach pains and ulcers. Some of the foods like Chegdermeh are only used in Turkmen region of Golestan Province, but many other dishes are used in all parts of Iran .
North of Iran is home to the most numerous list of recipes compared to other regions. The most favorite dishes of this region are:
|Reshteh Khoshkar with its origin in Gilan, is a notable syrup-soaked pastry of ground walnuts & cinnamon. Photo: Mani Parsa|
Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan provinces variety of rice is considered one of the best in Iran, where it has been in use since the fourth century BCE.
Eating fresh raw of Golestan and Mazandaran broad beans is common in Gilan, Mazanderan and Golestan provinces, either alone or with cooled Kateh, salted fish eggs (Ashpel ); but selling and enjoying (especially by people of the lower classes) of hot cooked broad beans (bāqelā-garmak) sprinkled with salt and powdered Persian marjoram (golpar) are not an uncommon street scene in cold weather almost everywhere in Iran. The Gilani dish Baqali Qatoq is cooked with dill garlic, and turmeric, into which eggs are emptied at the end.
Seafood is the most important part of Khuzestani cuisine, but many other dishes are also featured. The most popular Khuzestani dish is Ghalieh Mahi, a popular fish dish that is prepared with heavy spices, onions and cilantro. One of the fish used for grilled fish is locally known as mahi soboor (shad fish), a species of fish found in the Arvand river ( Arvand rood ) . Other provincial specialties include Ghalieh Meygu ("shrimp stew"), ashe-mohshala (a Khorramshahri breakfast stew), sær shir (a Dezfuli breakfast of heavy cream), hælim (a Shushtari breakfast of wheatmeal with shredded lamb), and kohbbeh (a deep-fried rice cake with ground beef filling and other spices of Arabic origin, a variant on Levantine kibbeh). Also see Iranian cuisine.
Esfahan in Central Iran is home to dishes and delicacies such as:
|well known and/or culturally significant||Fesenjān||a casserole with a thickly tart sauce containing the two base ingredients: pomegranate purée and ground walnut. It cooked with either chicken, duck, lamb or beef and served with rice.|
|Gaz||the name given to Persian nougat using the sap collected from angebin, a plant from the Tamarisk family found only on the outskirts of Esfahan. It is mixed with various ingredients including rose water, pistachio and almond kernels and saffron.|
|Sohān-e-Asali||Honey Toffee||A brittle toffee made from honey and butter, flavoured with cardamom and saffron, and coated with slivered almond and pistachio kernels.|
|Notable||Berian/Beryun-Biryani||This dish is made of mutton or lamb which is ground/minced and then cooked on one side in a special small pan over open fire. Berian is generally eaten with a certain type of bread, known as "nān-e-taftun".|
- This traditional dish in Azerbaijan is made of rice, lentil, meat, potato and groats.
- "the torn abdomen" in Azeri
- A kind of Kofteh that unusually large.
Tabriz is notable
for its delicious cookies in Iran,
some of which are
- Nogha ( نُوقا in Persian and Azeri) :That's a special kind of Gaz made mainly in the Azeri regions of Iran. Nogha is almost exclusively made with walnuts instead of pistachios and almonds which are usual for other types of Gaz. The making of Nogha is very much the same as any other Gaz. The difference is that Nogha is usually spread between two very thin layers of wafers and cut into 10x5x5cm sections which are larger than ordinary Gaz cubes.
- Āsh (Thick soup) is popular in Azerbaijan.The word Āsh had passed from Persian into the Central Asian Turkic languages. Varieties of Azerbaijani Āsh include:
|Kahskh Āsh||Dried Whey Thick Soup|
|Turshulu Āsh||Sour Thick Soup|
|Yogurtlu Āsh||Yogurt Thick Soup|
|Isfanaj Aashi||Spinach Thick Soup|
|Āsh Mast||Yogurt-soup (in Ardabil)|
|Traditional Iranian cookies with raisins: "Shirini Keshmeshi". Photo: Alireza824|
Traditional table settings and etiquette
|Typical table setting and elements of a popular Iranian dish. Photo: Zereshk|
The traditional Iranian table setting firstly involves the tablecloth, called sofreh, and is spread out over a Persian rug or table. Main dishes are concentrated in the center, surrounded by smaller dishes containing appetizers, condiments, side dishes, as well as bread, all of which are nearest to the diners. These latter dishes are called mokhalafat (accompaniments). When the food has been served, an invitation is made to all those seated at the sofreh to help themselves. Many Iranians continue to use bread or rice to eat their meals.
Structure of meals
Breakfast is called sobhāneh (Persian: صُبحانِه) or nāshtāyi (Persian: ناشتايى). The basic traditional Iranian breakfast consists of a variety of flat breads (nān-e sangak, nān-e lavāsh, and others), butter, Tabrizi white cheese (panir), feta cheese, whipped heavy cream (Sarshir, often sweetened with Sabalan honey), or a variety of fruit jams and spreads.
Other popular traditional breakfasts (which require far more preparation) include haleem (wheatmeal served plain or more commonly with shredded lamb or turkey - similar to Western oatmeal in some respects), āsheh mohshālāh (thick soup). These latter breakfasts are typically regional specialities, and many cities and towns all across Iran feature their own distinct versions of these dishes. Both āsheh mohshālāh and haleem are typically prepared the night before, to be served the next morning, and haleem is usually only served at certain times of the year (haleem specialty restaurants are only open during those times), except in southern parts of Iran, where haleem is always present. Kaleh paacheh(lit. sheep's entire head and its hooves) is almost always only served from three in the morning until sometime after dawn, and specialty restaurants (serving only kaleh paacheh) are only open during those hours.
Lunch and dinner
Lunch and dinner (naahaar or shaam) are not distinguished in Persian. Traditional Persian cooking is done in stages, at times needing hours of preparation and attention. The outcome is a well-balanced mixture of herbs, meat, beans, dairy products, and vegetables. Major staples of Iranian food that are usually eaten with every meal include rice, various herbs (mint, basil, dill, parsley), cheese (feta or Persian panir, derived from goat or sheep's milk, and sometimes cow's milk), a variety of flat breads, and some type of meat (usually poultry, beef, lamb, or fish). Stew over rice is by far the most popular dish, and the constitution of these vary by region. Tea (chai) is the drink of choice on nearly every occasion, and is usually served with dried fruit, pastries, or sweets.
You can usually find tea brewing throughout the day in most Iranian homes. Doogh, a yogurt drink, is also quite popular. One of the oldest recipes, which can trace its existence back to the time of Persian empire, is khoresht-e-fesenjan, consisting of duck or sometimes chicken in a rich pomegranate-and-walnut sauce that yields a distinctive brown color, most often served with white rice.
Fast food, imported and adapted foods
Popular fast food items in Iran include Chelow kabab (literally "rice and kabaab"), Jujeh kabab (the same, but substituting grilled or broiled chicken), nān o kabāb (literally "bread with kabab"), kabab sandwiches, and a number of different derivatives of traditional slow-cooked meals. An increasing preference for American style food amongst a younger generation of Iranians has resulted in the establishment of many pizza, steak, hamburger, and fried chicken establishments, but Western food is sometimes served alongside staples such as those mentioned above, and is often prepared differently (most notably with pizza). Chinese and Japanese cuisine has also become popular in recent years, primarily in Tehran, and Italian and Mediterranean restaurants are also featured. The noted influence of European and American culture before the Islamic Revolution has also imparted preparations such as bechamel, gigots, milanesas and others to Iran.The outstanding characteristic of modern Iranian cookery is its conservatism. The much discussed craze for Western things (Gharb-zadagi) has had little or no effect on the people’s eating habits. In this field, Iranian cultural resistance to Western influences has shown particular strength.
Historical Iranian cookbooks
Although the Arabic cookbooks written under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate include some recipes with Persian names and clearly derived from Persian cuisine, the earliest classical cookbooks in Persian that have survived are two volumes from the Safavid period. The older one is the Kār-nāmeh dar bāb-e tabbākhī va sanat-e ān ("Manual on cooking and its craft") written in 927/1521 by Ḥājī Moḥammad-ʿAlī Bāvaṛčī Baḡdādī for an aristocratic patron at the end of the reign of Shah Esmail. The book originally contained 26 chapters, listed by the author in his introduction, but chapters 23 through 26 are missing from the surviving manuscript. The recipes include measurements for ingredients; often detailed directions for the preparation of dishes, including the types of utensils and pots to be used; and instructions for decorating and serving them. In general the ingredients and their combinations in various recipes do not differ significantly from those in use today. The large quantities specified, as well as the generous use of such luxury ingredients as saffron, suggest that these dishes were prepared for large aristocratic households, even though in his introduction, the author claimed to have written it "for the benefit of the nobility, as well as the public".
The second surviving Safavid cookbook, Māddat al-ḥayāt, resāla dar ʿelm-e ṭabbākhī ("The substance of life, a treatise on the art of cooking"), was written about 76 years after the Kār-nāmeh by Nūr-Allāh, a chef for Shah Abbās. The introduction of that book includes elaborate praise of God, the prophets, the imams, and the shah, as well as a definition of a master chef. It is followed by six chapters on the preparation of various dishes: four on rice dishes, one on qalya, and one on aash. The measurements and directions are not as detailed as in the Kār-nāmeh. The information provided is about dishes prepared at the royal court, including references to a few that had been created or improved by the shahs themselves; other contemporary cooks and their specialties are also mentioned.