10 Best Persian Foods That You’ve Got to Try

From the earliest times Persians have been known for their hospitality, whether that of the tribesman offering rest and refreshment to a weary traveler, or that of the urbane city dweller offering a sumptuous repast to his guests.

Tradition requires that guests or visitors be served only the finest food available, and always in the most bountiful manner possible. Accounts of early travelers to Iran indicate that the dishes served have not changed appreciably over the centuries.

Persia’s geography, history and cultural influences have shaped the diversity of ingredients and the methods of cooking in one of the world’s oldest and most sophisticated cultures. Persia – or Iran – has been subjected to repeated invasions, but it has maintained its culture, language and identity throughout the centuries.

The vast size of the country encompasses a wide array of local dialects, lifestyles, regional traditions and customs, not to mention an extraordinary variety of landscapes and climates.

All these are reflected in the country’s food. In the north, around the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, the landscape is lush and green and as a result of plentiful rainfall there is great diversity of fruit, vegetables and herbs.

The northern regional cuisine features simple, fresh notes of taste and aroma, and there is a preference for sweet and sour flavours, as opposed to spicy. Further south, in the provinces near the Persian Gulf, where the climate is drier, the season for fresh ingredients is much shorter and the variety available is not as great.

There is also a long tradition of trade through the sea routes with spice-rich countries like India. The resulting cuisine is more complex in taste than in the north of the country, with long notes of spices, tamarind and chillies.

In this post I’m going to take you through top foods you must try when you’re visiting Iran.

Khoresht-e fesenjan

This iconic stew, an essential part of every Persian wedding menu. Khoresht-e fesenjan traditionally made with duck, this dish also works well with chicken or lamb. In the north of Iran it is sometimes made with fish. It is a relatively easy khoresht to make, but it must be cooked slowly to allow the flavours to develop in the sauce. The consistency should be thick and creamy and the colour almost black. The distinctive flavour combines the nutty taste of ground walnuts with the sweet and sour flavour of pomegranate syrup.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds chicken legs, cut up
1 white onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound walnuts, toasted and finely ground in a food processor
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

Khoresht-e fesenjan

Zereshk polo

The sweet and sour flavour of zereshk (barberries) and the glistening ruby red berries set against the white and saffron tinged grains make this a feast for the taste buds and the eyes. Zereshk polo is served at weddings and other celebrations because it is impressive and easy to make in large quantities. It is usually served with chicken, but it is also delicious with Saffron yogurt lamb

Ingredients
1 medium onion
2-3 chicken breasts
Liquid saffron
Sugar (3-4 spoons usually is enough)
3 cups rice – soak in salt water after washing the rice
1 cup zereshk (barberries)
Salt/Pepper
Turmeric
Oil

Persian Zereshk Polo

Khoresht-e ghormeh sabzi

Khoresht-e ghormeh sabzi is sour and full of herbs. A popular favourite throughout Iran, this is a meal for both festive occasions and family meals. Recipes from different regions vary slightly. The Azerbaijani version, for example, uses black-eyed beans instead of red kidney beans. Recipes in the south of the country add chilli and garlic, while in Shiraz potatoes are sometimes used instead of beans. The recipe here departs from tradition by adding spinach to enhance the taste and give the dish a softer texture. Fenugreek gives a very distinctive aroma and flavour.

Ingredients
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp turmeric
1 lb. stewing meat
4 dried Persian limes
1/3 cup kidney beans, dried
4 cups fresh parsley, packed
2 cups fresh cilantro, packed
1 cup fresh fenugreek
2 cups fresh chives
Salt/Pepper
Oil

Khoresht-e ghormeh sabzi

Sabzi polo

For the Persian New Year (Norouz) celebrations it is traditional to serve this rice dish with fish – traditionally fillets of smoked white fish from the Caspian Sea. However, fresh fish is now widely available. In the north of Iran it is marinated in lemon juice and saffron and fried, while in the south the fish is stuffed and baked. This rice goes well with most fish and meat dishes.

Ingredients
2 cups basmati rice
Salt
8 cloves garlic
Vegetable oil
Smidgen ground saffron
1 package frozen Sabzi Polo
2 Tbsp dried dill weed

Chelo kabab koobideh

Kebabs have more variety than you might think. First, there’s Koobideh, ground meat seasoned with minced onion, salt and pepper. It sounds simple, but the taste is sublime. There is kebab-e Barg, thinly sliced lamb or beef, flavored with lemon juice and onion and basted with saffron and butter. Chicken kebab, known as Joojeh, is traditionally made from a whole chicken, bones and all, for more flavor (although in American restaurants it’s often made from skinless chicken breast), marinated in lemon and onion, and basted with saffron and butter. If you’re lucky, you’ll find jigar, lamb liver kebab, garnished with fresh basil leaves and a wedge of lemon.

Ingredients
3 lbs (1360 g) Ground Beef (85% Lean)
2 Small Onions
1 Tbsp (Approximately) Salt or as preferred
1 Tsp (Approximately) Black Pepper Powder or as preferred
1 Tsp Turmeric
1 Tsp (Approximately) Ground Sumac.
1/4 Tsp Saffron

Persian Kabab Koobideh

Khoresht-e gheimeh

Before the introduction of electric fridges, families in the colder, northern provinces of Iran such as Azerbaijan devised ingenious ways to preserve meat for consumption during the winter months. The meat would be cut into small pieces (gheimeh), fried with onions, flavoured with turmeric and other spices and put into big earthenware vats. A thick layer of solidified fat on the top ensures a good seal against micro-organisms. These vats were kept in dark, cold basements over the winter. Each day, a small amount would be taken to add to the khoresht. Khoresht-e gheimeh is diced meat combined with yellow split peas, dried limes and saffron with fried potatoes. It is very popular all over Iran and can be cooked all year round; the combination of meat and pulses, served with rice, provides a nutritious meal.

Ingredients
100 g/3½ oz. yellow split peas
1 medium onion
4 dried limes
300 g/11 oz. leg of lamb
50 g/2 oz. butter
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons powdered dried lime
Salt and black pepper
1 litre / 1¾ pints boiling water
1 tablespoon tomato purée/tomato paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons liquid saffron

Khoresht-e gheimeh

Tahchin

Tahchin is an Iranian rice cake that includes rice, yogurt, saffron, egg, and chicken fillets. It is also possible to use vegetables, fish, or meat instead of the chicken fillets. Tahchin is composed of two different parts: The thin Tahdig part which includes the chicken fillets, saffron, and other ingredients at the bottom of the cooking pot and the second part which is the white rice. In restaurants, Tahchin is mostly prepared and served without the white rice part.

Ingredients
600 g/1 lb. 5 oz. basmati rice
4 tablespoons salt
8 chicken pieces
1 large onion
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons liquid saffron
Salt and black pepper
500 ml/just under 1 pint water
50 g/2 oz. butter
400 g/14 oz. Greek-style full-fat/whole milk yogurt
1 egg (optional)

Tahchin

Abgoosht

This is a rich and nutritious dish, suitable for cold winter days. It combines complex carbohydrates, protein and fat, and with side dishes of fresh herbs and yogurt it makes a healthy balanced meal. Traditionally a poor man’s dish, it has come into its own in recent years for informal family meals. It used to be made with the cheapest cuts of lamb and animal fat. In the old tea houses and caravanserai, specially made individual clay pots were used to make Abgoosht. All the ingredients were put into the pot, a small quantity of water added and the lid was then sealed with mud. The pots were buried in the ashes of the wood stove and left to cook slowly. Today, better-quality cuts of lamb such as leg or shoulder shanks are used. Traditionally, the broth is strained off and served as a soup with pieces of bread floating on the surface like croutons. The meat and pulses are pounded together and eaten with fresh herbs and warm flat bread. The ingredients of Abgoosht vary from region to region. The most common version uses only chick peas and no tomato purée/ tomato paste. The recipe given here includes potatoes, red kidney beans and split peas, as well as tomato purée. It is a very easy dish to make, but it has to be cooked slowly in order for the flavours to develop. You can make it a day in advance to the stage of adding the red kidney beans; to serve, reheat it, then add the lemon juice and saffron just before serving.

Ingredients
3 lbs (1360 g) Beef Shank
1 Can 15 oz. (425 g) Chickpeas
1 Can 15 oz. (425 g) White Beans
3 Garlic Cloves
1 Large Onion
5 Dried Limes
2 Bunches Cilantro
5 Small Potatoes
5 Small Tomatoes
1-2 tbsp Savory
Turmeric, Black Pepper Powder, Salt

Abgoosht is one of the most traditional Iranian foods.

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