It’s been a while since I’ve cooked Middle Eastern food, which I tend to enjoy, so I was looking forward to cooking food from Iran!
Iran is also known as Persia, and located in West Asia. It is the second largest nation in the Middle East.
Iran has been inhabited by some of the world’s oldest civilizations, dating back to the fourth millennium BC. In the 7th century, Arab Muslims conquered the Sasanian Empire which ruled the land at the time. This led to the spread of Islam in Iran, and the country become a major center of Islamic culture and learning.
There was a time in the 18th century when Iran had the most powerful military in the world. However, this was diminished by the 19th century, when they suffered significant territorial losses after conflicts with the Russian Empire.
Iran is run by an Islamic theocracy with a presidential system, though there is really one ultimate authority, called the ‘Supreme Leader’. The authoritarian government has been criticized for violations of human rights and civil liberties.
What Do People Eat in Iran?
Iranian cuisine shares many similarities to that of its Middle Eastern neighbors, as well as countries like Greece and India.
Staple foods in Iran include rice and bread. Iranian cooking also includes a lot of vegetables, as well as fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. The most popular meats are lamb, chicken, and beef, and fish is common in some areas.
A typical Iranian main dish may consist of a combination of rice, meat, vegetables, and nuts. Some of the most common seasonings are saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, and a range of fresh herbs. Dried limes are also important, as well as other sour ingredients such as lemon.
Iran cuisine includes a range of delicious desserts, often made with rice or wheat as a base. Some popular flavorings are saffron and rose water.
What I Made
- Khoresh Fesenjan (Chicken with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce)
- Kabob Koobideh (Minced Meat Kabobs)
- Kuku Sibzamini (Persian Potato Patties)
- Sosis Bandari (Spicy Sausage and Onion Roll)
- Tahdig (Crispy Persian Rice)
- Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi (Lamb and Herb Stew)
- Mast-o Khiar (Yogurt and Cucumber Dip)
Scroll down to read about other popular Iranian dishes I didn’t make!
Khoresh Fesenjan (Chicken with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce)
Fesenjan comes from the north of Iran, and is made by cooking chicken in a mixture of walnuts and pomegranate concentrate or molasses. I wasn’t sure about it but it seemed like a very popular dish among Iranian Reddit users so I decided to try it.
First I fried some onion slices until golden. Then I put the walnuts in the food processor and added a little water so that I could blend them into a paste.
I added whole chicken thighs to a saucepan and topped it with the fried onions, the walnut paste, salt, pepper, and pomegranate molasses. The recipe calls for concentrate but says you can use the molasses if needed and that you may just have to add a little sugar. I already had pomegranate molasses so I used that with a dash of sugar.
Next, I brought the mixture to a low boil, then reduced the heat and let everything cook, covered, until the chicken was cooked through.
My pomegranate molasses was thickening too fast so I added some water a few times to keep it under control. However, I think it was still too thick by the time my chicken was done cooking and it looked rather unappetizing.
Still, I went ahead and served my fesenjan with rice and sprinkled some pomegranate arils on top, which slightly improved the appearance.
This tasted okay, but not amazing. I think the pomegrante molasses was just over-reduced, and I think the only way to prevent that is to add water or chicken stock at the start of cooking (I probably added like 1/2 a cup throughout). Maybe it’s different with the concentrate; I would just urge you to be careful if you attempt this.
The recipe I used is from Persian Mama.
Kabob Koobideh (Minced Meat Kabobs)
Kabobs are popular in many countries and Iran has several popular versions. Kabob koobideh is made from either ground lamb or beef, or a combination of both.
To make the kabobs, I mixed ground lamb with onion, garlic, sumac, tumeric, salt, pepper, and egg. When working with ground meat, some recipes don’t want you to work the mixture too much, while others want you to knead until it forms a sticky paste. This recipe was one of the latter, so I mixed and kneaded the meat for a few minutes.
Next I formed the meat around the skewers, which I then placed on a baking sheet since I don’t have a grill. I also added some onion, tomato, and green bell pepper, which I gave a head start in the oven since I knew they would take a bit longer than the meat.
I think I baked the kabobs for about 12-15 minutes on 400°F or so before they were done. I served them with the vegetables, some rice, and lavash bread.
This was pretty delicious; I think there was just enough seasoning on the lamb. I’m sure it would be even better grilled.
The kabob koobideh recipe is from Persian Mama.
For the lavash, I used a recipe from Food. They are made from a simple yeast dough and then cooked in a hot skillet.
Kuku Sibzamini (Persian Potato Patties)
These are a variation on the ever-popular potato fritter/cake. They are made from potato, onion, and egg, and lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, turmic, and dried mint. Sometimes the mixture is formed into one large cake, but I chose to go with the patty version.
This recipe started off a little differently to similar ones I have followed before. I had to boil the potatoes whole and then grate them. This is not something I would ever recommend! The potatoes were meant to be nearly cooked, but they were big so the outside was a bit mushy while the inside was at that ‘nearly cooked’ stage. I even halved my potatoes too so that they wouldn’t be quite so big. And honestly, once you mix the grated potato with everything else it gets kind of mashed up anyway, so I don’t see the point in grating versus just mashing them, which would be much easier.
I mixed the grated potato with grated onion, egg, the seasonings, and a small amount of breadcrumbs to adjust the consistency.
Next I formed patties and pan-fried them until golden. Kuku sibzamini are often served with flatbreads, herbs, pickles, tomatoes, olives, or yogurt. I chose some tomato and cucumber slices and plain yogurt with a drizzle of olive oil. I had considered adding some of my lavash as well but decided it wasn’t necessary.
These were really good, though it’s hard to go wrong with potato patties (unless they fall apart I guess). I enjoyed some of the leftovers with fried eggs on top which was also delicious!
This recipe is from The Caspian Chef.
Sosis Bandari (Spicy Sausage and Onion Roll)
Here is an example of a popular Iranian street food dish. It’s made with a mixture of sausage, potato, and onion in a spicy sauce, and usually served on a baguette roll with a range of possible toppings.
To make this, I started by browning some sausage and then slicing it. I also chopped a potato into small cubes and boiled them just until done, which didn’t take long.
Then I sautéed the onion until golden and added the turmeric and sausage slices. Once the sausage was cooked through, I added the potato, tomato paste, green bell pepper, chili, salt, pepper, and a little water. I made sure everything was well combined, and then the mixture was ready.
I assembled my sandwich with a homemade baguette (something I’m still working on perfecting) with pickles, tomato slices, and parsley. This was delicious, but then this is one of those things that couldn’t possibly not be.
The recipe I used is from Persian Food Tours.
Tahdig (Crispy Persian Rice)
I’ve always wanted to make this kind of dish, where you allow the rice on the bottom of the pan to get crispy and then it looks all beautiful when you turn it out. This crispy rice is called ‘tahdig’ in Iran, and I’m pretty sure that this term specifically refers to the part of the rice that is crispy, rather than the dish as a whole. Still, lots of recipes call this dish ‘tahdig’ and so I went with it; it’s just something to keep in mind.
The exact ingredients here can vary, but saffron and barberries are probably the most common. Since I cannot easily get barberries, I used chopped dried cherries, which is what the recipe I followed called for. You could also use cranberries.
This was really not that difficult to make. First, I had to boil the rice until it was al dente. Then I mixed some of it with Greek yogurt, oil, and saffron water (made by steeping saffron in warm water).
Next I layered the rice in my saucepan. The first layer was the saffron rice. Then I added some of the plain rice, followed by a sprinkle of chopped dried cherries, a little orange zest, and a dash of cinnamon. I added more rice and kept layering until I was done. When I had added the final layer, I added some cubes of butter and more saffron water.
I cooked the rice, covered, for about 40 minutes on low heat before my rice started to get crispy. The recipe indicated 25-30 minutes but I could tell my rice still wasn’t doing much at that point. I think I raised the temperature slightly too since the rest of the meal was ready and I was impatient for this rice to be done!
I inverted the contents of my saucepan onto a plate and was pleased to see it worked! The rice could probably have done with a little more cooking to get more color on it, but I was worried it would burn. It’s hard to tell what’s really going on under there while the rice is in the pan, after all.
In addition to looking alright, this rice tasted really good too. I’m not really a rice fan; I’ll eat it with and in things but it’s not my favorite. But I really enjoyed this rice!
This recipe is from The Mediterranean Dish.
Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi (Lamb and Herb Stew)
This is a popular stew made from lamb, kidney beans, and a lot of herbs.
First, I seasoned some lamb chunks with turmeric, salt and pepper. Then I browned them in some oil in my Dutch oven. Once the lamb was browned all over, I added sliced onion and salt, and cooked until the onion was soft and starting to color.
I added my kidney beans, which I had soaked overnight, plus some water, and let everything simmer, covered, for about 2 hours.
Meanwhile, I had to prepare the herbs. I was halving the recipe, which meant I needed 8 ounces each of parsley and cilantro, plus a bunch of chives and half a bunch of green onions. According to the recipe, one and a half large bunches each of parsley and cilantro should have been enough, but it wasn’t. I probably needed almost three! What I had was two bunches of each and that’s what I used.
All the herbs had to be finely chopped. I put the parsley and cilantro in the food processor, and chopped the chives and green onions by hand. I cooked the fresh herbs and green onions in oil with some dried fenugreek leaves, stirring often, until the mixture was dark green and wilted, and starting to dry a bit.
At that point, the herbs were ready to add to the lamb and bean mixture. I stirred everything together, and also added some dried Persian limes and water. Then I let everything simmer for about another hour, stirring now and then. Right before serving, I stirred in a little saffron.
I served this with my tahdig and mast-o khira (next dish). It was quite good but I don’t think it’s something I would make again, since it was a lot of work for something that I didn’t find amazing.
To make this, I used a recipe by Samin Nosrat, published online by the New York Times.
Mast-o Khiar (Yogurt and Cucumber Dip)
Mast-o khiar is a simple Persian yogurt and cucumber dip that can also be served as a side dish. I decided to make it because it was suggested as an accompaniment to the ghormeh sabzi.
This was simple. I soaked some raisins in hot water to plump them up, then combined them with cucumber, Greek yogurt, parsley, garlic, dried mint, dried dill, salt, and pepper. I garnished with walnuts and that was it.
This did go really well with the ghormeh sabzi, but I could see myself enjoying it with some pita or lavash bread as well.
The recipe for this is by Samin Nosrat, published online by the New York Times.
Other Popular Iranian Dishes
- Meygoo polo – a rice and shrimp pilaf, seasoned with herbs and spices. This comes from the south of Iran.
- Ash-e doogh – a yogurt-based soup with lamb meatballs, chickpeas, rice, and herbs.
- Tahchin – an impressive-looking rice dish. It’s presented as a large rice cake, filled with meat and/or vegetables. The rice itself may be seasoned with saffron and barberries, and it has a crispy shell like the tahdig I made.
- Khoresh gheymeh – a beef and split pea stew which is often served with French fries on top.
- Nan-e sangrak – a whole wheat leavened flatbread which is cooked in a hot oven on a surface of stones.
- Kuku sabzi – a baked egg dish, like a frittata or thick omelet, flavored with lots of fresh herbs. It can also contain barberries and nuts such as walnuts.
- Faloodeh – an ancient Persian dessert, similar to sorbet. It’s made of rice vermicelli noodles in a semi-frozen syrup made from sugar and rose water. It is often served with lime juice, sometimes with ground pistachios too.
This was a great week filled with delicious food from Iran. My favorite dish was the sosis bandari, followed closely by the tahdig.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Iraq.