Iranian food: cook like a local guide
From butter-basted kababs to herb-packed sabzi, explore the rich, complex flavours of this Middle Eastern country
Want to learn about Iranian food? Looking for Iranian recipes? Read Hamed Allahyari's guide and recipes below, then check out our Persian recipes. We also have our Cook like a local: Tunisia, Turkey, and Cook like a local: Tel Aviv.
Words and recipes extracted from Salamati – Hamed’s Persian Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Iran to the Other Side of the World by Hamed Allahyari with Dani Valent (£25, Murdoch Books).
Sitting at the junction of Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, it’s no surprise that Iran is a rich, complex, storied region with a resonant interplay of produce, flavours and cooking styles. There are many points of intersection with Middle Eastern food but there are also Ottoman elements, Indian flavours, Zoroastrian lore, and ingredients that found their way along long trade routes from China and beyond.
Herbs are ever present, used in lavish quantities in soups and on platters. Rice and lamb are popular, often in combination. Flatbread is a must with every meal. Splashes of colour come from pomegranate arils and the gentle warmth of saffron. Sweet and savoury elements are very often combined in one dish: there’s the pomegranate molasses in a stew, the sugar-ground saffron that’s added to rice, and the sweet-sour bite of barberries. Families eat around a sofreh, a special cloth (or decorative plastic sheet) set over a Persian carpet on the floor. All food and drink is laid on the cloth and people sit around barefoot to eat, with dishes added as they are ready rather than served as a series of courses. Iranian cuisine is often humble but it’s always served with pride and a warm heart, no matter how simple it is. Sharing food is at the heart of the culture.
Kuku is like a frittata and we have many versions in Iran. It’s a very traditional dish but I’ve changed it a bit, adding potatoes to soften the intensity of the herbs, and dried barberries because I love their tart bite, plus they look great, too.
Persian love cake
Why ‘love cake’? The story goes that a village woman tried to woo a prince with this cake. He swooned over the cake but rejected the girl and she ended up eating it all herself.
This is one of the most popular kebabs in Iran, enjoyed as street food and at family barbecues at home. Jujeh means ‘baby chicken’ but you can use any kind of poultry for this dish. As with any skewered meat, it’s best to cook it over charcoal to achieve that smoky flavour but you can still experience the delicious marinade even if you end up baking the chicken in the oven. An interesting feature of Persian kebabs is that we season them with butter once they’re cooked. It’s very distinctive and deeply delicious.To make saffron rice, make one quantity of the saffron liquid and stir through cooked rice.
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