An Introduction to Iranian (Persian) Cuisine
Iran is a Middle Eastern country that has a very sophisticated and diverse cuisine. Iranians eat a wide variety of foods, including breads, salads, meats, dairy products and rice (rice is one of the staple foods of the national diet).
This article will cover some of the most basic Iranian foods and drinks and is intended to inform those who are not already familiar with the diverse cuisine.
Note: Iran was known as Persia until 1935, so the national cuisine is also commonly referred to as Persian cuisine.
Most Famous Iranian Salad: Shirazi Salad
Iran’s most famous and well-known salad is the shirazi salad. This salad consists of tomatoes and cucumbers that are diced into small pieces; then lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper are added. If you go to a Persian restaurant in your neighborhood, or if you are fortunate enough to travel to Iran, make sure that you try this dish. It is so delicious!
Typical Iranian Breads
Breads are another typical feature of the Iranian diet.
- Lavash: One of the most famous types of bread is called lavash. This bread is thin and it is long. It comes in two varieties. You can either purchase the lavash that has white flour or the whole wheat variety. The whole wheat lavash is healthier because it has fiber that is known to prevent constipation.
- Sangak: This bread is also thin, but it has sesame seeds on top of it. This bread tastes better if you toast it. When you toast this bread, it is so good you can’t even imagine it. It has a crunchy flavor that will leave you wanting more of it. You can add feta cheese or you can add butter to it for an even better taste. The choice is yours.
- Barbari: This popular bread also has sesame seeds on it, but it is thicker and has more of an oval shape to it. Once again, as with the sangak bread, you can add feta cheese or butter to give it a better taste. You can also toast this kind of bread too if you want to. The Bulgarian and French feta cheeses are both delicious, but the Bulgarian kind has more salt and has more fat in it.
Typical Main Entrees
Iranians eat a wide variety of entrees with their long-grain basmati rice. Saffron is added to the rice.
- Baghali Polo: This famous dish has lima beans and dill in it. It is usually eaten with lamb, although Armenians from Iran will eat it either with beef or chicken. But the authentic recipe requires lamb meat.
- Zheresk Polo or Rice With Currants: This is another famous entree. Currants are very small and sour berries, but they have that tangy taste that will leave you craving more. This dish is once again eaten with a generous portion of rice.
- Sour Cherry Rice: This dish is made by using sour or sweet cherries with a syrup that is so tasty and sweet. You can add chicken to this dish to enhance its flavor.
- Fesenjoon: This is another famous dish in Iran that consists of walnuts mixed with a pomegranate sauce. It comes in two varieties, the one that has no chicken in it and the one that does. The chicken is mixed into the sauce, and I will say that fesenjoon is a dish you must try if you want to eat Iranian cuisine. Sometimes this is spelled fesenjan.
Kebabs (Meat Grilled on Skewers)
Iranians also eat a wide variety of kebabs, or meats, grilled on a skewer. This is one of the traditional foods in Iran. They consider kebabs to be a major part of their life, as if they cannot live without it. No Persian restaurant does not serve kebabs—that just would not happen.
- Filet Mignon Kebab or Barg: This is basically filet mignon or flat beef grilled on a skewer.
- Koobideh or Ground Beef Kebab: This one is ground beef kebab grilled on a skewer. Iranians also eat chicken kebabs. The chicken can be with bones or without bones and lemon is added to enhance the taste of the chicken.
- Soltani: This type of kebab consists of a combination of barg or meat kebab and ground beef kebab. It is a good choice if you want to try two types of meat.
- Chicken Koobideh: This looks the same as the ground beef variety with its long length but the only difference is that this one is ground chicken.
- Lamb Chops: Iranians also eat grilled lamb chops as well.
The kebab dishes are served with a huge plate of rice, broiled tomatoes, green peppers and spicy onions. Part of the reason why Iranian food is heavy is because of the rice and carbohydrates.
- Tea: Iran’s national beverage is tea. It is drunk at all times of day—in the morning, afternoon, and at nighttime. The tea is served black with sugar cubes.
- Dough: This is a yogurt drink that is salted, and it also has carbonated water. If you drink this, you will fall asleep after a while. This is because the yogurt lowers your blood pressure so that you can relax.
Western-style soft drinks are also consumed in Iran. One major difference between Iran and many other countries is that alcohol has not been served in restaurants since 1979.
If you enjoy eating food, you will most probably enjoy Iranian cuisine. Although it is heavy, Iranian cuisine has lots of variety and sophistication.
© 2017 Ara Vahanian