Herbal Persian Cuisine Recipes:
• Green Herb Rice (Sabzi Pollo)
• Dill, Fava Beans, and Rice with Lamb (Baqala Pollo)
• Persian-Style Noodle Soup (Ash-e reshteh)
• Stuffed Peppers (Dolmeh Felfel Sabz)
• Yogurt and Cucumber Soup (Mast-o-Khiar)
• Green Herb and Meat Stew (Ghormeh-Sabzi)
Persian cooking has evolved over thousands of years but was brought to the United States by Iranian immigrants only in the past few decades. Persian chef and cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij notes, “Americans are surprised when they find how much herb I use in Persian dishes, but all of them love the food.” Writer Nesta Ramazani says that most Persian cuisine is readily accessible to Americans and Europeans. “The ingredients, for the most part, are not unusual,” she says.
Black pepper, chile peppers, and strong spices are not common in Persian cuisine; instead, the key is a gentle balance of herbal flavors. Dill and parsley are often used, along with fenugreek leaf, which has a distinct fresh hay aroma and a clean green flavor somewhat like that of parsley. “These herbs are not just used as a dash or garnish but become substantial ingredients, the main flavoring and seasoning of a dish. This is a very different approach than the European one of sprinkling a little herb over the dish,” Ramazani says.
Many Persian dishes are associated with seasonal and other rituals. For instance, green herbs, called sabzi, are symbols of renewal and particularly important during the celebration of the Persian New Year, observed during the vernal equinox, March 21.
The Persian Way With Herbs
The herbs most favored in Persian cooking include flat-leaved parsley, dill, mint, cilantro, fenugreek leaf, chives and garlic chives, basil, tarragon, summer savory, and marjoram. Basil, always eaten raw, is grown in greenhouses year-round for use in two classic dishes: kabobs and Persian herb salad. Fresh or dried angelica and rose petals are also used in many dishes. A leaf or two of bay is tossed into soups and stews.
Persian cooks prefer fresh herbs but don’t disdain dried ones. For rice dishes, they add dried herbs to the boiling water. Otherwise, they soak them in warm water for 15 minutes, discard the water, and proceed with the recipe.
Stuffed chard, cabbage, and grape leaves, called dolmeh in Persian, are filled with rice and subtle herb combinations that include tarragon, marjoram, savory parsley, dill, and mint. Whole vegetables and fruits are also stuffed with an herb-scented mixture of legumes, rice, and often ground meat. Popular dried herb blends for dolmehs and khoresh are sold ready to use.
Sabzi khordan, a platter of fresh herbs intended to refresh the palate, nearly always accompanies main dishes. Chosen for their availability and compatibility, the herbs may include flat-leaved parsley, basil, mint, tarragon, cilantro, and garden cress or watercress. With bread and feta cheese, sabzi khordan can be the mainstay of a summer meal, perhaps served with cold yogurt soup, and Persian sherbet—an iced fruit drink made with orange, lemon, lime, sour cherry, or pomegranate syrup.