Cooking Persian Food: 6 Herbal Recipes

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A mixture of garlic, dill, and cinnamon gives Baqala Pollo an exotic flavor.
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Chives, dill, and flat-leaved parsley spice up Persian-style noodle soup.
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Adding lamb shanks baked with garlic, dill, and saffron water gives Baqala Pollo quintessential Persian flavor.

<strong>Herbal Persian Cuisine Recipes:</strong>
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• <a href=””>Green Herb Rice (Sabzi Pollo)</a>
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• <a href=””>Dill, Fava Beans, and Rice with Lamb (Baqala Pollo)</a>
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• <a href=””>Persian-Style Noodle Soup (Ash-e reshteh)</a>
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• <a href=””>Stuffed Peppers (Dolmeh Felfel Sabz)</a>
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• <a href=””>Yogurt and Cucumber Soup (Mast-o-Khiar)</a>
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• <a href=””>Green Herb and Meat Stew (Ghormeh-Sabzi)</a>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<h3>The Persian Way With Herbs</h3>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p class=”sidebar”>For chopping the large amounts of herbs called for in Persian recipes, I use a full-sized mezzaluna with a curved blade about 10 inches long. Many Iranian cooks in America use a food processor.</p>
<p class=”sidebar”>Rice is a staple used generously in Iranian kitch­ens. The amounts given below will yield leftovers for many Amer­i­can diners; however, the ­Persian method of cooking ensures that left­overs are tasty and easy to reheat.</p>
<p class=”sidebar”>The recipes that follow are adapted from Najmieh Batmanglij’s <em>New Food of Life</em> (Mage, 1992), Nesta Ramazani’s <em>Persian Cooking</em> (Ibex, 1997), and interviews with ­Seddigheh Mozaffari. I present them as I’ve adapted them for my family, and I trust that they’re as authentic as transplanted dishes can be. I am grateful to all these cooks for introducing me to ­classic Persian cooking. </p>
<h3 class=”sidebar”>Dinner, Persian Style</h3>
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<p>When I walk into the Mozaffaris’ wedge-shaped suburban backyard at summer’s peak, I feel as if I’ve been transported to a Persian garden paradise. Scented beds of basil, mint, and savory hum with bees, and patches of parsley and tarragon are sheltered from San Jose’s strong summer sun by many fruit and nut trees. Marjoram has its place in the sun, and rectangular beds of Persian leeks and summer savory stretch the length of the garden. Dill, cilantro, garden cress, and fenugreek are in various stages of growth. Hossein Mozaffari sows fenugreek seed in August for leaf harvest in October and November, and in February for a crop in April and May.</p>
<p>Mozaffari began growing herbs here not only as a hobby but also to provide his family and others with the herbs they knew and loved in Iran. Now retired, his work in the herb garden has become a cherished occupation. He rises with the sun to harvest, sort, and bundle his herbs for the market.</p>
<p>Dinner at the Mozaffaris’ is a warm display of Persian hospitality and home cooking. The entire family, including three sons, a daughter, and their ­spouses and children, sit down to a meal of classic Persian dishes that Seddigheh has prepared. A platter of fresh herbs from the garden is on the table along with the traditional green herb stew, mounds of aromatic rice, and stuffed peppers. Platters of a sweet, pale orange Persian melon are passed. At the end of the meal, the Mozaffaris bring on home-grown peaches, apricots, mulberries, and sour cherries, which they serve with sour ­cherry jam, tea, and lively conversation that makes me feel like part of the family.</p>
<h3 class=”sidebar”>Further Reading</h3>
<p class=”sidebar”>• Batmanglij, Najmieh. New Food of Life. Washington, D.C.: Mage, 1992.<br />
• _____. Persian Cooking for a Healthy Kitchen. Washington, D.C.: Mage, 1994.<br />
• _____. A Taste of Persia. Washington, D.C.: Mage, 1999.<br />
• Ramazani, Nesta. Persian Cooking. Bethesda, Maryland: Ibex, 1997.</p>
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<em>Longtime Herb Companion contributor Carolyn Dille is the author of several cookbooks, gardens, cooks, and writes in San Jose, California.</em>

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