Persian Cooking For Dummies
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Cooking Persian food at home is exciting and easy! All you have to do is say yes to adventure, new flavors, and new techniques.

After you’ve learned about advieh (Persian spice mix) and understood the building blocks of a khoresh (Persian braise) and polow khoresh (Persian-style rice), you’ll be putting one together in no time at all.

Having the right ingredients commonly used in Persian cooking at hand, as well as some essential tools, will make the process fun and consistently successful.

Basic Persian ingredients

You probably have some of the ingredients you need already in your pantry but shopping for those you don’t have, taking a trip to a Persian market (if you have one nearby, or, if you don’t, browsing the Internet) will definitely be a fun experience!

Here are some seasonings, spices, and herbs you’ll absolutely need to cook Persian food:

  • Fine sea salt
  • Whole peppercorns, to make freshly ground pepper
  • Turmeric
  • Advieh
  • Saffron threads

When you’ve learned some basic recipes and feel more confident, you can add the following:

  • Dried limes
  • Sumac powder
  • Ground Persian hogweed seeds
  • Dried mint
  • Dried fenugreek leaves
  • Cardamom
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Cayenne

Having the following staples for Persian cooking in your pantry means that you can put together a healthy, delicious meal in a matter of minutes:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Basmati rice
  • Tamarind paste
  • Tomato paste
  • Grape molasses
  • Pomegranate molasses
  • Date molasses
  • Dried barberries
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Lentils
  • Red beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Yellow split peas
  • Fava beans (frozen, second skins removed)
  • Almond slivers
  • Pistachio slivers
  • Almond flour
  • Chickpea flour
  • Rice flour
  • Sprouted wheat flour

Basic Persian kitchen tools

If you’ve been cooking for a while, you’ll have everything you need to prepare your meal (such as a pot for cooking rice and a braiser for cooking braises). Your kitchen may also have a cutting board, a sharp knife, a peeler, a grater, and a few wooden and silicone spatulas.

Here are a few specialized tools that you’ll need for some recipes:

  • Heavy-bottomed medium-size laminated cast-iron braiser with lid: A perfect pan for making a Persian braise.
  • Nonstick pot with lid: A 5-quart nonstick pot is perfect for making Persian-style rice with a golden crust. Swiss Diamond is a good brand.
  • Wide skillet with lid: A wide skillet is useful for making patties or caramelizing barberries without crowding the ingredients in the pan.
  • Fine-mesh colander with base and handles: A colander is very useful for draining and rinsing rice after parboiling.
  • Persian-style rice cooker: Rice cookers are a wonderful invention for cooking rice Persian-style because the nonstick coated mold and the thermostat settings allow for a golden crust. And the consistent temperature setting produces perfectly cooked rice every time. Buy ones available at Persian markets or the Pars brand on the Internet. Note: Japanese-style rice cookers will not make a golden crust.
  • Baking dish: For making meatballs and casseroles.
  • Nonreactive mixing bowls: For marinating meat; they have many other uses in the kitchen, too.
  • Mandolin: To make thinly sliced onions or cucumbers more easily.
  • Electric spice grinder: To grind spices quickly and efficiently.
  • Food processor: Very useful for mincing onions and chopping herbs.
  • Electric mixer: An electric mixer is very useful for making doughs for all the breads and pastries.
  • Handheld blender: For partially blending ingredients in the pot when making soups.

Basic Persian kitchen techniques

Every cuisine has some techniques that are essential to make it work. Knowing a few key ones (such as how not to burn onions when caramelizing them or how not to make a braise too watery) will help you feel more relaxed and get you cooking like a pro.

Technique What It Does What You’ll Need
Washing by soaking Washing rice by soaking for 30 minutes and rinsing before cooking will give it a wonderful aroma Container and fine mesh strainer to hold, drain, and rinse the rice
Marinating Gives the meat flavors and tenderizes it Nonreactive container with a lid. This job can take up to three days
Blooming saffron Blooming saffron in rose water deepens the color and adds more aroma. It can be done in advance and then stored in the fridge Small, airtight glass bottle
Sautéing Creates depth of flavor and umami Wide braiser or skillet
Stir-frying Sears without burning Wide braiser or skillet
Parboiling Softens the rice before steaming Nonstick rice pot
Steaming Cooking rice in a pot with a lid wrapped in a dish towel will enlarge and separate the grains Nonstick rice pot with a lid wrapped with a dish towel (or cloth bonnet) to absorb the condensation

How to make a Persian braise

Chelow khoresh — a braise over rice with some golden crust — could be called Iran’s signature dish. Making a braise to serve over rice in your own kitchen is simple when you understand the sequence of adding ingredients to the pan. Remember to let each component cook to the right point before adding the next one.

  1. Choose your favorite fat: olive oil, butter, or ghee.
  2. Add the fat to a braiser and heat it. A medium-size enameled cast-iron pot works well.
  1. Sauté the onions (and garlic if the recipe calls for it). This is the bit where patience comes in handy. Onions cooked until they’re very soft bring a natural sweetness and depth to the sauce.
  1. Add the lamb or chicken. Sauté the meat until browned on all sides and juices have been absorbed.
  1. Add the seasoning and ground spices. Medium temperatures bring out their flavors, give you more control, and prevent burning.
  1. Add the tomato paste (if the recipe calls for it). Blooming tomato paste intensifies the color and flavor.
  1. Pour in a liquid. Most Persian braises need water or broth to create a sauce. Some ingredients such as celery, meat on the bone, and tomatoes release their own juices, so be cautious of how much liquid you add. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out.
  1. Mix in the sautéed vegetables or herbs. When the meat is half-cooked (30 to 45 minutes), add the sautéed vegetables or herbs.
  1. Season with souring agent and sweeteners. When the all the ingredients are tender, add your souring and sweetening agents, cover, and allow to simmer to develop flavors.
  1. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Najmieh Batmanglij has been hailed as the “guru of Persian cuisine” by The Washington Post. Born and raised in Iran, she has spent the last 40 years adapting authentic Persian recipes to tastes and techniques in the West. Batmanglij’s cookbooks include Food of Life, Silk Road Cooking, and Cooking in Iran: Regional Recipes and Kitchen Secrets.

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