Ever since the world went into lockdown and people were told to self-quarantine inside their homes, a lot of people have willingly -or unwillingly- turned to home chefs. Everywhere we go on Instagram, we see pictures of people baking bread and cooking recipes that they never dared to tackle before in the pre-corona days. So, we thought, what is a better time than now to try some Persian foods at home?! The answer is never. This is the absolute best time to open up a whole new chapter in your cooking and get inspired by amazing, drool-worthy Persian food recipes. No doubt, these Persian foods are the best you shouldn’t miss.
Persian foods are a work of art. They ruthlessly attack you in all of your senses in the best way possible: They are beautiful and vibrant; the aromatic scents of saffron and local herbs beg your nose to take deep breaths and the taste of the food when you drip the curry on top of the silky melt-in-your-mouth rice will keep asking you for more.
You might think I’m exaggerating but you know this is exactly the truth if you have ever tasted a beautifully cooked “Fesenjoon” with pomegranate paste, or if you have eaten “koofteh” (giant meat balls) in north west of Iran, or if you have had a taste of shrimp stew, bursting with the flavor of green herbs and tamarind in the south of Iran, next to the Persian Gulf. Iranian foods are made with care, each part is prepared with the utmost love, and usually there is no fast way of making them, but the results will make you swoon and want more.
Because Iran is such a vast country, the food in Iran varies greatly from north to south and east to west. For example, in north of Iran, the dishes incorporate local fish, fragrant herbs and beans, and pomegranates. In the south of Iran there is a lot of spicy, fried foods and a lot of burning hot stews, specially stews with shrimp and fish.
Without further ado, I present to you the best of Persian foods and main courses:
Abgoosht, which literally translates to meat juice, is one of the oldest Persian foods. Even though its ingredients have changed a bit over time, it’s still one of the most beloved Persian foods, best enjoyed in the cold months of the year. You can find it by the name of “Dizi” as well, which is actually the name of the traditional clay or stone pots in which this delicious stew is served.
• Red meat, preferably lamb shanks or neck
• Chickpeas (1 cup soaked overnight)
• 1 large potato, peeled and quartered
• 1 large onion, quartered
• 2 Tomatoes
• Tomato paste (2 tablespoons)
• Garlic (3-4 cloves, halved)
• 2 whole Dried limes
• Spices: turmeric, cinnamon, pepper
A fair warning: Making this recipe should be planned ahead.
How to eat
Traditionally, Dizi is served in clay pots or crockpots. When it’s served, you first pour the liquid broth in a bowl and tear up pieces of bread and put it in the broth and eat it like that. Then, you mash up the rest (meat, potato, chickpeas) and eat it with pieces of bread. Of course, you can eat it however way you like.
Pro tip: Serve with a side dish of Iranian pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, fresh juicy garlics, and chopped onions. Having a nice glass of refreshing minty Doogh will also help to wash it all down.
This is one of the most iconic, debated, and tricky Persian foods, mainly because there are so many different tastes and preferences when it comes to Fesenjoon. Some people like it to taste tart and sour, some people like it sweet, and it’s really hard to just land in the heavenly in-between, the sweetness and the sourness completely balanced. However, we can all agree that the heavens smiled upon us when this magical combination of pomegranates, walnuts and meat first came into this world. Needless to say, this Persian food should be served over rice.
• pomegranate paste
• crushed walnuts
• duck, chicken or meatballs
• saffron, turmeric, salt and pepper
1. Put a little oil in a pan and once it’s nice and hot, gently fry your chicken on both sides. When it’s done, remove your chicken from this pot and put it in another bowl.
2. In the same pan, sauté the minced onions and once they are softened, add some turmeric to them and stir.
3. Add the crushed walnuts to the onions and stir for 5 mins.
4. Add the pomegranate paste to the mixture and let it heat with the mixture for 5 mins.
5. Add the previously fried chicken (or duck) to the mixture and stir. Let it sauté in the tasty juice of pomegranates and walnuts. Then, add a couple cups of water to the mixture.
6. Let it cook for at least 3 hours so that it’s nice and set. In the last half hour, add the steeped saffron and a few spoonsful of sugar (only if the result is too sour for your taste).
This is one of the main comfort dishes in Iranian cooking. Simple, easy and tasting like home, you would find versions of this simple rice and green beans dish everywhere in Iran. Of course, every household has its own way of making this signature Iranian food, but however way you make it, it won’t change how delicious and delightful this dish is. Let’s dive into this delicious Iranian food!
• Basmati rice
• Green beans
• Onions, diced
• Lamb meat, diced
• Tomatoes, or tomato paste
• Seasoning: turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, pepper and salt
1. Sauté the onions in a little bit of oil.
2. Once the onions have softened, add the lamb meat to them. Cook until meat starts to change color. Then add some turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper, and a few spoonsful of tomato paste. Add a cup of water on top of that and bring it to a simmer so that the meat cooks slowly.
3. Chop the green beans into small bits. In another pan, cook the green beans with a little butter.
4. When the beans are cooked, add them to the meat and onions. Let them cook with an open lid, we want the sauce to thicken.
5. Start to cook your rice, which should be rinsed beforehand. It also helps to let the rice sit in a pot with some cold water prior to cooking. It’ll help it cook faster. Since we’re going to add the bean and meat mixture to the rice, you need to remove the extra water from the rice, once it’s half way cooked.
Note: If you let the rice cook completely and then add the sauce, you’ll end up with a mushy texture. Not the thing we’re aiming for here.
1. Prepare Tahdig: This is the holy grail of this meal and will bring the whole meal together! So in an oiled pot, at some seeped saffron and turmeric and salt to the bottom and mix well so that the oil covering the bottom of the pot is thoroughly yellow and seasoned. Now you have two options, making the Tahdig with flat bread or with potatoes. We’ll go with the potatoes. So pick a large potato and slice it into equally thin slices. Then carefully cover the bottom of your hot pot/pan with these potato slices. These are going to turn golden brown, crispy and will be devoured first thing after this dish is done.
2. Alright! Now that we’re done with setting up the sacred Tahdig, add the rice and green beans mixture one layer at a time and give it a gentle stir. Poke some holes in the rice and then cover the lid with a clean cloth so that it’ll absorb the water vapor. For an extra taste of opulence, you can add some more steeped saffron on top, or add powdered cardemum and edible rose in the rice mixture.
3. You’ll know this dish is cooked when the sides of the pot are kind of crispy. It takes about 30-45 minutes on medium heat. Turn the rice upside down in a big dish. If the potato layer has fully cooked, it should come right off the pot. And, you’ll witness the glorious golden brown Tahdig. Hurry up and save a piece for yourself before it’s inhaled by others.
Pro tip: this dish is best served with some Shirazi Salad.
Another dish for eggplant lovers! This Persian food features a blissful union between juicy eggplants and mutton(lamb). Serve this over rice, and if you really want to reward yourself for your hard work, add some saffron rice.
• tomato paste
• unripe grapes
• dried limes
• salt and pepper
1. In a hot, oiled pan, throw in the minced onions and pieces of lamb. Stir fry for a while until the meat starts to change color. Add some tomato paste, stir and fry until the tomato paste is cooked. Add the seasoning: turmeric, salt and pepper. add 3-5 cups of water and let the meat and onions simmer into their blissful union.
2. Peel the eggplants. Some people recommend putting the peeled eggplants in salt water to remove the bitterness.
3. In another pan, add some oil and start to slowly fry the eggplants on medium heat. When they are almost done, add some tomatoes (halved) and a handful of unripe grapes. (okay, we know that unripe grapes probably aren’t available everywhere so we’ll just have to swap it with another sour tasting ingredient in the end).
4. Your stew should be more fragrant right now. Add the fried eggplants and tomato slices on top of your stew. Add the dried limes. For a better flavor, add some caramelized onions and some steeped saffron.
Note: If you didn’t have unripe grapes, add something with a sour taste, like some pomegranate juice or some balsamic vinegar. Be careful in proportions. You don’t want the end result to taste too sour.
5. Let the eggplant cook with the stew and absorb the lamb and onion flavors.
If you’ve read the other recipes you must think “wow, Iranians certainly love their lamb!” while that statement is pretty much true, there are many dishes that use chicken or beef in Iran. Right now we want to bring this fancy, iconic chicken dish to your tables. With its vibrant yellow color and mouth-watering aroma, curtesy of generous amounts of saffron, this dish charms your senses. The golden yellow rice with a crispy layer underneath, adorned by crimson juicy barberries that explode in your mouth and slices of almonds and pistachios, this dish could be enjoyed even without the addition of chicken. However, when you pour that orange color juice from the chicken broth on the rice and add a bite of chicken, it’ll take this dish to the next level. Put in the time and effort and treat yourself to this beautiful Persian food for an unforgettable culinary experience.
Ingredients for 4 people
• White basmati Rice:3 cups
• Chicken (breast or drumsticks):
• Thick, unflavored yogurt (Greek yogurt could work great!): 1 cup
• Butter: 50 grams
• 1 medium onion
• 3 Egg yolks
• Rosewater: 1 cup
• Barberries: 100 grams
• Pistachio and almond slices
• Steeped saffron: 1 tablespoon
• Cinnamon, turmeric, salt and pepper
1. Start by sautéing the minced onions in a well-oiled pot. Once they’ve changed color, add some turmeric and salt and pepper to them.
1. First of all, prepare the chicken breast (or drumsticks) by cooking it in an oiled pan with diced onions, salt and pepper and turmeric. It goes without saying that saffron is the holy grail of Persian cooking and there is no such thing as too much saffron. So, if you’re feeling generous, add some saffron to your chicken. You are also free to cook the chicken in your preferred method.
2. When your chicken is cooked, shred the meat and sauté it again in a buttered pan with some cinnamon. Adjust the seasoning to your taste. Remove the chicken from the pan when it’s fully flavored and done.
3. In the same pan, add the barberries and a pinch of sugar. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes on low heat. Barberries can burn up quickly. Also toast the slices of almonds and pistachios and in the end mix them all together with the shredded chicken.
4. Cook the rice. Wash the rice and cook it in a pot with some water, salt and a bit of oil. When the rice is almost cooked through, remove the remaining water from it using a colander. Put the rice aside.
5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, rosewater, saffron and yogurt. When they are fully incorporated, add the rice and mix well.
6. Butter up the inside of a Pyrex tray or any other oven dish. Put a layer of rice on the bottom, apply some pressure on the rice, and then add a layer of chicken and barberries and caramelized onions. Repeat the steps until all your ingredients are in the dish. Almost like a lasagna.
7. Put the dish inside an oven at 180 C for one hour.
8. When it’s cooked, turn it upside down and garnish with more barberries and pistachios.
Cut a slice just like a lasagna and enjoy! For even an extra level of scrumptiousness, you can cook some chicken drumsticks with onions, saffron, turmeric and tomato paste, and enjoy this Tahchin with it.
We saved the best for the last! This signature Persian food, with its rich forest green color and herby aroma, has a special place in Iranians heart and on their table. Often, a woman’s skill in cooking is judged by the quality of her Ghorme Sabzi. Some people believe that the key to any Iranian man’s heart is in this magical dish. Ghorme Sabzi, which literally translates as cubic lamb meat and herbs, is one of Iran’s oldest and most authentic dishes and is still made the same way that it was made hundreds of years ago. One thing you’ll notice after coming to Iran is that Iranian LOVE their fresh herbs and there are many shops that specialize in selling fresh herbs. You’ll see women buying loads of fresh herbs for various reasons. One of the main reasons is to cook this aromatic concoction of a stew. Let’s dive right into it!
• Lamb (250 grams, better to use fatty meat)
• Kidney beans (pinto beans or black-eyed peas could also work): ¼ of a cup
• Fresh Herbs: mostly Chives and Parsley, a little bit of coriander, Fenugreek and mint: a total of 500 grams
• 1 big onion, minced
• Dried limes: around 2
• Salt, pepper, turmeric
Pre-cooking preparations: start by letting the beans rest in water from 24 hours before. Change its water a couple of times. This will make them cook better and make you less bloated.
1. Start by sautéing the minced onions in a well-oiled pot. Once they’ve changed color, add some turmeric and salt and pepper to them.
2.Add the lamb to the onions. You can add big chunks of meat or cut them in small cubic portions. It depends on you. Let the meat saute with the onions and change color.
3. If you’re worried about your beans not cooking thoroughly, I recommend to cook the beans with some water in another pot before adding them to the main pot containing the meat. If your beans are the kind that cook quickly, then skip this step.
4. In a pan, add some oil and throw in all your minced herbs. The herbs mostly consist of chives and parsley, with almost a quarter of coriander and fenugreek. Now comes the fun part. Gently fry these herbs in your pan. Do it on medium heat and don’t over fry them. They turn bitter.
5. Add the fried herbs and beans the meat mixture, if your beans have a lot of water, add that as well. It’ll help make this dish juicier. Your dish should have about 4 cups of water(almost one liter of water for 4 people)
6. When the stew has been simmering away for at least 2 hours, you should open the lid and see that all the ingredients have incorporated together beautifully. Now is the time to add the dried limes. Before adding them, poke a few holes on their dried skin so that they infuse a better flavor.
Swap: We know that dried limes aren’t that easy to come by in many places of the world. If you don’t like your food to taste too savory, you can skip this step. Or just squeeze some fresh lime juice into it or swap it with any other ingredient that adds some acid.
7. After almost 3 hours of simmering, your stew is done! Enjoy over rice, make it even more unforgettable by adding a layer of saffron rice, or better yet, rice with crispy golden potato Tahdig.
In this article we tried to bring you a variety of Persian foods to make you acquainted with Persian cuisine. We also included some of the less famous recipes and Persian foods that are harder to find online. Maybe you’ll try a few at home, or maybe you will just skim through the titles and ingredients to get a sense of Persian foods and to know what food you absolutely can’t miss when you come to Iran. Persian foods cannot be summarized in this article, since Iran is a vast country with diverse recipes in every region, and in fact we’re planning to bring more Persian foods to your table, in many different forms. In Iran Nomad tours, we organize a variety of different tours and while our specialty is authentic nomadic tours, we still incorporate many of the classical sites in our itinerary and we’ll be more than happy to take you food-tasting in Iran, if trying authentic food is what you enjoy during your travels.