Thursday, March 6, 2014

Recipes from Iran

Also known as "Persian cuisine," Iranian cuisine is unique to the region, though it has heavily influenced many of the traditions of neighboring nations, such as Turkey and Afghanistan. Iran's culinary influence is felt around the world, too--the kebab originated in Iran, and so did ice cream.

And so we reach Iran. I guess I don't have to tell you where that is, unless you really, really aren't paying attention to what goes on in the world.

Iran, as I understand it, doesn't really like us. I don't know why, because we're so nice. It might have something to do with all of the deep, fundamental religious and philosophical differences we have, and also because we're always sticking our noses into other people's business.

 Khaju Bridge, Isfahan, Iran. Photo by Flickr user
At any rate, you may not actually know that Iran is home to one of the worlds oldest civilizations, which dates back to 3200 BC. For a while, it was also one of the largest empires in the world, stretching from the Indus Valley to Macedon to Greece. From 550 BC until 330 BC, the empire thrived, right up until Alexander the Great came along and wrecked everything. More dynasties, invasions and revolutions followed, until we arrive at today.

Today, Iran has a hybrid political system with elements of democracy and theocracy, but mostly theocracy. The country is primarily run by Muslim clerics, with "the Supreme Leader" wielding most of the power and influence. Of course, we're just here for the food, so let's talk about that for a minute.

Iranian food really didn't surprise me a whole lot, based on its proximity to other nations I've already covered, such as Armenia and Afghanistan. There's lots of rice and meat, of course, and yogurt and herbs such as saffron and cinnamon. It did actually surprise me to hear the Iran is famous for its caviar, though I didn't go so far as to try and find any. I can't afford to eat the stuff that I actually can find here.

Anyway there are a ton of supposedly Iranian recipes all over the internet, most of which are impossible to verify as actually being authentic Iranian recipes. So I will admit to taking the easy way out on this one, mostly because I am now being paid to write about other stuff and it's sucked up a ton of my recipe research time.

So yes, all of these recipes came from the same place: The Iran Chamber Society, which is a research organization that studies Iranian culture and history. Here they are:

Jooje Kabab (chicken kebabs)
  • 2 lbs chicken, white and dark meat, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, grated
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp saffron
  • 4 medium tomatoes
Meigoo Polow (rice with shrimp)

For the shrimp:
  • 1 lb large shrimps
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • one tbsp flour
  • 1 to 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 3 to 4 large hardboiled eggs
  • 2 cups parsley
  • cooking oil
  • salt and black pepper to taste
For the rice (Kateh) :
  • 2  1/2 cups basmati or long-grain rice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cooking oil
Kotlet (fried meat and potatoes)
  • 1 lb lean ground lamb or beef
  • 1 lb small potatoes
  • 3 to 4 medium eggs
  • 2 to 3 medium onions, grated
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
Let's start by marinating the chicken:

Mix the olive oil with the onions, lime juice, salt, pepper and saffron.

Add the chicken (keeping the white and dark meat separate) and cover. Marinate overnight in the fridge.

Place the chicken on metal skewers--you'll want to have separate skewers for the white and dark meat, since the white meat cooks more quickly. Place the tomatoes on a separate skewer and grill for five to 10 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Alternately, you can use your broiler.

Now prepare the meatballs. Start by peeling the potatoes and boiling them until done (12 to 15 minutes). Mash, then add the grated onion, eggs, salt and pepper, parsley, and finally the meat. Mix well.

Now shape the mixture into balls that are 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.

Roll each ball in breadcrumbs ...

... and then shape each into an ellipse about half an inch thick.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the balls on both sides until golden.

You will note that these meatballs are not an ellipse shape. 'Cause I forgot.
Now for the shrimp and rice. Shrimp cooks fast, so make the rice first. First rinse your rice until the water runs clear, then drain and transfer to a nonstick pan. Add 5 cups of water, 4 tsp oil and 2 tsp salt. Let boil until the water gets to just below the surface of the rice, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered for about 30 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

A few minutes before the rice is finished, cover the shrimp with salted water and boil over medium heat until pink. Reserve about one cup of the cooking water.

In a separate pan, melt the butter and add flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring continuously, for five minutes.

Now mix the tomato paste with the shrimp broth until dissolved. Add to the roux and whisk until you get a smooth sauce. Add the salt and pepper and curry powder and continue to cook for two or three minutes. Now mix the sauce in with the shrimp. Garnish with the  chopped parsley and serve over the rice with sliced eggs on the side.

So to this meal, Martin gave perhaps the most rousing endorsement I’ve ever been given for any single meal: “It’s fine. I don’t mind it.” Jeez, really?

I thought it deserved better than “I don’t mind it,” but it’s true that there wasn’t a ton of flavor in any one of these dishes--except for the chicken, which tasted very strongly of saffron. To be honest, though, I probably don’t like saffron enough to justify it’s ridiculous expense. The meatballs were pretty good, though I confess they got overcooked a bit and as you can plainly see in the photos, they were also not the right shape. Martin claimed he was unable to tell that they had any actual meat in them because they tasted mostly of potato, but hey, at least he “didn’t mind them.”

My favorite part of this meal was the shrimp, which I thought tasted pretty good even though it wasn’t stunning. This meal just didn’t contain a lot of spice, and I don’t know if that’s indicative of Iranian food in general or just the food that was posted on that one particular website. At any rate it is certainly a good example of why it's really best to shop around for these sorts of recipes.

Anyway, I didn’t mind it either, but there you go. One of these days I think I’ll go searching for more Iranian recipes, just to see if a do-over might be in order.

Next week: Iraq

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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