You might also attend faculty in America,” my mother regularly informed me and my brothers while we were kids in our native San Diego, within the Eighties, “however while you come domestic, you’re in Iran.” Accordingly, we spoke Farsi, and attended Persian school on Saturdays to learn how to read and write the language; we listened to classical Persian setar song; and celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
But surely, the maximum powerful shape of cultural immersion we skilled became culinary. My mother, who left Iran in 1976, steeped us within the smells, tastes, and traditions of Persian cuisine. She spent hours upon hours every week traversing now not simply San Diego however also Orange County and Los Angeles, over one hundred miles away, searching for the flavors that reminded her of Iran. She taught us that regardless of what was taking place in the news, domestic is domestic, and nothing can transport you there like flavor.
In Irvine, she determined a bakery making sparkling sangak, a large dimpled flatbread named for the pebbles that line the oven floor on which the slabs of dough are baked. She’d like us all up there on weekend mornings in order that each of us should order the 3-in keeping with-person maximum — 12 portions being sufficient to justify the hour-and-a-half-long drive for bread.
Systematically, she offered and tasted every brand of plain yogurt available on the grocery keep, on the lookout for the thickest, sourest one. She regularly packed us into our blue station wagon and drove across the city to the worldwide grocer, where she may want to have her preference of seven types of feta and purchase fresh herbs by way of the pound rather than through the bunch.
The cornerstone of every Persian meal is rice or polo. Each day, my mom would unzip a five-kilogram burlap sack of rice — constantly basmati — and element out a cup according to the individual right into a large bowl, rinsing and soaking it for hours before giving it a brief boil. Then she’d begin the sorcery required to make tahdig, the crispy rice crust by using which each Persian prepare dinner’s well worth is measured.
Sometimes, she’d like the pot with lavash for a bread tahdig. On other occasions, whilst a special trip for bread wasn’t possible, she’d use a with ease to be had flour tortilla, which yielded similarly glorious outcomes. Either way, she’d divide and serve the rice and tahdig, encouraging us kids to put off gratification and face up to wolfing down that gloriously crunchy crust first. I never should.
Persian delicacies are, particularly, about stability — of tastes and flavors, textures and temperatures. In every meal, even on each plate, you’ll find each candy and bitter, smooth and crunchy, cooked and uncooked, hot and cold. In the iciness, we ate khoresh-e fesenjoon, a hearty, candy-and-bitter pomegranate, and walnut stew to warm us from within. In the summertime, we’d peel eggplant for khoresh-e bademjoon, a shiny tomato and eggplant stew made relatively tart with lemon juice and ghooreh, or unripe grapes.
No Persian meal is whole without an abundance of herbs. Every table is ready with sabzi khordan, a basket of sparkling herbs, radishes, and scallions, which might be eaten raw and with the aid of the handful, frequently tucked into a piece of fresh flatbread with a chew of feta, cucumber or walnuts. I’ve by no means pretty grown aware of the exercise and like the top notch, and multifaceted, methods herbs discover their approaches into cooked dishes. Kuku sabzi, a type of frittata, is so densely packed with finely chopped sautéed herbs that the component listing reads like a sensible joke.
Across Iran, but mainly in the northern areas, where my own family is from, herbs are handled like a vegetable or main factor, as opposed to a garnish. In the Bay Area, in which I now stay, I can continually spot an Iranian shopper’s grocery cart from afar — it’s the only piled high with bunches of parsley, cilantro, dill, and mint.
Though I am each Iranian and prepared dinner, I’m hardly an Iranian cook dinner. I’m extra of an Iranian eater, so while The Times asked me to pick the dishes that someway encapsulate Persian cuisine to me — the important recipes — I interviewed my mother, surveyed two dozen Iranian and Iranian-American chefs, and compared ingredient lists and techniques with just about every Persian cookbook posted inside the English language within the last 30 years.
Being an Iranian-American — honoring, representing and embodying two cultures that frequently feel at odds with each other — has continually been a tightrope walk for me. This assignment has felt extra full-size and personal than any other recipe series I’ve created.
I’ve sought, extra than whatever else, to percentage the taste of my very own formative years, that’s to mention the flavor of an Iranian kitchen in America. Even so, I had to interrupt my personal heart repeatedly once I chose to leave out a lot of my preferred dishes, like baghali polo (fava bean rice), tahchin (a bowl of savory saffron rice and yogurt cake with layered hen or lamb) and khoresh-e be (quince and lamb stew).
A phrase approximately terminology: For numerous private, political and historical reasons, many Iranians inside the West refer to themselves as Persian. “Persian” is each an ethnicity and a language, also known as Farsi, whilst “Iranian” is a nationality. Not all Persians and Persian-speakers are Iranian, and not all Iranians are Persian. If the difference leaves you baffled, relaxation assured that you’re not alone — I’ve spent a maximum of my existence stressed approximately it — and for our purposes right here, feel unfastened to think of the terms extra or less interchangeably.
The task of distilling a whole lot of 2,000-year-vintage delicacies all the way down to a handful of recipes is a futile one, so consider this list as an invitation to cook in place of an announcement of reality. It’s also an invite to my early life home, and to Iran, my mom constructed for her children out of rice, bread, cheese, and herbs.