A Slower Pace to Cook

With a looming lockdown and uncertainty of when we can travel again, there’s been a sudden need to adapt to this brand new way of life. There’s no rush, no immediacy, no desperate need to have to be somewhere. We are more laid-back, plodding on at a steady speed and are simply savouring being at home. And travel, beautiful travel is put on hold for now. But it doesn’t stop us from travelling indoors. Food, glorious food is our form of travel. And I’ve been bringing the food of Iran into my own kitchen once again. 

Simple, fast, efficient ways of cooking are no more. Slow-cooking and roasting – methods of cooking I never opt for with the busy way of working life are rife in my London kitchen. With no commute comes more time to cook, to experiment, to flavour.

Chicken for joojeh kebab is being marinaded for hours, absorbing all the vibrant juices of zingy lemon, aromatic saffron and tangy yoghurt. Lamb is finally coming off the bone, tender, soft and melt in the mouth to be added to a sharp pomegranate sauce. And fluffy rice is coupled with its perfect partner – tahdig, the glorious, golden potato crust at the bottom of the rice cooker. Some like the softer potato, some like it crispy – it’s what every Iranian fights for at mealtimes. 

Maast o khiar

And then there’s the eternally welcome side dishes. Natural yoghurt is now not just spooned out of a plastic container. It’s mixed, blended, seasoned. Maast o khiar, yoghurt, cucumber and mint, is keeping cold in my fridge. The chilled softness of the cucumber folded with cool mint is always ready to be added to any main dish now. Shirazi salad sits close by. The national salad of Iran filled with sweet tomatoes, crunchy red onion and fleshy cucumber. Fragrant olive oil is drizzled and zesty juices are blended together. Juicy pomegranate seeds are scattered over for an extra kick, crunch and blast of tang and zing.

I’ve taken to my own garden to embrace the Persian picnic. I take kuku sabzi outside while perched on my fragile deck chair. A deliciously green frittata, it’s a common picnic food in Iran. Full to the brim with punchy herbs like dill, chives, parsley and coriander, it’s finger food at its very best.

And to finish off I indulge in lacy, spindly zoolbia. A crunchy, scrumptiously deep-fried sweet pastry, made with flour, starch, corn, saffron, rosewater and syrup, it’s supreme and utter decadence. With puddles of syrup oozing all over the pastry, it cements to the roof of your mouth. The glorious liquid drips down your mouth, tickling your chin while you follow the swirls and twirls of its shape, curling like a never-ending treble clef. 

I see simmering transform into boiling now. I hear the chorus of water singing away, getting louder and louder with every minute. I stand at my hob and watch ingredients become food over time. A nourishing meal to look forward to. I admire what I’ve made, taste and really think about what I’m consuming. How does it feel in my mouth? Does it melt? How does it feel when I sink my teeth into succulent koobideh, minced meat kebab? And how does that parsley smell when scattered in khoresh karafs, a meat and celery stew? 

I think about the background of ingredients. That’s not just a sprig of fresh mint for my maast o khiar. That was once a little seed in some scattered soil. After being patted, warmed, nourished, it then grew to become a stalk, and gradually wonderful, fragrant leaves emerged and blossomed. Then they landed, scattered on my circular plate.

That’s not just a pinch of saffron. It’s a tiny thread from the Crocus sativus flower, which has been hand-picked. Was it picked at the saffron festival in Khorosan? The precious strand then releases a pool of orange and red fire when infused. It tastes pungent and is punchy, its vibrant colour matching its bold flavour.

It’s this slower pace of life which has led me to experiment in my kitchen. Play around with flavours, learn new tricks and master old ones. Bursting with a rainbow of colour, fresh fragrances and heart-warmingly familiar flavours, I’ve been pulled back to my travels in Iran in an instant. My childhood, my grandmother’s kitchen, it’s all around me, bubbling away. And Iran is here with me. Iran is back in my kitchen once again – with more flavour than ever before.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: