Some of my fondest memories of Iran are standing in my grandmother’s kitchen learning all about the ingredients of certain dishes. Smelling the dried limes going into a bubbling stew and watching saffron slowly being infused into a riot of colour in hot water. Food is an incredibly important part of Iranian culture and locals will always invite you into their house for a meal – just say yes! Here is a guide to just some of the most important ingredients in Persian cooking.
The number one spice in the Iranian cupboard. More expensive than gold, this spice is to be used sparingly. You only need a pinch and the whole dish comes to life – and colour. The hot, fiery reds and oranges of the infused spice bring a rainbow of colour to any dish. Used with rice, chicken stews and desserts, saffron is a key ingredient in Iran.
Not particularly used in the West, dried limes are an important ingredient to add depth of flavour to a stew. Ghormeh sabzi, herb stew and khoresh-e gheymeh, dried lime, lamb and split pea stew, are popular dishes using this ingredient. Slow cooked over time, the dried lime releases a punchy juice, adding a tang and sharpness to any meal.
No dish in Iran would be complete without a piled plate of rice. Often smothered in butter to keep it soft and raw egg to keep the grains moist, rice is served with practically every dish in Iran. There are many different types of rice to choose from which are served with all kinds of accompaniments. From bagali polow, broad bean rice with dill, often served with fish, to sabzi polow, rice with herbs, accompanied with chicken, these grains take centre stage at the table.
Aubergine is the heart of many classic Iranian dishes. Think kashk-e badejan, a grilled aubergine dip with fried onions and whey, and mirza ghazemi, smoked aubergine and garlic dip. The meaty flesh of the aubergine adds a huge amount of flavour. It’s every vegetarian’s savour when travelling in Iran.
In an Iranian kitchen, you’ll always find a pile of fresh herbs to go through. Found in huge bunches, classic flavours such as mint, dill and parsley are staple ingredients found in Iranian meals. The punch of chives and the fragrant smell of coriander are layered in dishes such as kuku sabzi, herb fritters. Piles of herbs are also often eaten at breakfast, alongside radishes and sour Lighvan cheese to start the day.
Iran is the biggest exporter of pomegranates. The second largest producer of the fruit, they are a way of life in the country. Their sour tastes add sharpness to any dish. Found in meals such as ash-e reshteh, herb and noodle soup, pomegranate sauce adds plenty of depth.
The clicking of pistachio shells being opened can be heard in any Iranian household. A staple snack, pistachios is also used in cooking. Find slithers of it in many rice dishes and topped on plenty of desserts, such as halva.