Sunday, September 23, 2012

Around the World...Persia

Where is "Persia" anyway?

In 1935, "Persia" became what is now known as Iran, so Persian cuisine refers to the traditional and modern styles of cooking related to Iran. 

Situated in the Middle East, the Iranian culinary style is unique to Iran, though it has historically both influenced and been influenced by its neighbors at various stages throughout its history. It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from roasted meats, often on a skewer (kabob), stews served with rice (khoresht), thick stew-like soups (ash), vegetable souffles (kuku), white rice with the addition of meat and/or vegetables (polo), and a diverse variety of salads, pastries, and drinks specific to different parts of Iran.

It's a shame that Persian cuisine is not more widely recognized. Maybe the reason for this is because it's sometimes confused with Middle Eastern cuisine, a much broader and more general term. Persian cuisine is similar to Turkish and Greek cuisines mostly because of its kebabs. The problem is that many Persian supermarkets and restaurants are labeled as Middle Eastern or Mediterranean in order to broaden their appeal to the Western consumer. In multicultural cities such as London and Los Angeles, Vancouver, Washington D.C. and Toronto, which have significant Persian populations, Persian food is gaining popularity. Los Angeles and its outlying areas are well known for the number and quality of Persian restaurants which are usually centered around the kebab, but many also serve other traditional fare as well.

Typical Persian entree with meat, rice and veg
Typical main dishes are combinations of rice with meat, lamb, chicken or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts and herbs. Typical flavorings include saffron, dried limes, cinnamon and parsley. Fresh green herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots and raisins. Stews are big in Persian cooking, mixing many of these ingredients together. In general, Persian cuisine is delicious; not spicy, but full of flavor.

I read somewhere that the eggplant (aubergine) is considered “the potato of Iran” and so it features prominently in many Persian recipes, and that's a good thing because I LOVE eggplant. Once at my Persian neighbors for dinner, I enjoyed a chicken and eggplant stew that Amir’s wife made from his mother’s recipe collection. I have modified the recipe somewhat, finding that I enjoy the addition of more herbs and garlic. I think the Persians wouldn't have minded, since they love adding highly flavored ingredients to their dishes.

Eggplant Koresh
Eggplant Koresh

2 white onions, sliced
6 or more garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 can tomato paste
2 - 14 oz. cans Italian style tomatoes
4 diced fresh tomatoes (soft)
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped oregano
3-4 chicken breasts (kabob cut, or cubed)
2 eggplants (peeled and cubed)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Saute the onion over medium high heat in a little grapeseed oil until browned. Add the garlic, saute another minute. Add the tomato paste, mashing it into the vegetables, and saute another minute or two until browned. Add the chicken and the two kinds of tomatoes, as well as the oregano. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute eggplant in a separate pan in a little olive oil until soft (also about 30 minutes). Add eggplant to chicken, simmer together another 20-30 minutes. Add seasoning to taste.

Serve with basmati rice and a green vegetable of your choice. I like green beans.

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