A love affair with Iranian cuisine

Isfahan bridge in Iran - 2003

Si-o-se Pol (the bridge with 33 arches) in Isfahan, Iran - 2003 where we sipped sweet saffron tea under the arches.

Dubai; My love affair with Iranian cuisine stems from a childhood friendship in Cyprus – if you’re reading you know who you are. I have vivid memories of many an Iranian (or the more romantic, ancient term of Persian) feast at her family’s household, followed by a trip to Iran in 2003 during Ramazan (Farsi for Ramadan) where my love deepened in Tehran and Isfahan. Shiraz remains on my travel wish list.

Over the years, I have tried to concoct many a dish from her gift to me of Najmieh Batmanglij’s cookbook ‘New Food of Life’, but the recipes are far too complicated requiring hours and hours of preparation which frankly FooDiva doesn’t have. Instead I took solace in discovering many an Iranian restaurant in Dubai – some good, some bad, but not one really remarkable. Then I came across American-Iranian chef Ariana Bundy’s new hardback cookbook Pomegranates and Roses – My Persian Family Recipes at the LitFest and fell in love for the third time.

Pomegranates and RosesAriana Bundy

FooDiva’s a sucker for beautiful book covers – first impressions are so important after all – and as you can see this one’s a stunner. Ariana tells many a tale as she introduces each family recipe using simple, yet hugely evocative language with easy peasy instructions, interspersed with family photos. Her mother’s styling and sourcing of props makes for spectacular photography. Incase you’re wondering, pomegranates are indigenous to Iran, whilst rose water and rose petals are used prolifically in many a Persian recipe.

Unani - hot and cold foods

Unani - hot and cold foods

The book highlights the ancient ‘Unani’ system which categorises foods into either ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ – and this is nothing to do with the temperature – but related to your own body type. So if you have a cold constitution, you should eat more hot foods to warm you up and vice versa. That’s most definitely FooDiva and one of the reasons I moved to Dubai. Mind you looking at the list of foods, they differ quite substantially to the blood group diet I try to adhere to every now and again – or when am not faced with chunky chips double-fried in goose fat.

I was so delighted to flick through all my favourite dishes:

  • Top of FooDiva’s wish list, Kashgeh Bademjan – a beautifully warm and rich dip of grilled aubergine spread topped with creamy whey, fried onions, garlic, mint and walnuts. I beg anyone to dislike this appetiser – even if you’re not an aubergine fan. Click here for FooDiva’s attempt at replicating this recipe.
  • Zereshk Polo – rice with chicken, saffron and those ruby-red tart barberries which after pomegranate, roses and saffron, are another national food emblem.
  • Mirza Ghassemi – garlicky smokey aubergines with tomatoes and eggs – I’d call it the Iranian version of shakshouka.
  • Asheh Reshteh – a hearty rice noodle, spinach and multi bean soup traditionally eaten over Iranian New Year ‘Norooz’ in March. I couldn’t get enough of this dish in Iran.
  • Polo Ba Taadig – fluffy rice with a golden crust. Moreish and easily eaten on its own as a snack. Mind you, I love cracking a raw egg over Iranian rice (by the way don’t dare mention Uncle Ben’s to an Iranian) and mixing it in – the steam helps cook the egg a little. Just make sure the eggs are indeed fresh. Rice with fragrant dill is another signature accompaniment.
  • Chelo Kabab – kneaded minced lamb or beef kebabs. Simple, healthy and hugely flavoursome.

My experience with Iranian cuisine like most perceptions has been very meat and veg focused, but pescatorians will be pleased to see a whole section brimming with fish recipes. Good news FooDiva Friends, you can meet Ariana on Wednesday this week at her book signing (details below – it’s free!) and taste a few of her delicacies.

Pomegranates and roses aside, going back to Iranian restaurants, Ariana tells me Farsi in JLT is pretty good – as does a fellow foodie friend. Have you been? Any other Iranian restaurants that really truly impressed? FooDiva’s on a mission to find a spectacular one – after all I need to fall in love again.

Ariana Bundy is hosting a book signing for Pomegranates & Roses at Bloomingdale’s Home in Dubai Mall on Wednesday, 9th May 2012 at 6pm with Persian refreshments and canapés. T; +971 4 3505333. E; rsvp@bloomingdales.ae

Otherwise the book is available for sale at major bookstores priced AED 161. I bought mine from Kinokuniya in Dubai Mall which incidentally now provides an online ordering service with a rather pricey AED 50 delivery charge. Or order it online via Amazon.

Rather bizarrely, the Iranian hospital on Al Wasl road houses a small grocery store where I bought Kashk (dried buttermilk), barberries (also stocked at Lulu supermarket), a selection of Iranian bread, and FooDiva’s weakness, sour cherry candy. They will even deliver anywhere in Dubai! T; +971 4 4046338.

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x



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17 Responses to “A love affair with Iranian cuisine”

  1. Didi May 8, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I looooveee Iranian food! Was Kashgeh Bademjan the one we ate at Sadaf? THAT dish I couldn’t get enough of!

    I looked for Barberries in Lulu Al Barsha, but went home empty handed 🙁 I hope to find some on our next grocery trip.

    • FooDiva May 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      Yes it was the one at Sadaf Didi – but seriously this recipe beats it 🙂 I did see barberries a few weeks ago at Lulu Barsha – but perhaps they are out of stock. Try the Iranian hospital store!

  2. I Live in a Frying Pan May 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I have to get this book! It was out of stock at the Lit fest, but gotta get my hands on it. Love the dishes you’ve described, some of which, like the Mirza Ghassemi and Asheh Reshteh I hadn’t heard of before. Gonna have to check out Iran Zamin to see if they have better kashk badmejan, agree I didn’t fancy the one at Sadaf too much!

    • FooDiva May 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      These dishes are hard to find on many restaurant menus. Let me know how it fares Ms Frying Pan or if you need company!

    • Didi May 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      I want this book too! Drool….Iranian Food <3

  3. dave reeder May 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Well, Shabestan at Radisson Blue at the Creek claims to cook authentic royal cuisine from Iran, but the dishes I’ve seen there seem nothing like the ones you’ve described here. It may be that in multi-cultuyral Dubai, there are still some major gaps in the food map – Vietnam, Cambodia, Peru, Brasil (non-steak), Caribbean, Scandinavia and Malaysian are others that leap to mind. But do tell me if I’m missing any gems!

    • FooDiva May 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      I hear mixed reports of Shabestan – must try it out for myself. Agree there are many culinary gaps here. We have French-Vietnamese (would highly recommend Voi at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray FooDiva reviewed) – but I think the Fooderati crew would recommend plenty of Malaysian joints in the depths of Karama and Deira.

  4. dave reeder May 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Wasn’t thinking regular Malaysian,, like Rendang. But more the Paranikan and street food.

  5. IshitaUnblogged May 9, 2012 at 12:16 am

    FooDiva – is this a recipe book or a novel? I had seen the book cover in one post of ‘My Custard Pie’ and really thought initially that it was a Romance Novel. I am most curious about the recipes being categorised by the Unani system – more like Ayurvedic categorisation into different ‘Doshas’. Must buy this one.

    • FooDiva May 9, 2012 at 7:47 am

      It’s most definitely a cookbook with recipes Ishita – interspersed with lots of family tales. Yes you’re quite right it’s a similar system to doshas.

  6. DNCW May 9, 2012 at 12:19 am

    This does bring back teenage memories;) i have not had iranian food since, me thinks. Very bad, but i domt think there is an iranian resto in bxl.

    • FooDiva May 9, 2012 at 7:48 am

      OMG D that’s a first for you – need to find a goodie here before you visit! Ariana splits her time between Dubai and Paris – perhaps she can recommend one for belle Paris?

  7. Homa Vafaie-Farley May 9, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Thanks for this interesting article.

    I am an Iranian and love our food. Most of the Iranian restaurants do not have these foods. In Iran, usually we eat Chelo Kabab in restaurants and the other food are mainly home made. There are some five star hotel’s here in Dubai who serve various Persian cuisine, however they are often not authentic. Foodiva you just have to visit my home sometimes, so that I can cook real Persian food for you.

    • FooDiva May 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      Thanks Homa. You’re quite right I’ve not come across many of these dishes in Iranian restaurants here. London has quite a few Iranian restaurant goodies though. I did not know you were Iranian – lucky lady! I may just take you up on your very kind invite one day – much thanks. x

  8. Helia May 10, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Dearest FooDiva, your article and that photo of Isphahan brought back so many memories… My Pomegranates and Roses book arrived today and I am so excited! What a beautiful book. I must say it is probably the most beautiful Iranian cook book that I own – and you know that I own many. I highly recommend it, not just to any one who is familiar with Iranian food but also to those who are new to the cuisine. The recipes seem easy to follow and the photos are spectacular!
    Can’t wait to try your Kashgeh Bademjan!

    • FooDiva May 10, 2012 at 8:22 am

      Have I spelt Isphahan/ Isfahan wrong Helia? The book’s a stunner indeed – you must let me know what your mother makes of it. Can we plan a trip to Shiraz pretty please?

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  1. From pen to fork at the LitFest - February 28, 2013

    […] – Thursday 7 March 19:00-20:00 (AED 60),  or else join him as he cooks and chats with Ariana Bundy over a Literary Lunch – Friday 8 March 12:30-14:30 at Terra Firma restaurant, […]

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