A love affair with Iranian cuisine
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.
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.
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; email@example.com
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.