There’s always more to it than you see on the surface. It’s a saying that has been repeated time and time again. It prevents us from making snap judgments immediately upon seeing something new for the first time. It also encourages us to take the time to learn about something with which we don’t have much prior familiarity. I’ve recently started spending more doing background research on ethnic cuisines, given my limited familiarity with them overall. While many ethnic cuisines have gone mainstream, I thought it’d be interesting to learn about where they got their start. In other words, how they were first created, what the original recipe was, and the process of bringing them to the mainstream market.
One ethnic cuisine in which I was particularly interested in was Persian cuisine. The Persian empire is one that dates back all the way to the 6th century BC and existed until the 20th century AD. Cyrus the Great was the original founder of the Persian empire, and set up Persepolis as its capital. The Safavid Empire, who ruled the area from 1501 AD until 1736 AD, brought about the rebirth of the Persian Empire following a period of Aran Conquest and the Mongol Invasion. During this period, literature, art, architecture and cuisine all flourished. Related to cuisine in particular, Persian cuisine went through an incredible renaissance during this period. In essence, Persian food set the foundation for what it is today, one of the most flavorful and unique cuisines of the ethnic options available.
From my research, I came to learn that two of the most emblematic representations of Persian food are the basmati rice dishes as well as the different stews. One of the stews that has become most famous over the years is ghormeh sabzi, created nearly 500 years ago! In Farsi, ghormeh means stewed and sabzi means herbs. The base of the stew is a mixture of sauteed herbs, of which the main ones are parsley, leeks, coriander, all seasoned with the unique Persian spice known as shambalileh, or dried fenugreek leaves. Back in the day, potatoes and tomatoes were not readily available in Iran, so it was difficult to make dishes that consisted of those ingredients. While nowadays there are Persian stews that include those ingredients, they didn’t exist before. That further explains why ghormeh sabzi was one of the original dishes available in Persian food.
A typical Persian dish consisting of basmati rice and ghormeh sabzi stew
The other famous aspect of Persian food is their delicious basmati rice. It’s a staple in almost all of their meals, whether they’re eating a delicious stew or a meat or chicken kebab. Traditional rice is only washed once before one starts cooking it. Persian basmati rice is a whole different ball game. First, the rice is left to soak in water for an hour. After that, it is washed multiple times, which is what really allows each of the individual grains to separate. If prepared properly, preparing Persian basmati rice allows one to create a crispy crust at the bottom of the pot. This crispy rice is known as tadig and is one of the most incredible aspects of Persian food. Often mixed with hints of saffron, this crispy layer of rice often has a slight yellow and orange color to it. It’s one of Persian food’s most emblematic aspects.
Persian basmati rice with tadig
While Persian cuisine has remained consistent throughout the years, it was awesome to learn about a company that has re-invented how Persian food has traditionally been made, applying slight modifications to classic recipes in order to make them vegetarian, easier to prepare, and more accessible to the mass market. I came to learn that Persian food is one of the most time intensive cuisines to prepare. Fortunately, this company allows me to simply pop their crispy basmati rice cups in the oven, which represents their modern take on tadig. As a result, it only takes me seventeen minutes to heat up these incredible crispy rice cups. If I were planning on making the crispy rice from scratch, it would take multiple hours, and I may not even get it right at the end since it requires so much expertise!
Incredible crispy rice tadig cups
Additionally, I’m able to heat up their vegetarian Persian stews in as little as five to seven minutes. An example of one of their modern, vegetarian takes on a traditional classic is their version of the famous Persian stew ghormeh sabzi. Their version of ghormeh sabzi uses diced and sauteed mushrooms instead of the chunks of meat that are usually used to prepare this stew. However, you still get all the delicious aspects of the original recipe, from the mixture of healthy herbs to the citrus taste of the dried limes.
Ghormeh Sabzi with Basmati Rice
Persian food is not only a cuisine that is rich in tastes and flavors, but also one that is incredibly rich in its history and method of preparation. This devotion to detail in preparing every dish results in some incredibly tasty outcomes.