Iranian Food, also known as Persian food, is distinct to the people and culture of Iran. Some people may assume that it is the same as any other Middle Eastern or Mediterranean cuisine. While Persian food may share some similar ingredients, it has a unique flavor and character that is all its own.
Most ethnic cuisines have their staples, and Persian food is no different. The fundamental ingredients that make up Persian food are rice, beef and lamb, chicken, lentils, herbs, cheese, and bread. Various fruits and vegetables are also abundant in Persian cooking. Fruit is usually eaten whole and raw, and the typical Iranian household always has fruit on hand for snacking. Nuts and seeds are great for snacking too. Let's take a more detailed look at each of the foods:
Rice - rice is very important in Persian cooking, and today most Iranians still cook it in the traditional way that it has been cooked for centuries. There are two main types of rice; one is known as chelo, while the other one is called polo. Basmati rice is almost always used, and the rice is always separated and fluffy, never sticky. Rice is served with every dish, usually family style, and usually with saffron. One unique and delicious part of the cooking method is called tadigh (pronounced tadeek). It is the rice that is cooked on the bottom of the pot, and when the rice is turned over onto a plate it is like a crust.
Meat - Beef, lamb, and chicken are the most common meats used in Persian cooking. All three meats can be made into kebab. Chicken and lamb are also used in stews and sauces, which are then usually served on top of rice. The most popular kebab is known as kubideh. It is a combination of ground beef, ground lamb, and spices. It is mixed together and then wrapped around long, thin flat skewers and cooked over an open flame until well done.
Bread - also known as naan, is a flat bread served with every meal. It is shaped similar to a pizza crust and normally cooked in a very hot oven quickly. When visiting a Persian restaurant, it is custom to get bread and a bowl of herbs and feta cheese as a complimentary appetizer. The herbs usually consist of parsley, basil, green onions, and radishes, but of course can vary. The naan is pulled apart in chunks and eaten with the cheese and herbs. It may sound strange, but it is delicious!
Herbs - speaking of herbs, one of the most popular dishes in Persian cooking is known as Ghormeh Sabzi, or herb stew. It is a thick stew that contains a variety of herbs, seasonings, limes, lentils or beans, and usually lamb or veal. It is traditionally served over rice.
Nuts and seeds - Iranians love to snack on whole raw nuts and seeds. Almonds, walnuts and pistachios are the most common nuts eaten. As for seeds, red melon seeds are a favorite. Salty and a bit sour at the same time, they are difficult to eat and have very little 'meat' in them.
Fruit - Whole fruits and dried fruits are popular with Iranians, especially for snacking. Fruits such as pomegranates, dates, apricots, cherries, and figs are favorites.
Hungry yet? This is but an overview of what Persian cuisine has to offer. If you are lucky enough to live in an area that has a Persian restaurant but have not yet tried it, give it a whirl. You won't be disappointed!