Persia was the trade hub for the ancient world. Animals, textiles, metals, gems, and foodstuffs all passed through its ports. Ancient Persia was quite the cosmopolitan empire with influences from India, Egypt, Syria, and more.
The foods of Persia are exotic and reflect thousands of years of tradition. Pomegranates, pistachios, rose water, and almond pastes are just a few of the flavors of Persia that we cherish today.
Jews have a long and tempestuous history in Persia that dates back to Biblical times. The books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Esther contain references to Persia. Present-day Iran is the home to the largest Jewish community living in a Muslim-majority country.
Where has this food been all my life? Persian cuisine takes advantage of seasonal and fresh ingredients. There are no bags of frozen vegetables, over-processed packaged products, or jars of dusty dried herbs. This food screams fresh. The flavors are simple and elegant.
Celery and Mint Khoresh
Khoreshes are a sort of stir-fried stew that are common in Persian cuisine. The ingredients vary from season to season and are treated with care. No over-cooked soggy vegetables in these dishes. Everything is cooked to highlight bright flavor.
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, sliced
1 pound boneless chicken breast or turkey breast, cut into large dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch segments
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 cups chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 Place a large sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it is golden brown and caramelized (about 10 minutes). Add the chicken, garlic, and celery and continue to cook until the chicken is golden brown (about 5 minutes).
2 Add the chicken stock, lime juice, and saffron to the pan. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the celery has softened. Add the fresh herbs and stir to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt, freshly cracked pepper, and lime juice.
3 Serve with saffron rice and garnish with additional parsley, mint, pomegranate molasses, drizzled over the top, thinly sliced limes.
*Saffron adds a wonderful exotic flavor, but will still be delicious if you want to leave it out.
Saffron Rice (Tahdig)
Tahdig checks all the boxes for a WOW presentation. A rice "cake" with a crispy and browned crust and long, elegant rice grains scented with saffron. Use extra-long Basmati rice and be sure to rinse the rice, even stirring the grains to wash off the starch.
- 1 cup Basmati rice, rinsed several times until the water is clear and all starch is rinsed away
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- Olive oil
Garnishes: chopped dill, chopped mint
1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the basmati rice and saffron in a medium sauce pan. Add 2 1/2 cups of water, cover, and simmer over medium heat until the rice is cooked through (about 20-25 minutes).
2 Place a large sauté pan, generously coated with olive oil, over medium heat.
3 Scoop the cooked rice into the pan and pack the rice by pressing it firmly into the pan. Cover and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until the rice has formed a crust. You can peek at the crust by gently pulling the rice away from the side of the pan with a spatula.
4 Invert onto serving platter and garnish with chopped dill, mint.
Rosewater Rice Pudding
This creamy and cozy dessert is as familiar as your grandmother's rice pudding and yet strikingly different. The rosewater and saffron are exotic and fragrant. I like to pass bowls of garnishes and let my guests adorn their own bowls of this delicately perfumed comfort food.
1 cup short grain rice (I use Arborio)
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup rosewater*
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons rice flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cardamom
Suggested garnishes: chopped pistachios, chopped almonds, fresh mint, pomegranate arils
1 Boil the rice with water, rose water, sugar, and saffron threads until the rice is cooked completely and very soft.
2 Whisk the eggs yolks and rice flour together. Stir the mixture into the slightly cooled rice. Add the cinnamon and cardamom.
3 Chill thoroughly or serve warm. Garnish as desired.
*Rosewater can be found in many grocery stores, Persian or Middle Eastern stores, and online. Rosewater is a distillation and does not require hashgacha
*Saffron also adds a wonderful exotic flavor.
Laura Frankel is a kosher chef and cookbook author. Previously, she was the Culinary Director for Jamie Geller's Test Kitchen and Kosher Network International. She is the founder of Shallots Restaurant and served as Executive Chef for Wolfgang Puck.