How to cook your own Iranian feast

Foreign reporter Lauren Razavi shares three recipes from her father's Iranian homeland

6 mins

Starter: flatbreads, sabzi khordan & yoghurt

For the flatbreads:

450g plain flour
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp caster sugar
10g packet of dried yeast
300ml warm water

1. Combine the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Gradually stir in the warm water until the ingredients begin to come together in a lump. If you add too much water and the mixture becomes moist, add a little more flour.

2. Rub flour onto your hands, and then place the dough on a floured surface. Knead for at least ten minutes, until the dough’s consistency is relatively elastic and springy.

Flatbreads (Shutterstock)
Flatbreads (Shutterstock)

3. Put the ball of dough back in the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave it to rise for 45-60 minutes in a warm place. Meanwhile, prepare the sabzi khordan and Persian yoghurt as described below. When the dough has risen – it should double in size – separate it into equal parts and roll each out until thin.

4. Place on oven trays and bake at 250°C for 5-10 minutes on each side until the colour has visibly changed and your dough looks breadlike.

For the sabzi khordan:

The staple part of this starter, sabzi khordan, translates literally to ‘eating greens’ and is essentially a plate of freshly prepared herbs, vegetables and other garnishes.

Traditionally, parsley, mint, radishes and feta or goat’s cheese are included. Other possible additions include walnuts, almonds, spring onions, watercress, tarragon and basil.

Simply chop up your chosen ingredients and present them together on a plate. Serving this alongside creamy natural yoghurt (maast-o khiar in Persian) and warm homemade flatbreads makes for an incredibly simple platter, but one that looks and tastes wonderful, and is booming with freshness.

Eastern Bazaar, Zanjan (Shutterstock)
Eastern Bazaar, Zanjan (Shutterstock)

For the yoghurt:

Similar to the Greek and Turkish mezze dish Tzatziki, Persian yoghurt is incredibly simple to prepare and contains very few ingredients.

Finely chop cucumber, fresh mint and a single garlic clove, and then combine with salt and pepper in a bowl of plain natural yoghurt. The more yoghurt you have, the more of the other ingredients you need. The ratio between the two usually comes down to personal taste.

Main dish: ghormeh sabzi

Many call ghormeh sabzi the national dish of Iran, and it’s no surprise. This herb stew offers the perfect blend of spicy Persian flavours. It should be served with rice, prepared in the traditional Persian way. Also combine this with the flatbread recipe above and enjoy for lunch or as a lighter dinner.

400g diced beef or lamb (stewing meat)
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves fresh garlic
100g fresh parsley
100g fresh coriander
50g spinach leaves
A few mint leaves
Bunch of spring onions
Freshly ground salt and pepper
2 ½ tsp turmeric
2 ½ tsp mixed spice
2 ½ tsp paprika
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 can kidney beans
1 or 2 dried limes
Olive oil, for frying

Ghormeh sabzi (Shutterstock)
Ghormeh sabzi (Shutterstock)

1. Dice the spring onions and prepare the fresh herbs by cutting off their stems. Place everything in a food processor and chop finely.

2. Sauté the onions in a little olive oil over a high heat until caramelised, and then add the stewing meat to the pot. Brown the meat before adding fresh garlic, turmeric, mixed spice, paprika, salt, pepper and tomato purée. Leave to simmer over a low heat.

3. Place the chopped herbs into a separate pan and fry off for a few minutes over a high heat to infuse the flavours.

4. Combine the contents of both pans into one large stewing pot with a lid. Add the kidney beans, lemon juice and dried lime(s). Add 1-2 cups of water and bring to the boil for a couple of minutes.

5. Turn down to a low heat and leave to simmer for 1½ to 2 hours. This will ensure that the meat is tender. If the stew looks watery towards the end of cooking, take the lid off and bring to the boil for 2-3 minutes to evaporate the excess water before serving.


Dessert: sholeh zard

Sholeh zard is a celebratory rice pudding with a twist; it’s dairy free, being made with rose water instead of milk. This dessert is very traditional in Iran – the bread and butter pud of Ancient Persia, if you will – and it’s often served around the beginning of the Persian calendar, as part of a Nowruz feast to welcome in the New Year.

Its exotic ingredients just add to its appeal, especially the rose water and saffron, which are the key elements in this fragrant Iranian dish.

200g white rice
300g caster sugar
800ml water
50g slivered almonds
2 cardamom pods
1tsp ground saffron
cinnamon and pistachios to decorate

Sholeh zard (Shutterstock)
Sholeh zard (Shutterstock)

1. Wash the rice in a sieve until the water runs clear, and then place it in a pan filled with water. Bring to the boil, and then cook over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes until tender.

2. In a small glass, mix the saffron with a pinch of sugar and 3 tablespoons of hot water, and then set it aside to brew.

3. Add the sugar to the rice, mixing well, and continue cooking over a medium heat for a further 15-20 minutes. Stir at regular intervals to prevent sticking. Stir in the saffron mix, followed by the rosewater, cardamom pods (crush them first), and slivered almonds. The saffron will turn the rice a lovely golden yellow colour.

4. Continue cooking the rice over a low heat for approximately 30 minutes until ready.

5. Remove the cardamom pods and transfer from the pan to a large serving bowl or several smaller ones. Decorate with cinnamon and pistachios. When the sholeh zard has cooled, cover it over and place it in the fridge for about an hour before serving.

Lauren Razavi is a features journalist and foreign reporter based in Norwich. Her work regularly appears in The Guardian, VICE and Positive News. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRazavi or connect with her on Facebook here.

Main image: Iranian restaurant in Isfahan (Shutterstock)

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