As a chef and educator what matters most to me is Persia’s vast contribution to the culinary world. I think of Persia as a quintessential “mother” cuisine: so important and influential that we can find exotic echoes of it throughout modern world cuisine. Traffic on the Silk Road helped Persia to spread its cuisine (which was also influenced) from China to India to the Caucasus, much of Europe, Spain and to North Africa.
Persian chefs and cooks (usually women) introduced the first ice cream, elaborate rice pilafs called “polow” (strewn with raisins, dried apricots, pistachios and almonds); savory-sweet stews called “khoresh” (duck, lamb, chicken or vegetable and fresh or dried fruit stewed and abundantly seasoned with fresh herbs like parsley, tarragon, cilantro, garlic chives, dill, mint, fenugreek, cress, Persian basil and savory and aromatic spices like cinnamon and saffron). Also popular were delicious stuffed fruits and vegetables (like eggplant, peppers, grape leaves and cabbage) called “dolma” and wild birds, game, fish, lamb and veal (marinated in verjus, yogurt, pomegranate juice and sugar or vinegar and mustard, garlic, herbs or spices). They were stewed or roasted, or skewered and grilled.
To top it off, Persian cooks were the masters of dessert: they made puddings rice, milk, honey, butter, eggs and rosewater, and sweets scented with rose and orange flower waters. Saffron, melons, grapes (and unripe grape juice or verjus), lemons, pomegranates (and pomegranate syrup), cucumbers, spinach, quince, barberries and roses (rose petal jam and rosewater) found their way from Persia into the rest of the world. These foods and dishes from the kitchens of Persian and Iranian homes and palaces still define Iranian cooking.
Supporters of our courageous visitor and gifted writer, Nayereh Doosti, will gather at 6 p.m. Sunday to host a community benefit Persian Dinner at The Leelanau School to raise the remainder of her tuition to Interlochen Arts Academy. Call Norm Wheeler at 231-631-3823 or 231-334-3666 for reservations. Dinner costs $35 per person. I hope that you can come to feast with us, and to hear Nayereh’s stories. If you cannot attend, comfort yourself with these exotic and exciting recipes from Nayereh’s mother in faraway Shiraz, Iran.