A Guide to Essential Ingredients for Persian Dishes

Use this guide to help you stock up on essentials for Persian cooking. In this article you will learn about the core ingredients for many Persian recipes, where to buy them and how to store them.

Saffron (Zafferan)

Saffron is used regularly in Persian cuisine. Even some desserts list it as an ingredient, therefore it is an essential to stock up on.

What is Saffron?

It is a delicate bright red spice harvested from crocus flowers. Sometimes referred to as ‘Red Gold’ because it is the most expensive spice in the world!

The flavour profile is a mixture of floral, musty and bitter. It is used very delicately to flavour Persian dishes so as to enhance and not overpower the other elements it is cooked with.

Why is it so expensive

Harvesting is labour intensive as each crocus flower yields just three stigmas, which are picked by hand and then dried to create the saffron strands. Apparently it takes up to 200,000 individual flowers to yield about half a kilogram of saffron. The resulting saffron strands are deep red (stigmas). The yellow tips you see in the picture above are the styles from the crocus flower. High grade saffron does not include the yellow styles and only has the red stigmas.

How is it used

Saffron is used to flavour and give a vibrant colour to Persian stews, kebabs and some desserts including ice-cream.

To get more out of your saffron, grind the saffron strands following purchase in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Grind the saffron to a fine powder. 

Prior to adding to any dish, always bloom the saffron in water. This will help release the colour and flavour of the saffron and permeate into your dish far better than just sprinkling it in. The process of grinding and blooming is best practice for saffron as it also means your saffron will go further.

Where to buy

I recommend Iranian saffron, which can be bought from Iranian food shops or online.  Alternatively, if you have an Iranian friend then ask them if they have any spare – the generosity of Iranians is well known particularly when it comes to food!

Make sure you are not buying low quality saffron! The picture above is actually an example of low quality saffron as the strands include the yellow styles from the flower

How to store

Store your saffron in an airtight container in somewhere dark, cool and dry.

Recipes using Saffron

Here are a few recipes to try:

Turmeric (Zard Chubeh)

What is Turmeric?

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. Its root is used in cooking and is commonly found in powdered form, although the fresh root is becoming more available in the UK. 

A bright orange powder which stains fingers, clothes and work surfaces easily! It has a flavour profile that is earthy, musky and bitter. 

The health benefits of turmeric have been well documented with a focus on its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric is a superfood and it features heavily in Persian cuisine, particularly in the meat dishes. It flavours the meat and helps to extinguish the pungent meat smell when cooked with onions.

Where to buy

The British love for curry has seen ground turmeric made available in all local supermarkets. I buy mine in bulk markets from a local Asian supermarket.

How to store

Turmeric should be stored in a cool, dry area and in an airtight container i.e. spice jar with a screw lid. Hints that you need to replace your turmeric are the colour loses its vibrancy and becomes a dull brown and the aroma is weak. As soon as you open your turmeric jar, the strong musky notes should hit your nose.

Recipes using Turmeric

Here are a few recipes to try:

Basmati White Rice (Berenj)

There is no substitute for this type of rice. It is an absolute must if you want to recreate the many delicious and unique rice dishes.

What is Basmati Rice?

Rice is the seed of a grass species. Basmati is a variety of long-grained aromatic rice primarily grown in Pakistan, India and Nepal.

Long grain white rice, when cooked the Persian way, creates beautiful separate strands of fluffy rice. It involves a four-step process: washing, soaking, boiling and steaming. Some brands are now offering extra-long grain rice, which results in an even more sophisticated looking rice dish, so if you can get your hands on this type of rice, then please do. 

Where to buy

Most UK supermarkets stock it, but you can buy in bulk (10kg bags) and for cheaper if you pop into your local Middle-Eastern or Asian supermarket.

I recommend that you always soak the rice before cooking. Not all consider this stage is necessary anymore in light of the quality of long grain basmati rice available, however it is of note that some famous brands recommend soaking their rice for 30 minutes pre cooking. Soaking the rice promotes more thorough cooking by allowing moisture to reach the centre of the rice grain, allows for better absorption of vitamins and minerals and it further improves the final texture, by making the grain less brittle.

How to store

Keep it in a cool and dry area of your home such as pantry.

Rice Recipes

Persian mixed spice (Advieh)

What is Advieh?

Advieh is the Persian equivalent of mixed spice. It is used in many dishes with the combination of spices varying from region to region in Iran.

Advieh is a fragrant mix of spices and can be compared in use to garam masala in Indian cooking, whereby the addition of advieh seasons the dish and adds a further layer of aroma. It can simply be sprinkled on a plain rice dish, added to stews and marinades for meat.

Where to buy

The advieh I use is a mixture of nutmeg, rose petals, cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and black pepper. I buy it online from a supplier on Etsy; however, this can also be picked up from most Iranian or Middle-Eastern food shops.   

How to store

It should be stored in a cool, dry area and in an airtight container i.e. spice jar with a screw lid. 

Recipes using Advieh

Dried Mint (Nanaa)

What is Mint?

Mint is an aromatic, green perrenial herb. It is a hardy plant and grows abundantly in the UK. Persian recipes priamirly use dried mint but fresh mint is sometimes required.

From being used in dips and salads to being included in some of our hero dishes like Ash Reshteh (a herb, lentil and noodle soup) and Khask-e-Bademjan (an aubergine and caramelised onion dip), it is definitely an essential store cupboard item. 

Where to buy

Like turmeric, this is an easy to source ingredient, with most local supermarkets stocking dried mint in their herbs and spices aisles and fresh mint in the salad section. As it grows abundantly in the UK, feel free to skip the shop bought stuff and make your own. Just dry the leaves in your airing cupboard and grind them.  

How to store

Dried mint should be stored in a cool, dry area and in an airtight container. Fresh mint should be stored in the fridge.

Sumac (Somagh)

What is Sumac?

Sumac is derived from the dried and ground berries of the wild sumac flower and is used in Persian cooking as a seasoning for a number of dishes including kababs, rice and salads.

It is a tangy spice with a sour and acidic flavour reminiscent of lemon juice. 

Where to buy

Sumac is very easy to get your hands on and can be found in your local supermarket. I recommend buying sumac from your local Iranian or Middle-Eastern food store if you have one near you.

How to store

Store in an airtight container and in a cool, dry area. 

Recipes using Sumac

Dried Limes (Limoo Amani)

What is Limoo Amani?

Limoo Amani are limes which have been brined and then dried in the sun to lose water content. Originating in Oman – hence the Iranian name Limoo (lime) Amani (Oman) – they are used whole, sliced, or ground, as a spice in many Middle-Eastern dishes. They come in both brown and black varieties. The black ones have been dried for longer. 

They are used in Persian cooking to flavour the stews of Ghormeh Sabzi (herb and lamb stew) and Gheymeh (yellow split pea and lamb stew). The limes are pierced and left in the stew to simmer to release their unique and distinct flavour profile of sour, citrusy, earthy, smoky and bitter.  

Where to buy

They can be purchased from an Iranian or other Middle-Eastern food store. Alternatively, they can be bought online.

Recipes using Limoo Amani

Rose Water (Gol Ab)

What is Rose Water?

Rose water is water made by steeping rose petals in purified water.

Since ancient times it has been used nutritionally, medicinally and as an ingredient for perfume. Many Middle-Eastern women still use rose water as a facial toner, a natural product and a lot cheaper than modern cosmetic brands.

It is used in Persian, other Middle-Eastern and Indian cuisine, particularly desserts such as ice cream, cakes and biscuits. It is also used in savoury dishes, in particular for scenting rice dishes, adding a unique floral note.

For those of you who may not be familiar with rose water as an ingredient, if you have ever eaten Turkish Delight then you know the effect of adding rose water as an ingredient. 

Where to buy and how to store

You can buy rose water from most Iranian or other Middle-Eastern or Asian food store. You may also find it in your local supermarket. Again, if you can get your hands on Iranian rose water then all the better.

Once opened, store the rose water in the fridge to keep it fresh for longer.

Recipes using Rose Water

Pomegranate Molasses (Rob-e-Anar)

What is Pomegranate Molasses?

Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup with a dark grape colour made from reducing pomegranate juice. The juice is obtained from a tart variety of pomegranate.

The flavour profile is intensely sweet and sour and it is primarily used in a Persian stew made with walnuts, called Fesenjoon. It can also be used for salad dressings and desserts.

The Northern Province of Iran uses pomegranate molasses for a number of their recipes including Kal Kabab (a smoked aubergine dip); Zeytoon Parvardeh (marinated olives); and kabab Torsh (meat marinated in a paste made of pomegranate molasses, garlic and crushed walnuts and then cooked on a charcoal fire).

Where to buy and how to store

You can pick it up at some local supermarkets. You can also buy it online or from your local Iranian or other Middle-Eastern food store.

Store in the fridge once you have opened the bottle.

Recipes using Pomegranate Molasses

Pistachios (Pesteh)

What are Pistachios?

Pistachios are nuts and a member of the cashew family, growing on small trees originating from Central Asia and the Middle East. 

Whether in their shells, oven dried and salted, in bowls as nibbles at family parties, or used as fresh bright green kernels in Persian dishes such as Shirin Polo (a sweet and savoury rice served with chicken), pistachios are synonymous with the Persian culture. 

Where to buy and how to store

For the purposes of cooking some of the dishes on this site you will need fresh pistachio kernels, which are a vivid green with no skin on them, which you can buy from your local Iranian or other Middle-Eastern food store.

Store them in the fridge in order to retain flavour and freshness.

Recipes using Pistachios

Fenugreek (Shambalileh)

What is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek is an aromatic Mediterranean plant that produces long pods containing light brown seeds which have a slightly bitter taste. Roasted and ground, they are used as a flavouring in curries. The leaves from the plant (often sold as methi) can be used in salads, and both fresh and dried leaves are used in Persian and Indian cookery.

The seeds and the leaves have a strong aroma and the smell is instantly recognisable if you have had your fair share of curries or eaten everyone’s favourite Iranian stew – Ghormeh Sabzi (herb stew with lamb).  

Fenugreek is used in the famous Persian lamb, kidney bean and herb stew, Ghormeh Sabzi. It is also used in Meygoo Polo (prawn rice) and Eshkeneh (a potato and onion egg-drop soup).

Where to buy and how to store

I source my fresh and dried fenugreek / methi from my local Asian supermarket. Keep fresh leaves in the fridge or freezer and dried fenugreek in an airtight container somewhere cool and dry.  


What is Kashk?

Persian kashk (other Middle-Eastern countries have their own versions of kashk) is made from fermented sour milk or yoghurt. It is also used to describe dried buttermilk.

It comes in liquid or dried form. The dried form is often found in balls which are soaked in water to create the liquid kashk used in Persian dishes. I prefer the liquid form as it is quicker and easier to cook with.

It has a unique flavour profile that is sour and a little cheesy. I’m probably not selling this to you right now but it is a truly delightful addition to some of our famous dishes: Kashkeh Bademjan (the kashk is mixed in to an aubergine dish made with caramelised onions, garlic and mint); and Ash Reshteh (the kashk is mixed into a delicious herb, lentil and noodle soup).

Where to buy and how to store

You can buy kashk from Middle-Eastern food stores or online. Keep in the fridge once opened. If you have bought a large jar, then decant into smaller portions and freeze.

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