Shab-e Yaldā

Shab-e Yaldā (Yaldā Night) is an Iranian festival which takes place on the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, usually falling on either 20 or 21 December depending on the shift of the Iranian calendar. Taking place on the longest night of the year, Yaldā translated from Farsi to English means ‘birth’ which ultimately underpins the essence of this festival. The festival dates back to ancient times when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism. From its Zoroastrian roots, Shab-e Yaldā celebrates the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness – the winter solstice marking the lengthening of days, shortening of nights and the advancement towards Spring.

Nowadays it’s another excuse for my colourful, loud and party loving Persian family to get together. Family and friends gather together on the longest and darkest night of the year, to eat, drink and read poetry (primarily the poetry of Hafez) until the early hours of the next morning.

The traditional foods eaten on Shab-e Yaldā include watermelon, pomegranate, nuts, and dried fruit. Pomegranates and watermelons are considered significant as their color is associated with the dawn and new life. Pomegranates symbolise the cycle of life and birth and eating watermelons (a summer fruit) was thought to protect you from falling ill in the winter months. These items are commonly placed on a korsi (a low level table) which people sit around. Some serve substantial dinners before the activities begin ranging from delicious khoresh (stews) and perfectly cooked rice (chelow) and/or kababs.

The elder members of the family entertain the others by telling them jokes and anecdotes. For some Iranians (like my family) there is alcohol and/or dancing too. Another tradition is ‘Fāl-e Hafez’ – fortune telling using the Dīvān of Hafez (an anthology of Hafez’s poems). In our family an elder interprets the poem selected at random as that person’s fortune for the year to come, using a lot of innuendo and ‘tongue-in-cheek’ humour.

As I am writing this post we are heading towards the end of 2020, a year that has seen many hardships and people seeing less of their loved ones due to the global COVID pandemic. This year will be low key with a gentle introduction for my daughter and my English husband to what I hope will be a continued pre-Christmas celebration with my wider Persian family. In the spirit of this festival, I hope Shab-e Yaldā does signal the ‘victory of light over darkness’ for everyone. 

Shab-e Yaldā Mobarak!

Chelow and Tahdig

Persian Rice – the expert way

Chelow is the name given to the white fluffy grains of rice either served with our kababs or khoresh (stews). We also have Kateh, which refers to our version of easy cook sticky rice, and polo, which refers to our rice cooked with vegetables,  herbs and/or meat (similar to the Asian biryani).

Polo follows the same cooking procedure as chelow but has the added stage of preparing and cooking the ingredients to be mixed in to the rice. Kateh is simple as you boil and steam the rice without draining the water by letting it evaporate in the saucepan. Kateh tends to be reserved for family meals and due to the sticky texture you wouldn’t generally see it served at a dinner party or restaurant.

Chelow has a 6 step process to follow, summarised below:

  1. Washing the rice;
  2. Soaking the rice – 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 center of the rice grain, it further improves its final texture, makes the grain less brittle and assists the rice to become more digestible;
  3. Par boiling the rice until al dente;
  4. Draining the rice;
  5. Preparing the tahdig layer and then layering the remaining rice on top; and finally
  6. Steaming the rice.

The common feature in the various Persian rice options is that they all yield the crispy rice which forms at the bottom of the cooking pot called ‘Tahdig’. Tahdig literally translated means ‘bottom of the pot’ and is the most cherished part of our meals, kind of like roast potatoes or chips to the British. I don’t think I have ever met someone who dislikes tahdig. In fact, I think I would have serious trust issues with someone who was dubious about tahdig! Although kateh is the easiest way of cooking Persian style rice it does not yield a tahdig as superior as chelow or polo. Therefore you are rewarded for going the extra mile with the slightly more complicated way of cooking rice.

To achieve the perfect fluffy rice and golden tahdig is a commitment. Despite this, even the veteran chelow and tahdig cooker sometimes has an off day with rice coming out a bit mushy and the tahdig burnt. So don’t be hard on yourself if you commit to this journey and it takes a while to master it. I have been doing this for a fair while and I can honestly say I still get a teeny bit of anxiety when I check my rice texture at the end of cooking and then flip the pot to reveal my tahdig! In fact you can see variations in the tahdig pictures on this post and no doubt in future posts – just as long as it isn’t burnt to a cinder, we Iranians love our tahdig golden all the way through to well-done!

Now while chelow has a standard set of preparation and cooking steps, tahdig has a number of different options available. The most common are rice; potato or flatbread options. See the collage above for examples.

As with the evolution of many cuisines, experiments have been undertaken to explore new ways of reinventing a classic. In the case of tahdig people have experimented with ingredients to see if they can create a new type of tahdig as good as the originals. I’ve seen tahdigs made with lettuce, fish and chicken. Also there are people presenting elaborately designed tahdig with intricate patterns cut into their potatoes or their flatbread, creating a work of art. I am a traditionalist with my tahdig (this is mostly down to the time I have) so my recipe below is to assist you to cook tahdig like the best of the Persian Mamans (mums) or Babas (dads) out there, but if you do get the chance go and check out ‘#tahdig’ on social media platforms and enter the world of beautiful tahdig designs.

As advised in previous posts, you will need to get your hands on white long grain basmati rice if you want to cook authentic Persian style rice. You can buy this from your local supermarket or, as I do, from my local Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops. A little saffron is recommended, a good quality non-stick saucepan with a glass lid and a small-hole colander or sieve. A clean tea towel is also an absolute must as it aids the steaming of the rice by absorbing the water droplets, which would otherwise form on the lid of your saucepan and fall back on to the rice making it mushy.

Try not to balk at the amount of salt used. Rice needs a lot of salt as it can be quite bland and the boiling stage washes a lot away. Taste a grain or two of your rice at step 6 of the recipe below. If it tastes too salty just pour a little cold water over your parboiled rice to wash some away. Also, while I have you engaged with the concept of pushing salt boundaries, let me talk to you about drizzling your rice pre-steaming stage with butter, ghee or vegan equivalent. It sounds punchy and it is, but the resulting chelow is so delicious it would be a shame to omit this stage. Some literally layer their rice with knobs of butter, I melt a few tablespoons and drizzle it over my rice as set out below (see step 12).

As with chips and roast potatoes, the more oil you use for your tahdig at the bottom of your pot the better the tahdig as you are effectively deep frying the base of the rice (potatoes or flatbread) and it avoids burning. However, I don’t always use lots of oil in family meals as it is more about the taste of the dish and the overall healthiness rather than presentation so I reduce the oil content. The tahdig is still delicious but as you can see from the some of the pictures the colour of the tahdig can be patchy. The amount of oil stated in the recipe below is the minimum I would recommend. As you fine tune your chelow and tahdig skills, feel free to increase the oil incrementally (say a tablespoon at a time) to conclude the best oil ratio for you, your family and your trusted saucepan.

There are two ways of presenting your chelow and tahdig. If you have a small quantity of rice (as in the recipe below) you should be able to flip your pot after cooking and the rice and tahdig should come out like a cake as seen in the first set of pictures above.

For larger quantities, once the rice has cooked, I recommend spooning the rice out and serving it on one plate and then serving your tahdig separately on another dish. The latter is usually garnished with saffron coloured rice sprinkled on top (see picture). In my family we use a little rose water when blooming the saffron for the rice garnish as it adds a delicate floral note to the chelow, so if you want to present your rice this way then it is worth getting your hands on some rose water from your local Middle-Eastern food shop.

As a final note, the primary recipe below is to make chelow with rice tahdig. Refer to the ‘Alternative Step’ sections below for guidance on how to make potato or flatbread tahdig. 


Chelow and Tahdig

Persian Rice - the expert way
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Course: Accompaniment, Rice Dish
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: basmati rice, tahdig
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white long grain Basmati rice (standard UK measuring cup capacity 250 ml - approx 400 grams of rice)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • Water (as directed below)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahgdig
  • A further small pinch of ground saffron if serving your rice with a saffron garnish bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of hot water (optional)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil plus extra if you are making potato or flatbread tahdig as per 'Alternative Step' sections below
  • 2 to 3 tbsp ghee / butter / vegan equivalent

Instructions

  • Wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Be gentle with the rice, otherwise you will damage and break the grains.
  • Then place the rice with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover the rice up to 2 inches above the rice. Leave the rice to soak for a minimum of 30 mins (I leave mine overnight and cook the rice during the afternoon of the day after).
  • Fill a large non-stick saucepan (minimum capacity 2.5 litres) with approximately 1.5 litres of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring the water to a boil.
  • Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir the rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan.
  • Stay with the saucepan and do not leave it at this stage. It is crucial that you remove the rice and drain it at the right time. Every minute give the rice a gentle stir and take a grain of rice and check the texture - either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the rice to be soft on the outer layer but still firm in the centre. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe.
  • Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn your heat off and drain the rice in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water on the rice to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice - if it is very salty then rinse the rice further with a little water.
  • Place the empty saucepan on your stove.
  • Add 2 tbsp of oil and 1 tbsp of butter / ghee / vegan equivalent to the pan and place on a low heat to melt. Then turn the heat off.
  • Add your bloomed saffron to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly (this will give a lovely golden colour to your tahdig).
  • To make your rice tahdig spoon about a 1-inch layer of rice into the saucepan and gently stir to mix with the saffron oil to ensure colour is distributed evenly. Be careful not to break the grains. Then pat the rice down flat with the spoon.
  • To make a cake style rice and tahdig, layer your rice and gently pat down to the shape of the saucepan. Once you have layered the rice, take the end of a tablespoon and gently poke about 5 small holes in the rice to allow steam to escape while cooking. Pour 2 tbsp of cold water evenly over the rice.
  • Drizzle 1 to 2 tbsp of melted ghee / butter / vegan equivalent over the rice. Place your glass lid on the sauce pan and turn the heat to the highest setting. 
  • Once you start to see steam rise from the rice (your glass lid will start to get clear from the steam and droplets of water will start to form on the lid - it is perfectly fine to have a little look under the lid now and again to check the steam situation) lower the heat to the minimum flame or equivalent on your cooker. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and replace the lid on the saucepan.
  • Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy and thick layer of tahdig. When the cooking time is over turn off the heat and remove the lid from the saucepan. Take a serving dish that covers the opening of the saucepan and place it on top. Flip the rice out onto the dish and serve with either a khoresh, kabab, curry or any other dish.
  • If you want to serve the rice with a sprinkle of saffron garnish and the tahdig separately then at step 11, instead of layering your rice and patting it down, layer the rice into a gentle sloping pyramid shape and poke a few holes in the rice. Then follow steps 12 and 13. When cooking has finished, instead of flipping the rice, spoon it out on to your dish and plate up your tahdig separately. For the saffron garnish, take a small pinch of saffron and place in a small bowl then add the rose water and hot water and let it bloom for a few minutes. Mix 4 tbsp of the cooked rice with the bloomed saffron and gently stir so it takes on a golden colour. Then sprinkle as a garnish on top of your rice.

Alternative Step 10 - Potato Tahdig

  • If you are making potato tahdig, you will need 1 medium-sized potato peeled and sliced into 1.5 cm thick discs. Place the sliced potatoes into a bowl of water to wash off excess starch - this will help during the crisping process while the rice steams. It will also stop the potatoes turning brown as you get the rice ready to steam.
  • Follow steps 1 to 9 above. At step 10, add an extra tablespoon of vegetable oil to the bottom of your pot then layer your potatoes at the bottom of the pan on top of the saffron oil (try not to overlap them so they all cook through evenly and crisp up) and then layer your rice on top and pat down to fill any gaps between the potatoes. Then follow subsequent steps of the recipe.

Alternative Step 10 - Flatbread Tahdig

  • If you are making flatbread tahdig, you will need 1 medium Middle-Eastern style flatbread like lavash or 1 medium white tortilla. 
  • Follow steps 1 to 9 above. At step 10, you can use the flatbread to cover the bottom of the pan  or you can cut shapes into it and layer the bottom surface of the saucepan only. Either way, before layering your flatbread, take a pastry brush and coat your flatbread generously with vegetable oil and then lay it on the saffron oil. Then layer your rice on top and follow the subsequent steps of the recipe. If you are using the whole flatbread to cover the bottom of the saucepan, without cutting shapes, be a little cautious with the timing on lowering the heat to steam the rice at step 13 as the flatbread can burn quite quickly. As soon as you see steam creeping round the edges of the bread, then turn down the heat and place the lid wrapped with a tea towel on the saucepan. Follow the subsequent steps of the recipe.

Kateh

Persian rice cooked the easy way

Kateh was a regular feature in my early childhood. My mum would cook it for any ailment I had and serve it with yoghurt (maast). Not sure how it was meant to help. However, given its low maintenance method of cooking and the comforting nature, I can see why my mother would whip it up for me.

Before I launch into the finer details of cooking Kateh, the type of rice you require for Persian dishes is very important. It must be long grain basmati white rice, which you can buy from most local supermarkets and Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops ranging from 500 gram to 10 kilogram bags.

Kateh is a great introduction to mastering the art of cooking rice like Iranians. Once you have this skill under your belt, learning the more complicated technique (Chelow) will be less daunting. The difference between the two ways of cooking rice is essentially that, for Kateh, you boil and steam it in your saucepan by letting the water evaporate, whereas Chelow requires you to parboil the rice, drain the water and then steam. Also, timing of the draining of the rice prior to steaming is key for Chelow.   

The more forgiving timing and low maintenance method for Kateh results in a stickier rice compared to the delicate separated fluffy grains Chelow produces. The bonus of the simple way of cooking Persian rice is that you can still get the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot – ‘Tahdig’ which is cherished by Iranians. If you have clicked onto this site searching for tahdig then you already know about this delightful creation unique to Iranians. If you are new to the concept then let me explain.

Tahdig translated into English means ‘bottom of the pot.’ Iranians cook their rice for longer than most cultures in order to create a crispy layer of rice, which is everyone’s favourite part of the meal. A bit like the potatoes in your Sunday Roast. It’s always the first dish to disappear at our dinner parties with the crispy texture perfectly complementing the softer textures of many of our dishes (the rice, stews and kababs). There is a disclaimer to Kateh tahdig and that is it is not as superior as the tahdig created by the Chelow method. It comes out paler but it is still crunchy. If you are in this for the long game, then eventually you will be cooking rice and creating tahdig like a Persian Maman (or Baba) with golden tahdig made with potatoes, bread or anything else you fancy experimenting with. For now, my advice is to get Kateh under your belt. 

The best way to master cooking rice the Persian way is to have a trusted cup measurement and understand the portions it yields. I use the measuring cup pictured below (standard UK measuring cup – 250 ml), which holds approximately 200 grams of rice.

Each cup holds a generous 2 portions of rice. I use 2 cups (400 grams of rice) which feeds 4 of us comfortably with leftovers on occasion. I cook this in a standard UK saucepan with a glass lid 20 cm diameter, with a 2.5 litre capacity. The reason I refer to mastering cup measurements is because of the corresponding water measurement. For every cup of rice, you add 1 cup of water plus 1/2 cup for every cup of rice.

To unscramble the brain I set out a table below with the rice to water ratio and the amount of salt and oil you will also require.

ServesCups of RiceCups of WaterOil/ButterSalt
211.51 Tbsp0.5 - 1 tsp
4232 Tbsp1 - 2 tsp
8464 Tbsp2 - 4 tsp

As a further note, in order to master the art of Persian rice you have to learn how your stove works, whether it is a ceramic, induction or gas hob. 

The lowest setting on ceramic, induction and other solid plate type cookers tend to produce a lower temperature than the equivalent on a gas hob, therefore to go to the lowest heat may result in your rice not being cooked within the specified time below. Don’t worry – just leave it on for longer and the next time go up a gauge and a further one if needed until you master the right temp and time for your Kateh.

Kateh isn’t a dish you would traditionally serve at an Iranian party (mehmooni) and is more of a mid week or chilled family weekend rice accompaniment dish. For serving suggestions, I recommend having it with Kabab Tabei, Asian style dishes or just fried eggs, something green (for good measure) and Torshi.


Kateh

Persian rice cooked the easy way
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Course: Accompaniment, Rice Dish, Side Dish
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: vegan option, vegetarian
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white long grain basmati rice (approximately 400g of rice)
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp butter / ghee / vegetable oil

Instructions

  • Gently wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Place in a bowl and fill with cold water to 2 inches above the rice. Let the rice soak for a minimum of 30 mins (preferably overnight).
  • Drain and then put the rice in a saucepan. Add water and salt (for the amount of rice set out above, I use a standard UK 20 cm saucepan with a glass lid, 2.5 litre capacity).
  • Put the saucepan on a high heat until the water starts to boil. Once the water comes up to the boil, turn the heat to medium and add the butter/ghee/oil and stir gently to mix. 
  • Once you start to see holes in the rice as the water is evaporating, take the temperature down to the lowest setting. Take a clean tea towel and wrap the lid of the saucepan, making sure it is not a fire hazard. Place the lid on the saucepan. The tea towel will help the steaming process and soak up the water, preventing it from falling back into the rice and making it mushy.  Leave the rice cooking for no less than 30 mins. The longer you leave it, the better the tahdig.
  • Once you have come to the end of the cooking time (30 mins or more with the lid on), turn off the heat and take a plate, which is bigger than your saucepan, and place it over the top of the saucepan. Flip the saucepan, while holding the plate, and your rice should come out as a nice looking rice cake in the shape of your pan with crispy tahdig encasing it.
  • Serve with your choice of stew, curry or kababs.
  • Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work the first time you do it.  It took me a few attempts before I got it!  Good luck.

The Art of Persian Cooking

Essential ingredients for Persian dishes

Although I have been learning to cook traditional Iranian dishes by osmosis through my Maman (mother) since I was a child, my formal journey began following my entry into the realm of motherhood. Becoming a mother fuelled my need to connect to my Middle-Eastern roots, particularly as my daughter is mixed race. This, coupled with the era of Covid-19 and the disconnection from my wider, loud, loving and crazy Iranian family, has made me focus on teaching my daughter about her heritage.

I cannot rely on the ‘village’ to help spread the message to my daughter for the foreseeable so the responsibility lies with me: from teaching her the language (God help her as my Farsi speaking skills are the equivalent of a 5 year old’s – actually I think that may be insulting to a 5 year old Iranian kid) to introducing her to the dishes synonymous with my upbringing as a second generation Iranian in the UK.

Before I threw myself into my new role as a Persian Maman, I knew that I had to stock up my cupboards and spice racks with the essentials. So, to assist you on your journey to mastering the art of Persian cooking I set out below a list of essential ingredients.  


Saffron (Zafferan)

Saffron is a delicate spice harvested from crocus flowers. Sometimes it is referred to as ‘Red Gold’ as it is the most expensive of spices. 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 with orange tips. The flavour profile is a mixture of floral, musty and bitter. Saffron is used so regularly in Persian cuisine that even some desserts list it as an ingredient, therefore it is an essential to stock up on. I recommend Iranian saffron, which can be bought from Iranian food shops or online. The saffron strands will need to be ground so get a pestle and mortar (unless you have a spice grinder) and grind to a fine powder. Grinding the saffron makes it go further. 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!

Store your saffron in an airtight container in the fridge to keep it fresh.


Turmeric (Zard Chubeh)

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. The British love for curry has seen ground turmeric made available in all local supermarkets.

It is 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. It is a superfood and it features heavily in Persian cuisine, particularly in the meat dishes. Turmeric flavours the meat and helps to extinguish the pungent meat smell when cooked with onions.


Basmati Long Grain 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.

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.  

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.

Some rice 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. 

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 center of the rice grain, it further improves its final texture, makes the grain less brittle and assists the rice to become more digestible.


Persian mixed spice (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.

It 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.

The one 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.   


Dried Mint (Nanaa)

Like turmeric, this is an easy to source ingredient, with most local supermarkets stocking it in their herbs and spices aisles.

From being used in dips and salads to being included in some of our hero dishes like Ash-e-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. 

Mint is a hardy plant and grows abundantly in the UK so feel free to skip the shop bought stuff and make your own. Just dry the leaves in your airing cupboard and grind them.  


Sumac (Somagh)

Sumac is derived from the dried and ground berries of the wild sumac flower.

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

It is used in Persian cooking as a seasoning for a number of dishes including kababs, rice and salads.

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.


Dried Limes (Limoo Amani)

Limoo Amani are limes which have been 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 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.  

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


Rose Water (Gol Ab)

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 then 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. 

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.


Pomegranate Molasses (Rob-e-Anar)

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 smoke 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).

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.


Pistachios (Pesteh)

Pistachios are 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. 

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 it from your local Iranian or other Middle-Eastern food store.


Fenugreek (Shambalileh)

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).  

For the purposes of Persian cooking you will need fresh fenugreek leaves for the famous Ghormeh Sabzi and dried leaves for Meygoo Polo (prawn rice) and Eshkeneh (onion soup). I source my fresh fenugreek / methi from my local Asian supermarket and dry the surplus leaves I haven’t used for my Ghormeh Sabzi.  


Kashk

Persian kashk (other Middle-Eastern countries have their own versions of kashk) is made from fermented sour milk or yoghurt. It 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 Asheh Reshteh (the kashk is mixed into a delicious herb, lentil and noodle soup). You can buy kashk from Middle-Eastern food stores.