One of the world’s most influential cuisines, with traces felt across the globe, Persian cooking provides a rich and delicious set of directions to explore and dishes to try.
While mostly Iranian, Persian cuisine also stretches beyond country borders, especially into Turkey and Azerbaijan, as well as East into Afghanistan and northern India. There’s not a lot of spicy heat in Persian cooking; instead, there’s a lot of playing with the balance between sweet and sour, with lots of ingredients to add sour notes beyond the usual vinegars and citrus.
The mix of ingredients in this box will allow you to put together a variety of dishes ranging from quick and easy to deeply complicated and involved. I've got a bit about each ingredient below, along with some recipes and links.
In addition to the items that came in the box, some other items you may want to think about having on hand are:
* Lots of fresh herbs
* If that's not possible, Sadaf does these bulk dry herb containers, which are great for stews like Ghormeh Sabzi
* Turmeric (ideally you got the Diaspora Co Pragati Turmeric from our India Box as an add-on!)
* Nuts (especially pistachios and/or walnuts)
As far as cookbooks go, I found two to be extremely helpful and tasty: The Saffron Tales, by Yasmin Khan, and The New Persian Kitchen, by Louisa Shafia. Both were extremely approachable and adaptable.
Read on for more! And don't forget to tag @Ben2Table on Instagram or Facebook with your creations.
Here's what's in the box:
* Pomegranate Molasses (Al Wadi)
* Cured Sumac (Burlap and Barrel)
* Ground Black Lime (Burlap and Barrel)
* Advieh (Mazeh) Curio Spice Co)
* Herati Saffron (Burlap and Barrel)
* Barberries (Curio Spice Co)
Pomegranate Molasses (Al Wadi)
Pomegranate molasses is one of the unique standouts in Persian cooking. It’ll serve you well from marinades to salad dressing to a finishing sauce on rice. A bit sweet and a bit sour, it adds depth and on-point flavor.
Good pomegranate molasses is nothing but reduced pomegranate juice, and this version from Al Wadi gets it just right. I tested several different brands, and this was the standout.
Here are just a few of the many ways to use this condiment:
* As a marinade (simple): This is delicious as a marinade/glaze for meats (or tofu), just add along with some oil and other seasonings, and you won't go wrong.
* As a marinade (complex): Both of the cookbooks mentioned above include a version of a blended marinade consisting of pomegranate molasses, walnuts, oil, and some seasoning (like garlic or tomato paste) -- basically a pomegranate molasses pesto. I substituted pistachios (it's what I had on hand), and used it as a marinade for a 72-hour sous vide brisket. It was *delicious.* For anyone seeking to replicate, what I did was 72 hours at 135 degrees F, followed by an ice water bath (still in the bag), and then 20 minutes in the oven on a wire rack the highest it could go).
* Salad dressings (go herbaceous here, like in this carrot and pistachio salad -- my version is pictured below!).
* As the core seasoning in Esme, a roasted tomato and eggplant dip. Here's my version.
* As an all-purpose (non-spicy) condiment, atop many dishes (especially rice-based, I've found).
Cured Sumac (Burlap and Barrel)
Another sour flavoring, sumac berries are a ubiquitous topping, and can also be a crucial part of spice rubs and marinades. This sumac is grown wild in Gaziantep, Turkey, and instead of being dried and ground, the berries are chopped and cured in salt to give substantially more flavor than most sumacs you’ll see on the market.
Lightly sour, you can shake sumac out on top of any dip or onto any sandwich – it lives on the table like salt and pepper in many Persian homes. Sumac is also widely used across the Eastern Meditarranean; we thought about including it in the Greece box, and it could also have gone in a future box for Lebanon or Turkey.
Here are a few of my favorite uses:
* Just applied directly atop any kind of savory dip in the cheesy/creamy/hummus-y family
* This chicken with dried lime & turmeric is topped with sumac at the end and wouldn't be complete without it.
* As a component in your next grilling rub (gives you a sour note without any liquid, which is especially useful if you're cooking something where moisture matters)
* Atop your next kebab, like what's pictured below (which also employs the tomato and pepper dip mentioned above!)
Black Lime (Burlap and Barrel)
You’ll usually see whole dried limes for stews, but this ground version from Burlap and Barrel provides even more versatility – you can add some where a whole dried lime is called for, but this way you can also work it into a rub, dressing, or marinade much more easily.
These are proper Omani Limes, though they’re grown on a family farm in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, for Burlap and Barrel. Here are a couple of great uses:
* It's a great companion to the sumac in a rub or marinade
* Make sure to check out this chicken with dried lime & turmeric. You can also do this with tofu, for sure.
* Dried lime often shows up in stews. One classic I've enjoyed is Ghormeh Sabzi. The New Persian Kitchen has a great one with turmeric-roasted tofu in lieu of the more-traditional lamb (and you should use the cranberry beans from this month's essentials box if you have them!). I simply substituted a healthy shake of the ground dried lime instead of the whole ones toward the end.
Herati Saffron (Burlap and Barrel)
100% whole saffron threads need little introduction – they’re some of the most precious ingredients by weight on the planet. But we couldn’t get into Persian cooking without some, and these are excellent, delicate with a lovely aroma.
Preparing saffron the Persian way is straightforward, and necessary for the way you use it in Persian dishes. First you grind up what you need with a pinch of salt or sugar in a mortar, then add a couple spoonfuls of either warm water or olive oil, depending on the intended use. Then that concentrated saffron liquid is what you add to the dish.
Most importantly, you’ll use saffron to flavor rice or other grains, but there are also a number of lovely meat and fish preparations requiring it.
Tahdig is the most notable Persian rice dish requiring a healthy dose of saffron. Both books above have extensive guides, and Samin Nosrat's "Persian-ish" rice is also beloved. The key thing here is not to worry if it doesn't come out perfect -- it'll still be delicious!
I also made a tamed down version of Louisa Shafia's jeweled brown basmati rice & quinoa (just had fewer of the nut and dried fruit additions -- but did feature barberries heavily!), which I'd recommend as a great use of this saffron.
Advieh/Mazeh (Curio Spice Co)
This spice blend is ubiquitous throughout Persian cooking, with infinite variations. The version from Curio Spice Co includes golpar, a pungent and aromatic seed that is found growing wild all over Iran but little elsewhere. This blend is best used as a rub (for kabobs or vegetables) or as a shortcut seasoning mix for lentils or other beans.
My best uses were definitely as a rub -- for instance, on the grilled steak and liver kabobs pictured below! This is also great just as a shortcut to flavor. So for instance I made a hash with some leftover tahdig and brisket, and added a bunch of this in as the main seasoning.
And, a note: the names "Mazeh" and "Advieh" seem to occur pretty interchangeably.
Barberries (Curio Spice Co)
Barberries are the tiny fruit of the barberry bush, found commonly in Iran. The berries are dried and used most often in rice dishes or salads. They bring a deliciously tart flavor -- kind of like cranberries on steroids. I first encountered these in some Ottolenghi cookbooks, but they're a delight to play around with.
To use, first rinse and then let soak in water for 15 minutes, then use as directed (or just toss into things).
The jeweled brown basmati rice & quinoa I mentioned above is a great use for these. I also added them to the hash I mentioned earlier, and they're great in salads. If you find you run out too quickly, you can substitute dried cranberries if you must (or just order more!)