About the Food of Iran

Iranian Plateau by سبأ

Pop Quiz: Would an Iranian ever use minute rice?

Welcome to one of the most mountainous countries in the world, chock full of winding mountain paths, arid plateaus, and scrubby, windswept trees. Welcome to Iran.

If you learn one thing during this week’s Global Table Adventure, learn this: Iranians make the most beautiful, perfect rice.

And I mean perfect.

Jaw-dropping. Breath taking. Not one gummy grain in the lot.

It should be no surprise then, that, from mountain top to mountain top, all across Iran, rice reigns supreme. And no, not minute rice. Never, ever would a true Iranian serve minute rice.

Here’s the depth of their devotion to rice:

Iranians celebrate a well prepared platter of light, spindly basmati rice as the main course. Made into an elegant presentation with potato crusts, onions, sour cherries, or barberries and often sprinkled with ghee and saffron – this is an entire universe apart from minute rice  [recipe]. As for the protein – the chicken? Well, I’ve personally heard Iranians simply call it a garnish. Everything I read about this country’s diverse cuisine inevitably points back to rice. Rice is an art in Iran, as it is in all Persian cooking.

Ok, Deep breath. Let’s move beyond the rice. Let’s explore a few other culinary highlights.

First, there’s the Iranian kababs – one could fill an entire menu with the varieties. These are incredible creations, served on flat sword-like skewers. One of the most popular is Kabab Koobideh  [recipe], lamb and/or beef mixed with spices, onion, and marinated overnight before grilling. Typically an additional skewer is loaded up with large, juicy, red tomatoes and the eat can be dipped in a sweet/tart pomegranate sauce, right before nibbling.

Map courtesy CIA World Factbook. Traditional clothing from Fars, Iran. Photo by Pentocelo.

Most food, including Kabab Koobideh, includes turmeric and sumac, either in it or on it. Sumac, in particular, is a souring spice often sprinkled on salads, such as a bold but simple cucumber, mint, onion salad, as well as on meats as a finishing touch [recipe]. The spice is so beloved, restaurants will often provide sumac in a shaker at every table.

And speaking of sour, there’s a long list of yummy sour treats which make their way into Iranian cooking, such as dried limes, pomegranates, sour cherries, and barberries.

If, after all that sourness, you’re feeling thirsty – have no fear. You can have a tall glass of doogh  [recipe], the famous yogurt and mint drink, often served bubbly with a little seltzer or club soda. Just a word to the wise, though: the yogurt makes it rather sour, too.

What are your favorite Iranian dishes?

Verlassenes by Mr.minoque | Shadegan Road by Goru | Map courtesy CIA World Factbook


  1. Jessica Bennett says

    Our town has an International street fair every year (although it’s not fully International- it’s put on by the university clubs, so you get what the university has clubs for- the countries where most students come from: many Asian countries, a few central American, a couple European, a few Carribbean which all lumps into the Carribbean club, and a few Middle Eastern). A couple years ago, I had an Iranian rice with slivers of almonds and saffron. It wasn’t perfect, as I’m sure it was made quickly to get it ready for the fair, but it was still tasty.

    And I didn’t know Iran was so mountainous. I’d love to be able to go there one day.

  2. Brian S. says

    There’s a wonderful Iranian food film called “Fish fall in love”, about a woman who runs the best restaurant in Tehran. Then the man who she thinks abandoned her 20 years before comes back, and she learns he didn’t abandon her, he was imprisoned as a dissident. Here’s part: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEDhL5w2C4Y

    One favorite Iranian thing is Khoresh. That’s a stew and there are many varieties, including these (got them on Internet)

    Khoresh Badenjan (Aubergine Stew) including aubergines, boned leg of lamb, onions, turmeric, tomato paste and medium tomatoes
    Khoresh Gheymeh (Split-pea Lamb Stew) including Stewing lamb or beef, Split-peas, onions, potatoes, tomato paste and dried limes
    Khoresh Bademjan (Eggplant Stew)
    Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi (Fresh Herb and Lamb Stew) including Red kidney or black-eyed beans, Fresh fenugreek, tablespoons dried, parsley, coriander or parsley, spring onions or leeks, boned leg of lamb, onion and dried limes
    Khoresh Fesenjaan or Fesenjoon (Pomegranate Stew) including Chicken pieces or Beef meatballs, Ground walnuts, onions, Pomegranate juice, pomegranate paste, sugar
    Khoresh Karafs (Celery Beef Stew) including lamb or beef, celery, onions, fresh lime juice, mint and parsley
    Khoresh Esfenaj-o Aloo (Prune and Spinach Stew)
    Khoresh Baamieh (Okra Tomato Stew): Stewing lamb or beef, okras, potatoes, onions, fresh Lime juice and Tomato paste
    Khoresh Ghaarch (Mushroom Stew)
    Khoresh Reevaas (Rhubarb Stew)
    Khoresh Loobia-Sabz (French Bean Stew)
    Khoresh Beh (Quince Stew):chunks of lamb are stewed with slices or cubes of tart quince, and yellow split peas; this dish is always served with rice

    Also chelo kebab. I convinced the guys at Shish-Kabobs Tulsa to serve it to me in the traditional way, with raw egg and sumac mixed into the rice.

  3. as a half filipino and half puerto rican, i love rice. like, really love it. i’ve had the pleasure of eating some good indian food and the rice is always so nice and fluffy. i’ve never heard of tumeric, though.

    one of my favorite indian dishes (i’m sorry i forgot the name) consisted of rice and veggie balls (no clue what was in them) with a very spicy sauce covering them. so good!

    and as for you pop quiz, i guessed “no.”

  4. Tahdig! I got myself a persian rice cooker just so I can make it myself!

    Hey, I noticed your comment on pioneer woman, the idea for a blog all about the food in movies… oh my gosh, do it! Do it! That’s a great idea!

  5. Hi Sasha:

    Nice post I especially love the ode to rice and the photo of the girls intraditional clothing. Looking forward to the meal and review!


  6. o i love Persian food, i have too many favorites– absolutely all of the rices– any of them but my favorite is probably baghali polow. But chicken tachin is this beautiful baked rice that is awesome!!! Can’t wait to see what you make…

  7. Sasha Martin says

    @Jessica – I wish we had an international food fair in our town… what fun that would be – I’d go crazy trying all the food 🙂

    @Brian – that looks like a gem of a movie. I’m going to look it up.

    @countrygirl – I’ve never heard of such a thing! I did a quick search and saw several examples. How fun and convenient!

    @Laura – thank you. The littlest girl is so adorable… it looks like her dress weighs more than she does 🙂

    @Karen – I bet you could teach me a thing or two 😉 I’m getting better at the rice (since I started this adventure), but it’s still a bit tricky.

    • Jessica Bennett says

      The fair is fun. It starts at 11:00, and I like to get there when it starts, so I can walk around and see all the booths to see what I want to try. Then I go back and try 3-4 things. I try to get something different each year (I’ve only lived here 3 years, so it’s not like I’ve been doing this a long time)- usually something I’ve never had, something I make often to see if it tastes different, and then something I’ve had before but like and don’t usually take the time to make. The most difficult part is doing this with a (now 7) year old who does not want to be there and is anxious to leave, so I feel somewhat rushed. Her dad can occupy her while I roam, but I don’t like holding everyone up. I love that we have this though. It’s the closest I come to traveling these days.

  8. my fiance is persian and we live very close to his family so i eat amazing, home-cooked persian food every friday night. and you’re right – rice reigns supreme, but khoresh is definitely a huge player as well. andd tadig – the crunchy rice cooked at the bottom of the pan served with a little khoresh gheymeh – my fave! and don’t forget the sabzi khordan (herbs like basil, mint, onions, etc.) that you eat raw. it adds a freshness that shouldn’t be missed. enjoy!

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