Skip to content

The Delights of Persian Food

Persian food is very rich and diverse in flavour, but the flavours and aromas depend on how much of a particular herb, spice or other ingredients are put in the dish- these can vary from cook to cook. You can easily change the intensity of certain flavours in your version of the dish to suit your own taste, while preserving the overall authenticity of the dish. You could say that every region, every family, and every restaurant has their own version of a dish! 

The popularity of Persian food has grown immensely in recent years. This is partly due to an increased number of Iranians immigrating to the US, Canada and Europe. The main cause of the immigration was the Iranian revolution of 1979. The plus side of this has been the huge increase in the number of Iranian restaurants outside of Iran.

Back in the seventies and even eighties, the restaurants in Iran mainly served Iranian food, and their dishes were often limited to lamb and chicken kebabs, cooked on charcoal. That was because those were the dishes that people did not often make at home, furthermore the other dishes were more labour intensive. This was also the case with Iranian restaurants outside of Iran. Nowadays, Iranian restaurants have a far greater selection of dishes, both in and outside of Iran. This has meant a greater exposure of the general public, in various countries, to the culinary delights of Persian food.

Popular Persian Dishes 

It is difficult to pick a top ten, when there are so many tasty Persian dishes that one could choose from! We have picked the top ten Persian dishes below based on their popularity within and outside Iran. We’ve also tried to represent a variety of tastes, flavours and textures. 

Although there are a number of different types of Persian dishes, most of them fall into two categories: ‘polo’ and ‘khoresht’. Polo (which means rice in Persian) is essentially rice, either plain, or mixed with a variety of herbs, spices, vegetables, and even small pieces of meat. Examples of this type of dish are Zereshk Polo, Loubia Polo and Baghali Polo, which are described below. These dishes are often served with various types of separately cooked meat, mainly chicken or lamb. 

The khoresht dishes are thick stews which are accompanied by separately cooked plain rice. They usually contain some sort of meat (often chicken or lamb) and one or more types of vegetables and herbs. The spices used in cooking the meat include turmeric, cinnamon and cumin. Examples of khoresht dishes are Ghormeh Sabzi, Fessenjoon, and Khoreshteh Bademjoon, which are described below. It is interesting to note that most khoresht dishes will become perfectly tasty and nutritionally adequate vegan dishes, when the meat is eliminated from the recipe! 

Another popular category of Persian food is ‘kookoo’. This can be best described as a pastry-less quiche. It is also very similar to the Spanish tortilla. An example of this type of dish is Kookoo Sabzi, which is described below.

  • 1. Baghali Polo (Rice With Dill And Fava/Broad Beans)

    This dish is a unique infusion of rice, fava beans, dill, butter and saffron. It is made by mixing parboiled rice (drained) with cooked fava beans and dill. The dill and fava beans can be mixed together before being added to the parboiled rice, and must be tossed with butter (or vegetable oil) and saffron. This rice mixture is then steamed in a large pan for at least 45 minutes, allowing all the flavours to come together. The bottom of the polo must be allowed to go crispy, so it is important to add sufficient oil to the large pan before putting the rice mixture into it. This crispy part of the polo is called ‘Tahdig’, which is arguably the tastiest part of any Iranian rice dish (see Tahdig below). Baghali Polo is usually served alongside slow cooked leg or shoulder of lamb. 
  • Cooking tip: the fava beans can be bought peeled to save time. They are often sold in frozen packs. The dill can be fresh, frozen or dry.
  • 2. Zereshk Polo (Barberry Rice)

    This rice (polo) is sure to bring vibrant colours to any dinner or lunch table. Zereshk or barberries are like little jewels and have a very distinct sour taste. To take the edge off the sourness, they are sauted with sugar, cooking oil and a little water before being added to the parboiled rice. In a similar way to Baghali Polo, above, the parboiled rice, mixed with the zereshk, is steamed for at least 45 minutes. Safron is added to a small portion of the rice which is served on top of the dish, making it look colourful and vibrant. Zereshk Polo is often served alongside stewed saffron chicken.
  • Cooking tip: The zereshk is usually sold in dry or dehydrated form. It must be soaked for about 20 minutes, and then washed thoroughly before use.
  • 3. Khoresht Fesenjan (Pomegranate and Walnut Stew)

    This khoresht (thick stew), is possibly one of the most well-known Iranian dishes. It has a very distinct sweet, sour and nutty flavour. Although very popular, opinion is often divided as to how sweet or sour it should be! Every family has their own level of sweet and sourness. The original dish is made with either duck or chicken, but it can also be made with meat balls. Various spices can be added to the poultry or meat, such as turmeric, cumin and cinnamon. The sauce is made from ground walnuts, onions, pomegranate molasses, sugar and lemon to taste. Some also add a grated apple. It is important to cook the sauce for a long time, till a layer of oil (from the walnuts) appears on top of it. Fesenjoon is served alongside plain rice.
  • Cooking tip: Fesenjan is a dark brown/burgundy colour, so looks better if decorated with a few pomegranate seeds and may be a couple of mint leaves to brighten it up.
  • 4. Khoresht Bademjan (Aubergine Stew)

    The main flavours in this dish are from the grilled or fried aubergines and the tomato purée.The prepared aubergines are added to the meat (usually lamb), once the meat is fully cooked. The meat is cooked with the usual mix of khoresht spices (turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, pepper, etc.), as well as tomato purée and a little saffron. This khoresht has a tangy flavour which comes from the tomato puree as well as added lemon juice. Sometimes ‘Ab goureh’ (juice of unripe grapes) is used instead of lemon juice. Khoreshteh bademjoon is usually served with a sprinkling of golden fried onions on top. 
  • Cooking tips: Care must be taken not to cook the Bademjoon in the stew for too long, otherwise it will go too soft and fall apart.
  • 5. Gormeh Sabzi (Green Herb Stew) Ghormeh Sabzi, although a fantastic khoresht in terms of nutritional value, is one that may require some getting used to! Mainly because of the strong taste of fenugreek, which is one of the constituent herbs. The other herbs in this khoresht include parsley, coriander and scallions. Ghormeh sabzi is made with lamb. Once the lamb is half cooked the herbs are added and once the meat is fully cooked the dried limes (limou omani) are added. This stew should be alled to simmer for at least two hours- the longer it cooks the better. Like all other khoresht, Gormeh sabzi is served with plane rice.
  • Cooking tips: Ghormeh sabzi tastes better when cooked for a long time, so can’t be done in a rush. It is also a dish that tastes even better when reheated the next day!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published