Iran: Dive into the flavors of the Persian Empire
Hello Kryddhyllan friends, and welcome back for more international feasting! Our last guest took our taste buds on a trip to Southeast Asia, where we got to try the savory flavors of Nasi Goreng. This past month however, has had our palates exploring an entirely new corner of the globe. Yes, thanks to our latest guests (and fellow Liljeholmen-residents woop woop!!!) Kamyar and Oranous, we’ve had the chance to sink our teeth (quite literally) into the deliciously mouth-watering flavors of Persian cuisine on several occasions, and even got to celebrate Persian New Year with our newfound friends (an absolutely magical occasion by the way, but more on that soon to come). For those that aren’t too familiar with Persian cuisine… well, get yourselves good and ready to understand what true love tastes like (spoiler: it tastes a lot like crispy saffron rice, among others of course).
We met Kamyar and Oranous in their lovely Liljeholmen home, where Oranous had set the stage for a true Persian feast. Saffron is of course, a staple element of the Persian kitchen, as well as delicious cranberry-like berries called barberries (berberis) that are popular in many Iranian stews (and can be found in many grocery stores in Kista). We got to work chopping all the necessary ingredients for the evening’s feast, all the while sipping on fragrant tea with rosewater and getting inspired by Kamyar and Oranous (easily Liljeholmen’s coolest couple). While the weather might have been typically gloomy and downcast, when we finally sat down to devour the feast in front of us, the incredible spices and flavors more than made up for the dreary March landscape’s lack of color. Read on to find out how to take Sunday dinner to the next level, as well as our guests’ surprising answer when we ask about the best meal they’ve ever had!
Zereshk-polo ba morgh (Berberis rice with chicken)
(serves 4-6 people, about 1.5 hours total, <1 hour active cooking time)
For the chicken and sauce:
Chicken leg pieces (8 drumsticks and 4 thigh pieces) (depends on number of people)
Saffron (ground), dissolved in a few tbsp of warm water
4-6 tbsp vegetable oil
2-4 tbsp of vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
Garlic, 3 cloves, finely chopped
Turmeric, a few pinches
1 tsp sugar
4-6 tbsp of tomato puree
1 tbsp of butter
Turn the oven to 200 C. Place the chicken in a baking pan.
Add salt, pepper, a few tsp of the saffron water and vegetable oil over the chicken.
Put the pan in the oven and cook for about 1 hour.
Time to get saucy!
In a pot heat the vegetable oil on medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until translucent.
Add some sugar and turmeric för colour and stir (spice up your life!)
Add in the tomato puree and stir.
Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer. (or even turn the heat off and resume cooking when chicken is ready)
Once the chicken starts to get ready, turn the heat up and in a tsbp of butter and some water and stir.
Once the chicken is ready, pour the sauce over it in the pan and put the pan back into the oven for 5-10 minutes.
Ready to serve!
Basmati rice (choose an amount that suits the number of diners)
2 carrots, grated
about 1 dl of dried berberis (a type of berry, available at specialty food stores)
about ½ dl of raisins
A few tsp of saffron in warm water
A few tbsp of butter
About 1 dl of natural yoghurt
Boil rice according to instructions. Make sure rice is properly cooked (not too al dente). Preferably use a pan with a large bottom.
Heat a few tbsp of vegetable oil in a pan on medium heat.
After a few minutes when the carrots are a bit dry add the berberis, raisins, a few teaspoons of saffron water and butter. Let simmer and set aside.
Once the rice is finished boiling, empty the water, add the rice to a strainer or other container, and set the pot back on the stove. Add a few tbsp of vegetable oil so that it doesn’t dry or stick to the bottom.
In a small bowl mix the egg, yoghurt and about two teaspoons of the saffron water. Add in about a portion of rice. Pour this mixture back into the pot and flatten so that the mixture covers the bottom of the pan.
Add in the remainder of the rice and carefully mix in a bit more vegetable oil (careful not to mix it with the bottom).
In a separate bowl add in a small portion of rice from the pot and mix with a few teaspoons of saffron water.
Serve the white rice from the pot (not the bottom part though) on a large serving platter and add the saffron rice on top (see picture).
Make sure the garnish of carrots and dried fruits is warm and add on top of the rice.
For the bottom rice, use a spatula and cut into smaller pieces and serve on a separate platter (see picture).
Chickpeas (one can)
About a handful of coriander, finely chopped
A few leaves of fresh mint, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
½ cucumber, finely diced
2 tomatoes, finely diced
A few ml of dried mint
Juice from 1 fresh lime
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and flavour with salt, pepper and olive oil. Finished!
Kryddhyllan: What’s your favorite food from home, from the Persian kitchen?
Kamyar: Hm, well first of all, if I were to declare anything our national dish it would be Ghorme sabzi, which is a vegetable stew, and it’s amazing.
Oranous: Yes, it’s with meat, and red beans and a bunch of different herbs.
Kamyar: Personally I really like grill cuisine. But Ghorme sabzi would definitely be a homecooked favorite. I would say that 90% of all Iranians would say the same.
Oranous: Exactly. If there’s Ghorme sabzi on the table, you eat it.
Kryddhyllan: One never says no.
Oranous: Nope. Not even the day after, or the day after that *laughs.
Kryddhyllan: We need to try that! So what brought you to Sweden?
Kamyar: We came to Sweden because we had to, we didn’t have much of a choice. We already had some relatives who were here. My sister had come as an exchange student, and when the war broke out we couldn’t really stay (in Iran).
Kryddhyllan: So you already had some connections.
Kamyar: Exactly. My sister was already here, so we decided to head over.
Kryddhyllan: Was it the same case for you Oranous?
Oranous: Yes, the first person to come from my family was my aunt, who was against the whole revolution. She was a political refugee, and came alone with her child, and then my grandmother followed, as well as the whole family right when the war started. It didn’t really feel feasible to stay there.
Kamyar: There were many who stayed and when the war started they took the opportunity to escape.
Oranous: And that was because one didn’t really feel safe there anymore. It wasn’t as dangerous as maybe Syria, I didn’t ever really experience the war.
Kamyar: I did. There were bombs going off and I remember my father thinking ”what am I going to do?” So as soon as we had the opportunity we left.
Oranous: Yeah, I’ve never experienced that. I remember one time when those Russian airplanes flew over Sweden and there was a lot of chatter about that. When it happened I was waiting for the bus and I thought ”what would I do if there was an attack right now?”. The first thing you think of are your children, that you have to help them to escape. And then I think of how my parents had to do just that.
Kryddhyllan: Yes, the first thing you think of is getting somewhere safe… And what would you say has become your favorite food since coming in Sweden?
Kamyar: Hmm… favorite Swedish food…
Kamyar: Yes, meatballs are a favorite.
Oranous: No, I love gravad lax. With hovmästarsås.
Kamyar: True, that is really good. I can say this- what I don’t like is blood pudding *laughs. You can imagine me as a ten-year old, having just arrived in Sweden, and I’m at a new school and get blood pudding and think to myself ”What is this?!”. I remember asking my teacher and the teacher saying ”it’s blood pudding.” and I’m thinking ”what do you mean blood pudding? Fried blood? What?!”
Kryddhyllan: Typical school cafeteria food!
Kamyar: Yes, but I can also appreciate the fact that Swedish food is very mild. It’s super nice, you never really tire of any dish. I can imagine that if one ate Indian food every day, it would quickly be a bit too much. Whereas Swedish food is mild. You don’t really tire of it.
Oranous: Yeah, husmanskost is really… well, husmanskost.
Kamyar: The flavors never really swing in different directions. It’s not exactly spicy beef salad.
Kryddhyllan: No, husmans is very straightforward.
Kamyar: It works.
Oranous: I didn’t really like husmans at the beginning.
Kryddhyllan: Did you know anything about Swedish food before coming here?
Oranous: No, I didn’t really know that much about Sweden. I was 8 when my dad and his family came here, and then it took another 10 years before I moved, so all those ten years I had the impression that Sweden was very dark and cold, but that there were tons of lamps everywhere so there was lots of light anyhow.
Kamyar: I had a Christmas image of Sweden. I really thought that I would see polar bears and vikings running about. And when I landed I thought ”it’s so clean and newly paved… it was definitely ”ordning & reda”… a typical city landscape”
Kryddhyllan: Which got you thinking ”Where are the polar bears?!”… ah, the disappointment! But now that you’ve been here awhile, what would you guys say is the best and worst thing about Swedish cuisine?
Kamyar: Hmm, the best thing is probably that you never get sick of it, you’d be able to eat husmanskost for a long time because it’s pretty varied, nutrient-rich food. The worst is probably the same thing, the flavors don’t really ever change. Sometimes you might want things to get a little spicy, a bit of variation. I also think that it can get a bit too rich.
Oranous: Yes, it’s definitely quite rich. A lot of butter and cream.
Kamyar: Exactly, usually I prefer fresher flavors, more like this dish we’re eating now. I’m not one for dowsing things in lots of oil and such.
Kryddhyllan: And if you guys had to pick one thing to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? Besides this, of course.
Kamyar: That depends on if I reply based on my emotions or logic.
Kryddhyllan: Always go with your emotions!
Kamyar: … The logical answer would be freshly baked bread with yoghurt or something.
Oranous: I would say the complete opposite, I’m not going to listen to your answers *laughs. I’m gonna go with my emotions and say grill cuisine.
Kamyar: The problem with that is, like I said, you can eat Indian food and think “oh man this is so good”. But after a week, it’s enough. But if I had to go with my emotions I would probably say Ghorme sabzi. That works.
Oranous: But after two weeks...
Kamyar: That’s exactly why I would pick something simple, a bit of wine, some good bread and cheese…
Kryddhyllan: For the rest of your life!
Oranous: I just feel as though… if I were on an island I would choose grill…
Kamyar: You wouldn’t be able to catch a single thing!
Oranous: Then you could fix some bread for me.
Kryddhyllan: That always works too! And if you had to pick a spice for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Kamyar and Oranous: Salt!
Kamyar: But is salt a spice?
Oranous: It gives flavor in any case.
Kamyar: Yes, but it’s not a spice, it’s a mineral. A spice should be organic.
Kryddhyllan: We accept salt.
Kamyar: A spice for me is something that grows, salt comes from the sea.
Oranous: I think of a spice as a flavor enhancer.
Kryddhyllan: I mean, people have even said lemon. But what is the best meal you guys have ever eaten?
Kamyar: Hmm, what have we eaten together my love? I can’t think, you’re so good at cooking so it feels like everything we eat is delicious. Wait, I know. One of the best meals we ever had was, I mean it doesn’t really matter about the food, it’s more the atmosphere and the when and how of it. So that was when we were in Thailand and had gone on a whole day excursion out at sea. We were super tired and at the end of it we got a bowl of rice and a stew that came in a plastic bag that we poured over the rice. It felt perhaps a little primitive but it was delicious. The flavors were so good and we were so hungry. We’d been out snorkeling and we finally got to eat. It was just the whole experience.
Oranous: And our wedding food was also super good; I thought you might say that. That was a great buffé.
Kamyar: Yes, that was also good-
Oranous: But no, that meal in Thailand was better.
Kamyar: I mean, if you’re super tired and hungry then even a small piece of bread can taste heavenly.
Oranous: Agreed. Mostly it seems like we eat just because we look at the clock and see “oh, now it’s lunchtime”, it’s more of a habit. When you’re really hungry then everything tastes amazing.
Kryddhyllan: Yeah, after hiking or something.
Kamyar: There’s a saying for that: “working up an appetite”
Kryddhyllan: Or hangry.
Kamyar: Yeah, we’ve all experienced hangry.
Kryddhyllan: And the last question: what is your favorite restaurant in the entire world at the moment?
Oranous: I would say Svenska Sushiköket.
Kamyar: Hmmm, if we’re thinking the whole world then I don’t know if I would pick Sushiköket. Maybe a small bar in Japan. There’s a hole-in-the wall restaurant with space for max three people, and I used to eat there after work when I lived in Japan. It was super simple but the staff was so nice. It was enough to have gone there once, after that the staff knew your name and welcomed you and knew what you wanted to eat. Going there kind of felt like visiting a second mom. That restaurant was really good. I’m more driven by my emotions and the whole experience. And the service was amazing. We don’t really have that level of service here in Sweden, here it’s more like “oh, have you booked a table? No? Oh, that sucks for you”. We’re not as welcoming, we think more logically.
Kryddhyllan: Thank you for this and for an amazing Persian feast!!