Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Visit to Iran, a Taste of Persia

My heart is breaking for the people of Iran. A year ago in April 2008, I was part of a delegation of citizen diplomats to Iran sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Quaker group that has sent citizen diplomats to troubled places in the world for years. We spent time in Tehran, Shiraz and Persepolis, Isfahan, and Qom. Our “official” agenda of meeting various dignitaries was thwarted at nearly every step. But our “unofficial” agenda which was to meet people where ever we could, mostly on the street, and show up as supporters of peace and reconciliation, was fully realized. The Iranians we met were hospitable, informed, curious, and welcoming, and able to separate the policies of our then-Bush government from the folks like us, working for understanding between our countries.

The food situation for citizen diplomats in Iran was pretty repetitive. Kebabs and more kebabs. Some better than others. I have been cooking Persian food since the late 60s when I found In My Persian Kitchen and fell in love with combinations of sweet and savory. I was so excited to taste the real thing. What we ate was mostly tourist food which is, by definition, pretty dull. But the exceptions were truly wonderful.

We had a fabulous lunch in Tehran at the Waterfall Restaurant: olives with mint, boiled fava beans with salt, Tomatoes and Eggs, Eggplant with Mint Paste, a large meatball, lamb chops on a spear, various kebabs of lamb, ground beef and chicken, broiled tomatoes, rice with saffron rice on top, and wonderful fresh bread.

And a great lunch in Isfahan at the Bastani Traditional Restaurant: trout, various meat stews featuring quinces, plums, green beans, yellow split peas, okra, eggplants and tomatoes, or herbs along with rice and bread. Fesenjan, the most famous Persian combination of chicken and pomegranate juice, showed up regularly.

To introduce you to Persian food, I’m going to start with a Persian Meat Loaf I’ve been making for years, paired with two dishes which are decidedly not Persian but go with it nicely in terms of flavors and colors: Roasted Potatoes and a Cherry Tomato Mozzarella Salad. You can also try it with recipes from previous blogs: Cucumbers and Yogurt (Morocco), Braised Carrots (South Africa) or Yellow Rice (South Africa). More than anything I want to nourish your understanding of Iran and its rich culture and cuisine by offering you a taste of it. It is amazing food. More next week, including Fesenjan.


Anonymous said...

Your writing and photos are beautiful and inspirational. You capture so much in your prose, and I hear your voice so clearly. Your blog is a gift I look forward to opening.

evelyn said...

This is a lovely blog Katharine! Nice reconnecting with you this way. Thanks for sharing these great recipes. Love, Evelyn