Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Introducing Tomato Prints and Recipes

I’ve just finished creating a new blog called Tomato Prints and Recipes. The blog itself will explain how it came to be, both the blog itself and its precursor, seven very colorful handcrafted mini-cookbooks with the same title, Tomato Prints and Recipes. There was a limited edition of these cookbooks, seven to be exact. I’m hoping that the blog will allow more folks to enjoy both the art and the delicious recipes.

So dive right in while tomatoes are still in season. Pick some up from your backyard, your neighbor’s backyard, your Farmers’ Market, or where ever you find good fresh luscious tomatoes. And then cook something from Tomato Prints and Recipes. I’d love to know what you think of it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lamb Khoresht with Split Peas and Fried Potatoes

Every time we ate this wonderful dish in Iran, I puzzled over the fried potatoes on top. Why would you add these when the dish was most often served with rice? I even considered making them “optional.” What I discovered when I made the dish for myself was how much the potatoes softened and rounded out the rather intense flavor of the dried limes, adding a nice mouth feel as well. Even with the hassle of frying them, they play a very important role in the dish and I would highly recommend including them.

½ cup yellow split peas, soaked in water for 30 minutes or overnight
1 medium onion, chopped
4 dried limes, washed, dried, and pierced with the fork
1 pound lamb, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons powdered dried lemon or lime
Salt and pepper to taste
2½ cups boiling water or stock [I prefer chicken stock]
Note: I heated my stock in the microwave.
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice, optional
Note: It may not be needed if you use the dried lemon or lime powder.
2 tablespoon liquid saffron, see directions below

2 medium potatoes
vegetable oil
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoon chopped parsley or cilantro

1. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy sauté pan or a cast iron Dutch oven. Fry the onion until golden.
2. Add the lamb, turmeric, lime or lemon powder, whole dried limes, salt and pepper. Stir well and fry until the meat is golden brown all over.
3. Add the boiling water or stock and reduce the heat. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer on low heat until the meat is cooked. It should be tender enough to cut with a fork. [The recipe calls for 45 minutes to 1 hour but mine took a much shorter period of time—like 15-20 minutes. It all depends on the tenderness of your meat.]
4. Drain the split peas and add to the pan. Cover and cook on low heat for about 20-30 minutes or until the split peas are cooked. They should be soft while still retaining their shape. Add small amounts of boiling water or stock if the mixture looks too dry.
5. Add the tomato paste, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of the liquid saffron. Cook for a further 10 minutes on a low heat. You can make the khoresht ahead to this point and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it. Before serving, reheat gently and remove the inflated dried limes as best you can.

6. For the garnish: While the khoresht is heating, cut the potatoes into ½-inch x 2-inch pieces like small French fries. Place them in a bowl of cold water unless you plan to cook them right away.
7. Heat about ½-inch oil in a heavy cast iron frying pan until hot but not smoking. Drain and dry your potatoes. Slide them into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel. If you need to keep them for a short period of time, remove from the paper towel, transfer to a plate and keep warm in a 250º F. oven.
8. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon liquid saffron to the toasted almonds and stir to combine.

9. Serve the khoresht in a shallow bowl or a bram. Garnish with the fried potatoes and the nuts. Sprinkle with the parsley or cilantro. Best served with rice to soak up the delicious sauce. Cucumbers with Yogurt and Mint is also very good with it.

To make liquid saffron: In a small cup, mix ¼ teaspoon ground saffron with 4 tablespoons boiling water. Stir, cover the cup, and let sit for 3-4 minutes. It is also possible to make half a recipe.

You can find both the dried limes and the lime/lemon powder at Middle Eastern or Persian food stores. Zand’s is located in Albany, CA on Solano Avenue, blocks from my house. I’m so lucky.

Serves 4
Adapted from Jila Dana-Haeri’s New Persian Cooking: A Fresh Approach to the Classic Cuisine of Iran

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Eggplant with Traditional Whey (Kashk-e Bademjan)

3 medium eggplants
2 egg whites, beaten until foamy
¼ cup oil or more as needed
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons dried mint leaves
¼ cup water
2½ teaspoons salt or to taste
¼ teaspoon pepper

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or minced
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon dried mint leaves, crumbled
½ cup liquid whey (kashk), mixed with ¼ cup water
Note: Available in Persian or Middle Eastern delicatessens. See photo below.
¼ cup chopped walnuts, optional
¼ teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

1. Peel the eggplants and cut each into four lengthwise slices. Place in a large bowl of water with 2 tablespoons salt and let them soak for 20 minutes. Soaking is supposed to remove the bitterness. Remove and pat them dry with clean dish towels.
2. Brush one side of the eggplants with the foamy egg whites. The egg whites keep the eggplant from absorbing too much oil. Fry the foamy side down in 2 tablespoons of oil until the eggplant is brown. Paint the top side with egg whites before flipping it over to brown the other side. Use medium heat. You will probably need to do this in multiple batches; add more oil as needed.
3. Brown the onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons oil. Add the turmeric and mint flakes and set aside. Add salt to taste.
4. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
5. Alternate layers of the eggplant with layers of the onion and garlic mixture in a rectangular ovenproof dish. Sprinkle each layer of eggplant with salt and pepper. You may have two layers of each. Pour ¼ cup water over it all and bake it covered in the oven for 20 minutes or until tender. You can make it ahead up to this point; refrigerate until needed.
6. For the garnish: Just before serving, lightly brown the garlic in oil. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the mint, whey, walnuts and saffron water. Stir until combined. Pour over the eggplant and bake, covered, for 15 minutes at 300ºF or until heated all the way through.
Note: If you’ve made the dish ahead, return the dish to room temperature, heat gently at 325ºF. for 30 minutes and then add the garnish as above.
7. Serve as part of a Persian dinner with Persian flatbread.

Serves 4-6
Adapted from Najmieh Batmanglij’s New Food of Life

 Liquid whey or Kashk

Fresh Herb Stew (Khoresh-e Qormeh Sabzi)

2 large onions, peels and thinly sliced
2 pounds lamb shanks or 1½ pounds deboned leg of lamb, cut in 2-inch pieces
½ cup vegetable oil
1½ teaspoons salt or to taste
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric
4 cups water or light stock (chicken or vegetable)
½ cup dried kidney beans or other red beans, soaked in water overnight
4 whole dried Persian limes, pierced with a knife. See photo below.
4 cups finely chopped parsley, about 4 bunches, thick stems removed
1 cup finely chopped chives or scallions, about 1 bunch scallions
1 cup finely chopped cilantro, about 1 bunch, thick stems removed
1 cup chopped fenugreek leaves or ¼ cup dried
Note: Available from purveyors of Indian foodstuffs under the name of Kasoori Methi. See photo below.
2 tablespoons dried Persian lime powder
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (my preference), 1-2 limes

1. Using a food processor, coarsely chop the parsley, scallions, and cilantro. Of course you can do it by hand if you prefer.
2. In a Dutch oven or a large pot, brown the onions with the lamb in 3 tablespoons oil. Add salt, pepper, and turmeric. Pour in the water or stock. Drain the soaked beans. Add them and the whole dried Persian limes. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.

3. In a frying pan, sauté the mountain of chopped parsley, chives or scallions, cilantro, and fenugreek in the remaining oil over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until they grow limp and wilted.
4. Add the sautéed herbs and the lime powder or juice to the pot. Cover and simmer for another 30-45 minutes or until the meat is tender and the beans are nicely soft but not mushy.
5. Taste the stew for seasonings and adjust as needed. Place in a warm oven until you’re ready to serve.
6. Serve with plain rice or with Persian flat bread. It is nice have some Cucumbers with Yogurt and Mint with some added garlic.

Serves 6
Adapted from Najmieh Batmanglif’s New Food of Life

Persian dried limes

Fenugreek leaves

Fresh Herb Kuku

5 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons Persian allspice (advieh)
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon cardamom, ½ teaspoon cumin and dried rose petals, if you can find some
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup finely chopped fresh garlic chives or scallions, about 1 bunch
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, about one bunch, thick stems removed
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, about 1 bunch, thick stems removed
1 cup chopped fresh dill, about 1 bunch, thick stems removed
Note: You can use a food processor to chop the herbs.
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves, optional
½ cup oil, butter or clarified butter

2 tablespoons dried barberries or dried currents for garnish, optional
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon oil
yogurt for drizzling, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-inch ovenproof baking dish or a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.
2. Break eggs into a large bowl. Add the baking powder, Persian allspice mixture, salt, and pepper. Beat with a fork. Add the garlic, chopped herbs, fenugreek if desired, and flour. Mix thoroughly. Adjust seasonings to your taste.
3. Pour ¼ cup oil or butter into the prepared baking dish and place in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Pour in the egg mixture and bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and gently pour the remaining oil or butter over the kuku. Put the dish back in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes longer, until golden brown.
4. Sauté the barberries or currents in oil with 1 teaspoon sugar. Reserve for garnish.
5. Serve kuku in the baking dish or unmold it by loosening the edge with a knife and inverting it onto a serving platter. Cut the kuku into small pieces, drizzle with yogurt if you wish, and sprinkle with the reserved barberries or currents. Serve hot or cold with lavash bread and yogurt.

The photo above shows my kuku with a delicious patty pan squash salad.

Variation: Kuku can also be cooked on top of the stove. Heat the oil or butter in a non-stick skillet, pour in the egg mixture, then cook, covered, over low heat until it has set, about 25-30 minutes. Cook the second side by cutting into wedges and turning them over one by one, adding more oil or butter if needed. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes longer or until golden brown.

Makes 6 servings
Adapted from Najmieh Batmanglif's New Food of Life and A Taste of Persia (from Epicurious on line)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Last of the Iran Posts

So here I am at the end of this series of blog postings about my trip to Iran, April 23 – May 14, 2011. I posted the first one on the shepherds on June 14, made 51 blog entries in June and 9 in July for a total of 60.

I think each post kept getting longer and longer. The more I studied where I had been and what I had seen, the more words just poured out of me. I would be delighted if you take in every word. But skimming through the entries or just looking at the photos will be enough to acquaint you with this complex and fascinating country which I have found intriguing ever since I heard my mother play In a Persian Market on our family’s piano so many years ago.

Geographic Expeditions is doing the world a great favor in offering these tours to Iran. As more people have the chance to see Iran first hand, to talk with the people, to see the ancient culture, to get a feel for the complicated and fraught politics of the country, these travelers, like me, will be enlarged by the experience. And if these people return home to share their experiences, gradually we will all become better informed, with more understanding of the Persian culture and with greater compassion for the Iranian people. At least that is my hope. I owe Geo Ex a great debt of gratitude for making this trip available to me and to my traveling companions. I am so fortunate to have made this trip. It was inspiring. And it is with great pleasure that I now share it with you.

I’ve done my previous travel blogs on this site (London/Syria and Bali), on a day-by-day basis, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3…. While I was able to email from Iran, the computer systems in our hotels were not especially reliable, and the government blocks the blogosphere. So I had no choice but to wait until I was home to put something together.

With my extensive travel journal done, I knew I didn’t want to duplicate the journal format on this blog. Instead, I decided to group together similar topics and experiences. When I started out, I didn’t know how many topics I might cover or even what they might be. But after a few chatty introductory posts back in mid-June, I found my stride and started to identify the topics that interested me the most. They turned out to be Food, Poets, Art and Artisans, Domestic and Functional Architecture, Monumental Architecture, Religious Architecture, and finally Ancient Ruins. I now look back and am stunned. I had a lot to say and it look longer to write (four weeks) than it did to take the trip (three weeks).

I prepared for both of my trips to Iran by reading a lot of books. But in these last four weeks, I have learned so much more, or have solidified what I already knew, in a deep and profound way. Gathering all the ruins together, for example, and grouping them by dynasties, I can really see what Sassanian bas-reliefs look like from one site to the next; I can see the Achaemenian fixation with being carried by vassal tribes; I can see the huge influence that Zoroastrianism had on both of these dynasties.

I have been able to put together some pieces of a gigantic puzzle called Iran by looking closely at one topic after another: doing research, studying sources, and using my own experience and photos to tell the stories. A history, art history, culinary, sociology, anthropology, and archeology class all rolled into one. What a thrill it has been to learn in this way. I did it for myself and now I get to pass it along to you.

So finally here are a few photos I wasn’t able to include in any of the topics. They are the loose ends. I really don’t want to tie Iran up into a nice neat bundle. Doing so would render this remarkable culture and country a grave disservice, for it is neither tidy nor neat. It is complicated, with loose ends of many sorts. I want to leave it that way, for loose ends open up the possibility of change.

Are these the photos we see when the news media speak of Iran? I think not.

We saw these alms boxes all over Iran and saw many people giving money. The best spot, I thought, was right after the collection booth on a toll way.
Tissue boxes were always on restaurant tables, usually in place of paper napkins. They were particularly handy for those of us who picked up colds along the way.
These metal hand and faces and hands were tacked to the door of a mosque by people coming to pray. The mosque is now the Calligraphy Museum in Tabriz.
When someone in the neighborhood dies, the family positions a glittery mirrored box with the photo of the person on a main street with information about the funeral.

These shy young Kurdish girls were visiting the gardens of Taq-e Bostan with the Sassanian Dynasty bas-reliefs. I loved their outfits.
Here I am in front of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on Imam Square in Esfahan. My favorite mosque in my favorite city on a gorgeous afternoon. I wish you had been with me.

On Reading This Blog: Miscellaneous Odds and Ends

A choice, a reminder and a note:
You have a choice: you can read the blog from the bottom up or the top down. I’m going to give you links to the main sections and from these main sections you can move down by clicking on “Older Posts”. You can start reading with the Eighth Set or with the First Set or whatever suits your fancy. Starting with the First Set will give you a better sense of the overall trip as well as the creative arch of this blog.

Introduction to the First Set of Snippets:Welcome, Exercise, and Shepherds
Introduction to the Second Set of Snippets:Persian Music, Markets, and Caravanserai
Introduction to the Third Set of Snippets: Traveling in Iran
Introduction to the Fourth Set of Snippets: Food
Introduction to the Fifth Set of Snippets: Ferdowsi and Hafez
Introduction to the Sixth Set of Snippets:Artisans and Arts in a Persian Market

Introduction to the Seventh Set of Snippets: Architecture in Iran
Introduction to the Eighth Set of Snippets: Ancient Ruins, Inscriptions, and Bas-reliefs in Iran

When I talk about Reza, I mean Reza, our incredible Iranian guide. I told you about him early on but if you are reading this blog from the top down, you won’t learn about him until you are close to the end. Geo Ex’s Carolyn McIntyre was our tireless and endlessly good-humored tour leader.

Writing Persian words in English is a nightmare. There are at least two or three ways of spelling everything when you are translating from Farsi, written in Arabic, into English. I have tried really hard to spell everything  consistently. But if you are looking at other sources, like guidebooks and references on the web, you will find a huge number of imaginative spellings. Almost always, some part of the name is similar. When possible, I used the spelling of my beloved Lonely Planet Iran Guidebook which accompanied me on both trips and which I have consulted so many times.

And here’s a little info on my camera and computer, just in case you’re interested in the technology:
All the photographs on the blog, save 6 or 7, I took with my red Canon Power Shot SD780 elph. In spite of my ignorance of many of the camera's features, I really do like the photos I’ve taken. Any adjustments in terms of cropping, saturation, exposure, detail or whatever, I’ve done with my iPhoto program on my MacBookPro computer. I want to thank Carolyn McIntyre for two photos she took of me, one with the shepherd and one at the tomb of Hafez. I needed to use a few photos from the web for places we didn’t visit, for one place I missed, and a few more.

If you want to see any of the photos in a larger size, just click on the photo. The back arrow will return you to the page you were reading.

And lastly a plea:
I would really appreciate knowing if you spot something incorrect or misleading in this blog. I have tried assiduously to do my homework and to tell stories as fairly and accurately as I could. But I make mistakes and my sources make mistakes.
I would love to know your very favorite posting or photo or whatever it is you take away from reading about Iran.
And please feel free to ask me any questions that have bubbled up for you.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Introduction to the Eighth Set of Snippets: Ancient Ruins, Inscriptions and Bas-reliefs in Iran

Countries around the world take very different stances in regard to their "ruins." Some set out to reconstruct or rebuild as much as possible. Some want to preserve the site as a "ruin" and pretty much leave it be. I think Iran's stance is somewhere in the middle. Reconstruct what you can and then try to preserve all the stuff that is on the site without disturbing it. The problem arises when some work is done, complete with scaffolding and good intentions, and the money runs out. The scaffolding remains, propping up the partially reconstructed building or obscuring the ancient bas-relief. You'll see examples of this in the sites below.

There are many ancient ruins in Iran, many of them way off the tourists' trail. Fortunately, we were able to see the most accessible and famous sites. Visiting Persepolis is, to my mind, a "must-do" in one's life time. We also visited two excellent archeological museums, the National Museum of Iran (no photos allowed) in Tehran and the Azarbaijan Museum in Tabriz, both of which had artifacts from excavations dating back to the 3rd millennium BCE, such as the one shown above. In this piece, you can see a battle between two lions and a bull. The bull is losing. Watch for the same iconography in Persepolis on the Apadana Palace Stairs.

In the post below, I have started with the oldest ruin we saw whose construction started in 550 BCE  under the Achaemenian rulers and move on through to the most recent ruin which was originally built in the 5th century by the Sassanians.

Just a quick note for clarity: In the following section on ruins, Bisotun has two entries, one from the Achaemenian period and the other from the Selucid. Naqsh-e Rostam has two entries as well; it has both Achaemenian and Sassanian treasures.

Ancient Ruins, Inscriptions and Bas-reliefs in Iran

Palace and Tomb of Cyrus the Great (reign 550-529 BCE), started construction 550 BCE, Pasargadae
As a ruin, there is not much to see at Pasargadae, the city which the Achaemenian Cyrus the Great began around 550 BCE when he first assumed power. There are palaces with only a few columns standing, a bas-relief or two, and the outlines of some channels and pools which brought life to the gardens surrounding the palace.

To the left is a corner pillar that bears an inscription in three languages saying: “I am Cyrus, the Achaemenian king.” Interesting to consider what made him want to leave this note for posterity.
Reza, our Iranian guide, took these very few elements and conjured up for us what the place looked like in its heyday. Perhaps we were sitting on a portico surrounding the palace, looking out at the luxurious gardens filled with fruit trees, flowers, and birds. The water would be trickling past, with little pools where it paused so that we might catch a reflection of the flowers at its side. The flowers and fruit trees produced wonderful smells and occasionally we could reach over toward a bowl of fruit for an orange. You get the idea.

When Darius I assumed the throne in 522 BCE, Pasargadae was relegated to a secondary position as Darius started building first Susa, then Persepolis.

Cyrus’s tomb is located a short ways away from Pasargadae. The tomb was ransacked ages ago and the building which covered it was destroyed; nothing is left of the treasure it once held. But there is still something quite solemn and respectful about the place.

Darius I’s rock face bas-relief and inscription, Achaemenian Dynasty, begun in 520 BCE, Bisotun
On our visit, we found ourselves in the midst of school children, mostly boys, scampering all over the access route to the viewing vantage point. Unfortunately there was not much to view, as scaffolding nearly obscures the whole face. Fortunately there is a poster in the gift shop with a grand picture of the site.

The immense rock face details the victories of Darius the Great (Darius I), to commemorate his victory over Magus Gaumata and the consolidation of his power. Darius is standing over the body of Gaumata and facing him are the eight rulers of provinces that threatened his reign. Behind him are his allies. Above is the winged figure of Ahura Mazda whom he thanks for assistance in his victory. In these bas-reliefs, as in others of this era, the bigger the size of the person, the more important he was. There are cuneiform inscriptions of Darius’ greatness in three languages Elamite, Akkadian or Neo-Babylonian, and Old Persian. Henry Rawlinson, a British army officer, in 1835 made casts of the texts by dangling himself off the cliffs. His casts facilitated scholars in deciphering the Old Persian cuneiform scripts.

City of Persepolis with Tombs, started in 518 BCE by Darius I (522-486 BCE ), near Shiraz and Naqsh-e Rostam
Persepolis was packed with Iranian tourists who, like us, wanted to explore this amazing site from one end to the other. We had to wait our turn to see the procession of vassal nations, just as the subjects had to await their turn to give their offerings to the Achaemenian rulers. The consequence of the crowds was that I couldn’t get many good photos and so I’ve had to draw on a few from my 2008 trip when we also had access to some areas that were closed to us this time. The photo above is the Gate of All Nations, built by Xerxes I, guarded by bull-like figures.

Darius the Great (or Darius I) started to build this complex in about 518 BCE and work continued on it for nearly 150 years. It is thought to have been used for the Zoroastrian New Year’s celebrations when the various nations in the empire came to pay their respects and offer tributes. Persepolis lasted until Alexander the Great entered the city in 330 BCE, carried off the royal treasury, and possibly set it afire. It is not clear whether it was accidental or deliberate. But the glorious Persepolis was destroyed and subsequently abandoned.

For a ruin, it is in relatively good shape because it was covered by dust and sand until excavations in the 1930s uncovered it.

Disclaimer: I can say with absolute certainty that all of these photos were taken at Persepolis. But I must admit that I am not so confident about their exact location on the site. I have done my best to place them correctly; but if you spot any egregious errors, I would be so pleased if you would let me know.

The Apadana Palace from a distance.
This may be from the Apadana. In this room there were six rows of six columns; each one was topped by griffons, bulls or lions set back to back.

To the left is an example of a griffon.

Lion and bull motif on the Apadana Palace Stairs. According to my sources, the lion represents the sun and the bull represents either the moon or the earth. Because this complex was used for the Nowruz or New Year's celebrations which occur on the first day of spring or the vernal equinox, this scene may represent the light winning out over the darkness or it may show that the powers of the sun and the earth or moon are always in equilibrium. Remember a similar scene from the Museum of Azarbaijan, shown in the post above?

Northern panels of Apadana Palace Stairs: Persians in long robes and Medes in short ones.

These are the Persian Palace Guards on the Apadana Palace Stairs.

The following three photos are from the Palace of Darius or Tachara.

Door jams of the north and south doors of the tripylon show King Darius followed by two servants holding a fan and a parasol.

Bas-relief in the Palace of 100 Columns, also known as the Throne Room. To the left is the doorway of the Throne Room. This is the largest of the palaces where delegates from subject nations came to restate their loyalty and to pay tribute to the Achaemenian rulers in the New Year.
Jim and I climbed up to the tombs of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III with Zoroastrian carvings. Both are shaped like the ones at Naqsh-e Rostam and have bas-reliefs of the king standing before a fire altar, being held up on a platform by 28 vassal nations with the winged symbol of Ahura Mazda overhead.

Ganjnameh, Achaemenian cuneiform inscription, during Xerxes I's reign, Hamadan
Originally thought to be a guide to finding mythical Median treasures, this first of two inscriptions in cuneiform turns out to be a thank you from the Achaemenian ruler Xerxes I (486-465 BCE) to the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda for making him such a good king. It is written in Old Persian, Neo-Elamite and Neo-Babylonian. The second inscription says pretty much the same thing about Darius I (522-486 BCE), Xerxes’ father. After checking out the inscriptions, we stopped for tea at a small tea house and I had my first hookah experience of the trip.

Naqsh-e Rostam, Achaemenian tombs, close to Persepolis
Believed to be the tombs of Achaemenian kings Darius I (died 486 BCE), Xerxes I (died 465 BCE), Artaxerxes I (died 424 BCE), and Darius II (died 405 BCE). The openings led to funerary chambers where the bones were stored after the vultures had picked them clean, as was the Zoroastrian custom. Each tomb is in a cross-shape. This shape has engendered much speculation. What is clear from Reza’s comments about Achaemenian architecture is that they had a huge reverence for balance and symmetry and this shape has both of those elements.

Over  the tombs is a bas-relief showing the Achaemenian ruler making an offering to a fire altar while standing on a platform being carried by citizens of his vassel nations. Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god, is flying overhead. There is an almost identical bas-relief at the tombs in Persepolis, as noted above.
See below for some comments about the Sassanian bas-reliefs below the tombs.

Hercules in high relief, Seleucid dynasty, 148 BCE, Bisotun
The Greek inscription says that this figure was carved for Hyakin in 148 BCE in honor of a local governor. He is identified as Hercules because the club and lion skin on which he is laying is associated with him. Apparently his head was replaced at some point.You can see the place where it was reattached.

Naqsh-e Rostam, Sassanian Dynasty, 224-650, bas-reliefs, located under the Achaemenian tombs, close to Persepolis
These are amazing bas-reliefs of imperial conquests and royal ceremonies from the Sassanian Dynasty. The one shown above is of the investiture of Ardeshir I (224-241), on the left, the founder of the dynasty. Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god, on the right, is handing him the beribboned diadem, a clear sign that Ardeshir's right to the throne came from god. Ahura Mazda is also holding the sacred barsom of twigs which is fuel for the sacred fire. Under the hoofs of their horses are their enemies. Carved around 240, it also has inscriptions in Middle Persian and Greek identifying the four figures, two of which are behind Ardeshir..

This bas-relief shows Shapur I (241-272) on horseback victorious over the Roman Emperors Philip the Arab, kneeling, and Valerian who was captured in the battle of Edessa in 260.

Taq-e Bostan or The Arch of the Garden, Sassanian Dynasty, 224-650, Kermanshah
This archeological site is set in a beautiful shaded garden with a small pond. The bas-reliefs in grottoes are a pleasure to explore. Above you can see a royal investiture with the king, Khusro II, standing between Ahura Mazda and Anahita. Ahura Mazda, on the right, is handing the king the royal diadem and symbol of power and the goddess Anahita, on the left, is handing him a second ring and pouring out water. Anahita is the composite Iranian deity of domestic animals, fertility, and water. Love and war were added to her list of responsibilities when the Achaemenian king Xerxes I forbade the worship of Ishtar, a Babylonian deity of love and war.

A winged figure is holding the royal diadem.
Here is a knight on horseback in full armour with chain mail with jousting lance raised. Perhaps Khusro II and his horse Shabdiz.

These figures are Sassanian kings, Shapur II and Shapur III. Sassanian rulers wore distinctive headgear which we saw on coins bearing their names and profiles. Scholars have been able to identify the figures on these bas-reliefs and others on the basis of the head gear shown on the coins. Even with the coins below, I can't tell these two apart. But the coins are very cool.

Coin of Shapur II.
Coin of Shapur III.

Takht-e Soleiman, Zoroastrian Temple, 5th century Sassanian Dynasty (224-650), then summer palace of Ilkhanid Dynasty in 13th century, on the way from Zanjan to Tabriz
Located on the edge of a small lake with a high mineral content, the Zoroastrian temple was dedicated to Adur Gushnasp, the fire of the king and warriors, which is one of the three most important fires in Zoroastrianism. It was also used as a site for royal coronation ceremonies. It was built in the late 5th century on top of Parthian buildings with a stone wall and round towers encircling the complex. In the late 13th century it became the summer capital of the Mongol Abaqa (1265-1282) of the Ilkhanid Dynasty, who was interested in reviving the pre-Islamic culture of Iran.

As you can tell from the gray skies above, rain was threatening for most of the morning and mid-way through our exploration started in earnest. It was also very chilly. Consequently I didn't take nearly enough photos, except for this wonderful reconstructed barrel vault to the left and various amazing openings, arches and stonework below. And with teeth chattering, I had a hard time following Reza's explanations, clear and succinct as they were.

As the rain increased, we hurried from place to place and ended up having our “picnic” inside a small store on the edge of the parking lot which was dry but not all that toasty. I would have given anything for a cup of hot tea.