Samin Nosrat’s 10 Essential Persian Recipes
“You may attend school in America,” my mom regularly told me and my brothers when we were kids in our native San Diego, in the 1980s, “but when you come home, you’re in Iran.” Accordingly, we spoke Farsi, and attended Persian school on Saturdays to learn to read and write the language; we listened to classical Persian setar music; and celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year.But certainly, the most powerful form of cultural immersion we experienced was culinary. My mom, who left Iran in 1976, steeped us in the smells, tastes and traditions of Persian cuisine. She spent hours upon hours each week traversing not just San Diego but also Orange County and Los Angeles, over 100 miles away, in search of the flavors that reminded her of Iran. She taught us that regardless of what was going on in the news, home is home, and nothing can transport you there like taste.In Irvine, she found a bakery making fresh sangak, a giant dimpled flatbread named for the pebbles that line the oven floor on which the slabs of dough are baked. She’d line us all up there on weekend mornings so that each of us could order the three-per-person maximum — 12 pieces being enough to justify the hour-and-a-half-long drive for bread. Systematically, she bought and tasted every brand of plain yogurt available at the grocery store, in search of the thickest, sourest one. She regularly packed us into our blue station wagon and drove across town to the international grocer, where she could have her choice of seven types of feta and buy fresh herbs by the pound rather than by the bunch.
The cornerstone of every Persian meal is rice, or polo. Each day, my mom would unzip a five-kilogram burlap sack of rice — always basmati — and portion out a cup per person into a large bowl, rinsing and soaking it for hours before giving it a brief boil. Then she’d begin the sorcery required to make tahdig, the crispy rice crust by which every Persian cook’s worth is measured. Sometimes, she’d line the pot with lavash for a bread tahdig. On other occasions, when a special trip for bread wasn’t possible, she’d use a readily available flour tortilla, which yielded similarly glorious results. Either way, she’d divide and serve the rice and tahdig, encouraging us kids to delay gratification and resist gobbling down that gloriously crunchy crust first. I never could.Persian cuisine is, above all, about balance — of tastes and flavors, textures and temperatures. In every meal, even on every plate, you’ll find both sweet and sour, soft and crunchy, cooked and raw, hot and cold. In the winter, we ate khoresh-e fesenjoon, a hearty, sweet-and-sour pomegranate and walnut stew to warm us from within. In the summer, we’d peel eggplant for khoresh-e bademjoon, a bright tomato and eggplant stew made distinctly tart with lemon juice and ghooreh, or unripe grapes.
ImageCreditCon for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.