January 26, 2010

How to Brew the Perfect Persian Cup of Tea (Chai)

Persian Tea

When you walk into an Iranian home after the customary greetings, the first thing you would be offered as soon as you sit down is a well brewed hot cup of چای chai (tea).  Tea is the hot beverage of choice in Iran where it is served for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between with at least one or more refills. There's more to drinking tea than meets the eye. It's about being together with family and friends, relaxing and talking. However, when alone nothing is better than drinking tea and reading a good book.

The history of tea dates back to the late 15th century. Before that coffee was the main hot drink in our country. Coffee houses (ghahveh khaneh) were built on the side of roads, as resting places for travelers. They would be served some food and a chance to take a break for awhile before heading out to their destinations. The name "coffee house" (ghahveh khaneh) still remains to date even though they mainly serve tea.

To brew a perfect Persian style tea, you need a good quality long, loose leaf black tea.Using a porcelain or china teapot is recommended. The teapot should have several tiny holes inside where the spout is located which works as a strainer. Also, you need a kettle not only to boil the water but to serve as a stand for the teapot while the tea is brewing on the stove. Using an electrical samavar, if you happen to have one, is the best option. Samavar was brought to Iran in the 18th century from Russia.
Iranian Tea

  1. Fill the kettle with fresh cold water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil, warm up your teapot by rinsing it with some hot water from the kettle.
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of tea into the teapot. Don't use any tea holders inside the teapot. If you buy your tea in bulks from outdoor vendors, you may want to also give your tea a gentle rinse with water to get rid of the possible dirt and dust.
  3. Pour water into the pot over the loose tea leaves. Fill it nearly to the rim and put the lid back on.
  4. Place the pot on the kettle in a secure position. It should fit well on the kettle. Allow it to brew for at least 10-15 minutes on medium to low heat.
  5. Rinse inside the cups with hot water.
  6. Gently pour tea into glass cups to prevent it from making a lot of bubbles. Depending on how strong or light you might like your tea, adjust it using the boiled water in the kettle. It is a good practice when serving a large group of guests to have a tray with both light and dark tea.
 To add some extra flavor you may add the following ingredients to the teapot:

1 tablespoon of rosewater (golab)
2-3 green cardamom (hel) pod opened
2 small sticks of cinnamon (darchin)
You may serve chai with sugar cubes, dates, raisins or other sweets. However, for those serious tea drinkers, adding sugar, milk or anything else would take away from the taste.
There's also the etiquette of serving the eldest and the ladies first as you are making rounds. Make sure there are no spillage on the tray either. That's the lesson I learned early on in my life when I was only ten years old. One day, my mother handed me a tray with several full cups and told me to take it outside and offer them to the guests sitting in the garden. Before I could get any further some tea spilled due to my shaky hands. She wiped the tray, filled up the cups and told me: "Look, you should be able to dance ballet and carry a  tea tray at the same time without spilling a drop." The memory of that day is still fresh in my mind!
I like my tea dark and a little bit on the bitter side with no sugar, milk or lemon. How do you like your tea?

Samavar photo credit, Here.

January 22, 2010

Kookoo Ghandi - Sweet Saffron Potato Patties

This dish consists of  fried potatoes and eggs, blended with some sugar and saffron. Usually, I like having my meals and sweets separate and each in its own place. However, there are those sweet but occasional dishes such as the sweet rice, beet and yogurt dip and kookoo ghandi that I like to cook once in a while or for special occasions. However, in general we Iranians like our food more on the sour side, adding dried lemons or lemon juice to our soups and stews and most of the time serve pickled vegetables (torshi) with our meals.

Potato was brought to Iran and its neighboring countries in the late 19th century by a foreign diplomat. The Persian/Farsi name for potato is "Sib-Zamini" sib means apple and zamin means the ground/earth.Therefore the name sib-zamini literally means "ground apple" in our language. Potato is widely used in cooking, it adds flavor and texture to the food but in this case it is a dish in and of itself. For the regular Persian Potato Patties (kookoo Sib-Zamini), see the recipe here.

Kookoo Ghandi - Sweet Saffron Potato Patties


7 medium size potatoes or 3 cups of cooked and graded potatoes
3 eggs
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1/3 teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in a tablespoon of hot water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil

  1. Wash, scrub and rinse potatoes. Place potatoes in a large pot and pour enough water to cover them plus an extra inch of water. Cook for about 30-40 minutes until the center of the potatoes are well cooked. When an inserted knife comes out clean, drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Peel and grind potatoes, add salt, eggs, liquid saffron and sugar. Mix thoroughly. 
  3. Set aside for 20 minutes before frying.
  4. In a non-stick frying pan heat some oil. When oil is hot take a small scoop of the batter and make it into a round or oval shape, flatten and gently place in hot oil. Fry on both sides.
Serve warm with plain yogurt, sabzi khordan and bread.


January 20, 2010

Guest Post: Simmered Fried Eggplant & Tomato

This is a light and simple dish that my sister used to make when we both lived at home.
It's one thing to enjoy the home-cooked meals prepared by your mom but to experience the meals that your caring sister makes is truly something else! She would move around the kitchen like a feather in the sky and in 20 minutes your dinner would be ready.Voila! 
So, this خوراک بادمجان و گوجه Eggplant & Tomato dish is her recipe and I'm sure she wouldn't mind my sharing it with you all.

Simmered Fried Eggplant with Tomatoes

Serves 4

2 large eggplants, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch circles
4 small tomatoes, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced  
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup water
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Place the sliced eggplant in a deep bowl, add a tablespoon of salt and fill the container with cool water.
  2. Place a heavy object on top to keep the slices down for about 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Pour oil into a large frying pan, when oil is hot fry eggplant 5 minutes per side or until light brown.
  4. In a skillet pour a cup of water, bring to a gentle boil, add turmeric and garlic. Lower heat to medium-low and place the eggplant rounds in the skillet and cover with tomato slices.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover the skillet and simmer for 20 minutes. 

Serve warm with yogurt, fresh herbs and warm bread.

I'm so delighted and honored that Rebecca of Chow and Chatter has asked me to do a guest post on her wonderful blog. It has been a great opportunity to be able to share one of my favorite dishes with Rebecca and her readers. If you would like to check out my first guest post and the recipe, please read the article here.


January 16, 2010

Ash-e Jo - Barley Stew with Beans and Herbs

Persian Barley Soup

Barley is an ancient grain with an obscure origin. However, as old as barley is, it has never gotten to be a popular grain for cooking in our culture. In the land where wheat bread (taftoon, lavash, barbary and sangag) is the staple of Iranian food, barley has never had a chance to compete for first place. Barley may be nutritious, versatile, and economical to buy but the only recipes that I know of which use barley as a main ingredient are the barley soup(soup-e jo) and the barley stew (ash-e jo).

In the following Persian quatrains (do-bayti) by Baba Taher Oryan, the great Persian poet and Gnostic of the late 4th century, there's a reference to barley bread being the poor man's bread:

If I could ever get my hands on the universe
I'll ask, "What's with this?"  and "What's with that?"
You give one person a hundred folds of blessings,
To another only a loaf of barley bread soaked in blood.

آش جو  - Ash-e jo  is a thick soup made of barley, lentils, chickpeas, and beans (white beans or small red kidney beans). The vegetables that are usually used in this soup are parsley, leeks, and cilantro. I like to add  some dill and spinach as well. Some people might like to add some meat to the stew too but I think this soup tastes much better without any added meat. I use the following proportion to cook for my family of four and I usually have some left-overs that I freeze for later use. However, if you rather cook fresh on a daily basis or you are cooking for one or two people, then cut the amount of the ingredients in half.

Ash-e Jo - Barley Stew with Beans and Herbs

Serves 4-6

1 cup barley, soaked overnight  
1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
1/2 cup beans (white beans or red kidney beans) soaked overnight, I used white beans.
1/2 cup lentils
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped leeks
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped spinach, *optional
1/2 cup chopped dill *optional
Salt and pepper taste


1/2 cup liquid whey (kashk)
1 large onion, peeled, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dried mint
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Olive oil or vegetable oil


  1. In a large stew pot, place barley, chickpeas, beans, lentils and add 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender, stirring occasionally. 
  2. Add the chopped vegetables, salt, and pepper. Add more water if necessary. 
  3. Cook for another 30 minutes on low heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  4. In the meantime, in a small pan heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium high heat, saute onions until golden brown. add turmeric and stir well. Add dried mint and remove from heat. Set aside.
To serve, pour soup in a serving bowl, drizzle some kashk and top with the fried onions and mint mixture. Serve with warm bread.


January 13, 2010

The Art of Making Persian Tah-Dig

Iranian Golden Bottom of the Pot Rice Crust
Rice Tahdig

This unplanned post was brought about due to a reader's question regarding tah-dig. She asks: "Is there something I can do to get a better crust?" Great question! I've been blogging about Iranian food for months now but it didn't occur to me to write about  tah-dig, the tastiest and most sought after part of a rice dish. If only tah-dig could speak it would probably be saying "I get no respect!." I feel I've neglected a precious and very important part of the Persian cuisine.

I write it as 'tah-dig.' You may write 'tahdig'/'tahdeeg', however, it's pronounced tadeeg. "Tah" means bottom and "dig" means pot in Persian/Farsi language. ته دیگ Tahdig refers to the crunchy and crispy bottom layer of rice cooked in a pot. The formation of tahdig is a perfect symphony between the right temperature, the amount of oil, aromatic rice, length of time, right kind of pan, some experience and a little patience. If you don't achieve the best kind of tahdig the first time, don't worry. There's always the next rice dish you can experiment with. Since rice is a staple of Iranian cooking that's how we have eventually been able to conquer the art of  making tahdig. As the old adage goes: "practice makes perfect!" And if this is any consolation, let me tell you that even experienced cooks falter sometimes.

Potato Tahdig

Lavash Tahdig
Potato tahdig

There are many kinds of tahdig. The most well known is the rice tahdig. There's also potato tahdig (my favorite) which goes well with rice and chicken dishes. If you choose to layer the bottom of the pan with potato slices, cut them evenly and not too thin. Add a dash of salt after layering them, wait for a few minutes till they are a little bit fried then turn them over and pour the rice over the potatoes and follow the same steps as the rice tahdig recipe. There's also the bread tahdig. Any kind of flat bread could be used such as lavash or pita. I've had lettuce ta-dig too. It's very delicious. Then there's the very tasty macaroni tahdig. A fantastic combination of crispy noodles, fresh tomatoes, and flavorful meat sauce.

Rice and Tahdig

Serves 4-6

2 cups long grain white basmati rice
Butter or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons of hot water

  1. In a large bowl wash the rice with cool water a few times to get rid of the extra starch. Soak the rice in 8 cups of cool water, add 4 tablespoons of salt and set aside for at least an hour.
  2. In a large non-stick pot that has a tight fitting lid, bring 8 cups of water to a rapid boil on medium-high heat. 
  3. Drain the soaked rice and pour into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes or until the grains are long soft on the outside and hard in the center. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cool water a few times.
  4. Wash the rice pot and return to heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon of liquid saffron to the bottom of the pot, move the pan in a circular motion or use a wooden spoon to evenly cover the bottom with oil. 
  5. Remove from heat and with a large spatula return the parboiled rice back into the pot, building it into a pyramid shape away from the sides of the pot. 
  6. In order to release the steam make 4-5 holes in the rice with the handle of the wooden spatula. Place the pot back on the stove on medium heat, uncovered. 
  7. Wait about 7 minutes or until steam starts coming out of the pot. 
  8. Gently pour 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 cup water and a tablespoon of saffron over the rice, cover, lower the heat to medium-low and steam the rice for 45-50 minutes. 
  9. It is very customary to cover the lid with a kitchen towel or 2-3 layers of thick paper towels to prevent the moisture from going back in the pot. Nowadays, there are fabric lid coverings especially made for this purpose in Iran. I do recommend using it for making a perfect tahdig.
To serve tahdig first serve the rice on a platter. Gently mix some of the rice with the dissolved saffron and arrange it nicely on top. Remove the tahdig with a spatula and cut into small pieces. The only problem or drawback is that there is usually not enough tahdig to go around.  Being the fifth kid out of six children, I know how that feels growing up, fighting over the last piece of tahdig on the dinner table. That's called preparation for life!


January 07, 2010

Tah-Chin - Persian Upside Down Layered Saffron Rice & Chicken

Persian Upside Down Layered Rice and Chicken

This is a divine dish of  layered saffron rice and cooked chicken breasts bound together by seasoned yogurt and egg yolk mixture. We Iranians love our rice and love to layer it with different types of vegetables and meat. However, the most tasty and desired part of this dish is the bottom layer of the rice (tah-dig).  ته چین Tah-chin is the tah-dig lovers galore! Since the rice is served upside down and cuts like a cake, you can have your rice cake with a thick tah-dig and eat it too! "Tah" is a Persian/Farsi word for bottom and "chin" is the root word for "chidan" which means putting things in order, arranging and in this case, layering.

Tah-Chin - Upside Down Layered Saffron Rice & Chicken

Serves 4-6

2 1/2 cups long grain basmati rice, rinsed and soaked in water with 2 tablespoons of salt for a couple of hours. Drain.
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 eggs, yolks only
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 3-4 tablespoons of hot water
1 large onion, peeled, and thinly sliced
A pinch of turmeric 
Salt to taste
Butter or vegetable oil
Chicken stock  *optional

Garnish: barberries, slivered almonds or pistachios *optional


  1. Place the raw chicken breasts in a pot along with onion, add turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a cup of water, bring to boil on medium-high heat, reduce heat, cover and cook for an hour on medium-low heat. Set aside to cool. Cut the chicken into small pieces.
  2. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large pot on medium-high heat, add the rice and boil for about 8-10 minutes or until rice grains are soft on the ends and firm in the center. Drain and pour some cool water over it to wash away the starch and to separate the rice grains. This cool water rinse helps bring about a more fluffy rice. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl combine yogurt, yolks, salt and saffron. Mix well.
  4. Add the rice to the yogurt mixture, blend well.
  5. In a nonstick pan, add 3 tablespoons oil and a tablespoon of liquid saffron. Move the pan in a circular motion to cover the bottom uniformly. Ladle 2/3 of the rice into the pan, flatten with a wooden spoon, layer chicken pieces evenly and cover the entire surface. Pour the rest of the rice over the chicken pieces, flatten the top with the back of a large spoon while pressing down. Pour 2-3 tablespoons strained chicken stock, 2 tablespoons oil or melted butter and the remaining liquid saffron over the rice. 
  6. Place the pot on medium-high heat. When you notice a steam coming up, lower the heat, cover and cook for one hour until the crust forms and the flavors come together. Since there's yogurt and egg yolk at the bottom of the pan it can easily burn, so adjust  the heat setting of your stove accordingly.
To serve this dish let it cool for a few minutes, this way the crust comes off easier. Place a round serving platter that is larger than the diameter of the pot. Hold firmly while wearing mittens, you don't want to burn your fingers! Then gently turn the pot over. Garnish as you like.

Tah-chin goes well with plain yogurt, mast o khiar, salad Shirazi, or torshi.


January 03, 2010

Haleem: A Wheat and Meat Persian Breakfast

حلیم Haleem/Halim is a favorite traditional meal in Iran and it's usually served for breakfast. The main ingredients for haleem are wheat and meat ( beef, lamb or turkey). Haleem is a hearty and filling morning meal that is cooked slowly and requires some patience. In Iran there are also restaurants that serve haleem in the early hours of the morning or sell it as take-out. There are cooks who insist on cooking haleem the old fashioned way by cooking the wheat and stirring it all night long to have it ready for the hungry early risers. However, thanks to modern technology, which has brought about food processors and hand mixers, we can make haleem much faster.

Growing up in the south of Iran, I would witness the vast fields of wheat every spring and the harvesting of crops months later. I wish my New York born and raised children could experience and witness the process of ground cultivation by hard working farmers, and observe the blossoming wheat sprouts and the harvesting and all the work and effort that goes into it all. That has been an amazing childhood memory that has helped keep me connected with nature ever since and makes me appreciate what the earth generously offers us each season and in every corner of the world.

Haleem is a dish that is usually made with the intention of serving more than one or two people. After putting  time, effort, and some love into making this porridge you will want to have your family and friends to join you in enjoying this creamy, nutritious and satisfying meal. In Iran they send out haleem bowls to the neighbors. I remember my mother spooning some haleem into my bowl and talking about how at the time of creation the wheat grain was cut in half to symbolize the equality of human kind and the sharing of food for generations to come. Cultivation of wheat dates back thousands of years ago and has been one of the staples in Iranian cuisine. Now, thousands of years later,  I end this post with a well known poem by Saadi/Sa'di Shirazi,  Iran's very famous poet:
The children of Adam are limbs from one body
having been created of one essence.
When the hardship of time afflicts one limb
the other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no compassion for people's suffering
you cannot be called a "human being."


Serves 6-8

3 cups pelted wheat, rinsed, soaked 6-8 hours in 6 cups of water, drain before cooking
2 pounds meat (preferably lamb neck or turkey breasts)
3 cups milk
Salt to taste



  1. Place the lamb or turkey in a medium sized pan, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and enough water to cover. Cover and cook for about 1-1/2 hours on medium heat or until the meat is tender. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove and separate meat from bones if using the lamb neck and shred into small pieces.
  2. Place wheat in a heavy bottom large stew pot on medium heat, pour in 6-8 cups of water, bring to a gentle boil for a few minutes, reduce heat to low and cook for about 1-1/2 hours.
  3. If you prefer not use a food processor then stir the pot frequently. Add more water if needed. Set aside to cool. 
  4. Pour the cooked wheat in a food processor in small batches and pulse till it becomes of a creamy and smooth texture. Using a wooden spoon is recommended.
  5. Combine the meat and the wheat mixture and return back to the heavy bottom pot on medium to low heat. Add the milk one cup at a time. Simmer for an additional 30-40  minutes till it reaches the desired consistency and becomes sort of supple and stretchy. Taste and add salt if needed. If you don't like to add milk to your haleem substitute it by adding water instead. 
  6. To test the stretchiness, use a wooden spoon and gently scoop some haleem. If there is some stretch as you are lifting the scoop then that's the perfect haleem. Your chances of reaching the desired pull of the haleem is better if turkey breasts are used instead of using lamb. Personally, I don't obsess much over this!
Serve warm in individual bowls or place it in one big bowl. Top with cinnamon, sugar and drizzle with melted butter. If there are any left overs you may freeze them in small plastic containers.