Iran Journey 2015: Persian dinner in Rasht. Recipes.

The evening we returned back to Rasht from our journey to Bandar-e Anzali, a delicious surprise was waiting for us at home. Our friend Nima’s mother – aunt Soosan prepared an amazing dinner of local dishes. “The cuisine of Gilan province doesn’t contain a lot of meat. It’s mostly vegetable and fish,” says aunt Soosan as we sit around the table. There’s no way we can describe the taste of the dishes (blessed be the hands of aunt Soosan). But at least we can share the recipes here so that you can prepare them yourself.
Most of the recipes were provided by our friend Nima. All the photographs were taken by Nane. You can follow her blog – Photopatum.
Traditional Persian dinner in Rasht, Gilan province, Iran, 2015

SAFFRON RICE WITH TAHDIG

Both saffron and rice occupy an important place in traditional Persian cuisine. Almost everywhere where we had dinner at home, there was rice on the table – plain rice, rice with saffron, rice with dried fruits, rice with vegetables, rice with almonds. For someone like me who likes rice, this is just a paradise. But there’s one thing that makes it different in Iran is the tahdig (in Persian, ‘tah’ means “bottom”, ‘dīg’ means ‘pot’) – crisp rice from the bottom of the pot in which the rice is cooked. Iranians add saffron, bread, potatoes, or tomatoes to tahdig. I first tried tahdig during the Peace in the Middle East Rainbow gathering in Armenia back in 2013. My friends from Iran described it as the most delicious part of the dish/meal. There are various recipes of tahdig, and the one below, I think, is the simplest one.

Saffron rice with tahdig, traditional Iranian food, Gilan province, Rasht, Iran
What you’ll need:
3 cups of long grain Basmati rice
3 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Saffron
Water
Salt

How to prepare:
First, wash the rice in cold water, drain it, then place the rice in a pot and fill it with 5-6 cups of water, add 1-2 tablespoons of salt, stir well. Place the pot (without the lid) over high heat and bring it to boil, then lower the heat and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the pot from fire, empty the rice into a strainer, rinse it under cold running water and put it aside to drain. While the rice is cooling down, melt the butter together with saffron (dissolve 1 teaspoon of saffron powder in 3 tablespoons of hot water beforehand) in a pan. When the butter is melted, take one cup of the cooked rice and mix and stir it with the butter and saffron. Take another pot (or wash and use the same one), place it over medium-low heat, add the vegetable oil and when it’s heated, add the butter-saffron-rice mix to the pot and spread it evenly on the bottom of the pot (if you want to make it more interesting, you can add sliced tomatoes on top of the mixture at this step). Add the rest of the rice, but do not stir. Using a spatula, bring the rice into a cone shape, so that the rice doesn’t stick to the sides of the pot. You can make 3-4 holes in the rice to release the steam. Cook the rice without covering the pot until you see steam coming up. Then lower the heat, wrap the lid in a kitchen towel, cover the pot tightly and steam the rice for about 40-45 minutes. When the rice is cooked, serve in on a platter, with the tahdig on the top.

MIRZA GHASEMI
Mirza ghasemi, traditional Iranian food, Gilan province, Rasht, Iran
What you’ll need:
2 big eggplants
3 big tomatoes
7 cloves of garlic
3 eggs
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
Salt, black pepper

How to prepare:
Grill the eggplants on fire until they’re soft and cooked. Peel the eggplants and mash them into a puree. Heat up an over, add the vegetable oil and when it’s hot, add the finely chopped garlic and fry it until it gets a brownish color. Add the turmeric and the mashed eggplants, and cook it for 15 minutes, stirring it from time to time. Peel the tomatoes, chop them into small pieces and add them to the dish together with salt and black pepper, and cook it for another 15 minutes. In the end, add the eggs (beat them beforehand), stir everything and cook for additional 3-4 minutes. Mirza Gasemi can be served with bread and fresh herbs (green basil, or mint are especially good).

SHISH ANDAZ
Shishandaz, traditional Iranian cuisine, Gilan province, Rasht, Iran, 2015
What you’ll need:
5 mid-sized eggplants
300 grams of walnuts
2 onions
2 tablespoons of pomegranate juice or concentrate
Cinnamon powder
Turmeric powder
Salt, pepper

How to prepare:
Mash the walnuts, add 2-3 glasses of water, then add pomegranate juice, turmeric powder,salt and pepper to it and cook it over low heat for about an hour. Meanwhile, peel the eggplants, cut them into very small pieces and fry them until they turn gold. Separately, fry the finely chopped onions. Add the onions and the eggplants to the walnut mix, then add the cinnamon and let it cook for a while.

TORSHI TAREH
Torshi tareh, traditional Persian cuisine, Gilan province, Rasht, Iran, 2015
What you’ll need:
200 grams of fresh cilantro
250 grams of fresh spinach
2 tablespoons of dried mint
6 cloves of garlic
1 medium size onion
5 eggs
Lemon juice
8 tablespoons of vegetable oil (in the original recipe
1/4 cup of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
2/3 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 cup of water
Salt, black pepper

How to prepare:
Heat the oil over medium fire in a mid-sized pot, add the finely chopped onions and fry them until subtle brown color. Then add the chopped garlic and the turmeric powder, and after frying the mix for a minute or two, add the chopped cilantro and the spinach. Keep the fire medium and continue cooking the mix for about 15 minutes. Next comes the dried mint, water, salt and black pepper – once you add these ingredients to the pot, cover it and cook it for about 20 minutes. Don’t forget to stir the stew from time to time. After 20 minutes, add the flour (mix it with 3 tablespoons of water beforehand). Then add the butter and lemon juice (add the juice according to your taste, but keep in mind that this dish is meant to be sour) and stir it thoroughly. And finally, the last ingredient – the eggs. Crack the eggs into the pot, but don’t stir it. Instead, cover the pot and continue cooking the torshi tareh for about 3-4 minutes, and only then stir the stew a little. Keep the pot on fire until the eggs are cooked. Torshi tareh can be served with rice.

BORANI ESFENAJ
Borani esfenaj, traditional Persian cuisine, Gilan province, Rasht, Iran, 2015
What you’ll need:
2 cups of plain homemade yogurt (also called Balkan or Greek style yogurt)
1 kg of fresh spinach
1 garlic clove
Walnuts
Salt, pepper

How to prepare:
First, you’ll need to steam the spinach. Rinse the spinach, wash it, cut in pieces and place into a pot. Add a cup of water and cook it over medium-low fire. Once the water starts boiling, lower the fire, cover the pot and steam the spinach until it’s all wilted. Turn off the fire, leave the spinach to cool for 5-10 minutes, and then drain it.
Place the spinach in a bowl, add all of the yogurt along with the finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Mix it well. Borani must be served cold, so you can cool in the fridge. Walnuts are optional, but if you like it, then garnish the dip with chopped walnut halves before serving. Serve it with lavash (flat bread) or freshly baked bread.

SIRAVIJ
Siravij, traditional Persian cuisine, Gilan province, Rasht, Iran, 2015
What you’ll need:
Fresh garlic leaves
Onion
Eggs
Vegetable oil

How to prepare:
Fry the onions over medium-low heat until gold color. Add the rinsed and washed garlic leaves and cover the pan. Cook it over low fire until the leaves are wilted and cooked. Crash 2-3 eggs, add to the mix, stir it well, and let it cook for 10-15 minutes more.

MAST O LABOO
Mast o laboo,, traditional Iranian food, Gilan province, Rasht, Iran
What you’ll need:
-2 mid-sized beetroot
-3 cups of plain yogurt

How to prepare:
This one’s a dessert. Yes, we were surprised, too, but beetroot makes a great dessert. Boiled beets are sold on the streets all around Iran. And they’re delicious. Boil the beetroot in a bot until they’re soft, then peel them and put aside to cool. Depending on your preferences, chop them into cube pieces, or shave the beets, add the yogurt, stir well and place in a refrigerator for an hour or two. It must be served cold. As our friend Nima said, “In some regions people add extra ingredients like sugar, salt or other spices, but we do it raw.”
Raw olive salad, traditional Persian cuisine, Gilan province, Iran, 2015
Apart from the dishes mentioned above, there were also different types of lemons, fresh mint and green basil, bread, and of course, raw olive salads on the table. Gilan province is one of the main areas of olive cultivation in Iran, and people here came up with various olive salad recipes – served with pomegranate, with walnuts, with onions, etc. Thinking of food, I think Gilan was our most favorite province in Iran, and we’ll definitely visit the area again to explore the local cuisine more.

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