It wasn't until I started researching and learning to cook Persian food for my cookbook that I finally mastered making Polo! Even though I was a professional chef, Persian food especially making berenj and polo were still very daunting.
In the video below, I show how to make simple Persian rice. Not to those wonderful masterful Iranian cooks who make sumptuous dishes with their eyes closed, but for those who like myself, who were far from their mothers and grandmothers and struggled with Persian food. It was that 'longing' which prompted me to write 'Pomegranates & Roses: my Persian family recipes'. Recipes, family stories and culinary history all interwined in one book, allowing me to cook for my own family as well as learn about our amazingly rich heritage!
Here is an excerpt from Pomegranates and Roses:
Persia had long been known for its food and wine among the ancient Greeks and other conquerors. During the Arab invasion of the seventh century Persians really influenced the culinary cultures of its neighbours, through Adabe Sofreh – the etiquette of eating and table manners that was taken up throughout the Arab, Ottoman and Indian empires.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, male chefs of the royal courts began to compile Iranian haute-cuisine cookery books. As Bert Fragner wrote in his essay Social Reality and Culinary Traditions: the perspective of cookbooks from Iran and Central Asia (published in A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East, edited by Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper): ‘Between the Ottoman Empire, India and China – until the 19th century the most commonly used language for any literary purposes, including the transmission of recipes, was Persian.’
Rice is taken very seriously. In fact, you could say Iranians seem to have a love affair with it. Rice did not make an appearance in Persian cooking until relatively late in the eighth century. There is no word for rice in the Zoroastrian holy book Avesta, although some historians think rice was grown in Persia as early as the fourth century. The Persian word for rice, berenj, comes from the Sanskrit, which suggests that it arrived via the Indian subcontinent. However, the word 'Pilaf'comes from the Persian word Polo(or Polow).
The Caspian region is the main rice-growing area, where the climate is wet and humid. The people here consume large amounts of rice (even for breakfast) and rely very little on bread, whereas in the rest of the country people eat bread for breakfast, then rice for lunch and dinner. Amabarboo, Darbari, Taraneh, Gerdeh etc are different varieties of Iranian rice.
Rice is the star of the table in Iran rather than a basic foodstuff. The grains must be kept whole, long and separated from each other, never soft and mushy. Different ways of cooking it include kateh, a compact dish made by cooking rice in water with butter or oil (page 109). Polo dishes require more preparation – soaking, boiling then steaming the rice (Polo Ba Taadig, page 106). In the 16th century around 70 recipes for polo were invented, including dishes studded with real jewels. Rice is also used for desserts,puddings, sweets such as halva e tar and cookies (Naan e Berenji, page 114).
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