PERSIAN FOOD CULTURE
Many people are not aware that Iran actually produces and exports large amounts of caviar. It is not widely eaten around the country and is enjoyed more as a delicacy abroad, but it just shows the diversity of Iranian cuisine. Most of the food enjoyed in the restaurants and homes of Iran is typical Middle Eastern cuisine but there are some regional and special dishes that are very delicious and nutritious. Really the staples foods of Iran are lamb, eggplant, yogurt, rice and breads. But the flavorings are used sparingly in ingenious ways including saffron, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon and of course garlic.
The goat is highly popular in Iran, mostly because it can adapt to the landscape much better than other traditionally farmed animals but also is a hardy beast that can survive the variations in temperature. Because the dairy cow is a rare sight in Iran and goat’s milk is not ideal for fresh drinking, yogurt and cheese are made in abundance. Nearly every household makes their own yogurt and it can be found widely as a refreshing drink or used in marinating meat for cooking. Goat is also used widely as meat, both as kebabs and more slowly cooked braised dishes, prepared this way it can be delicious.
Iranians prefer long-grain rice, and they are masters of preparing it in all manner of ways. The two most popular rice dishes in the country are known as cheloand polo. The latter is rice with either meat or vegetables mixed into it that is garnished with spices and herbs. The former is a more regal dish and takes many hours to prepare and cook. It is the Persian version of the Indian biryani but has a crispier topping. It too is accompanied with rich sauces and sometimes is garnished with gold leaf.
There are many different types of polos, and a housewife can be judged in her skill of cooking how she prepares then. One of the most famous is polo chirin, which is adorned with oranges, almonds, raisins and of course saffron. Usually some sort of meat is added and occasionally lentils. A sweeter version is shekar polo which is loaded with sugar, almonds, honey and other nuts such as pistachio. Obviously, this is an acquired taste as it is quite unusual to have such a sweet main course.
The most common meat found in most dishes in Iran is lamb, and sometimes kid. This young meat lends itself to either slow cooking or barbecuing, and the kebab is a highly popular treat in Iranian households. Of course, pork is forbidden for religious reasons, but Iranians also enjoy chicken and sometimes even beef. Nearer the Caspian Sea swordfish and other types of fish are enjoyed, cooked simply and eaten with rice or bread.
At every Iranian table no matter what the dishes being served will be plenty of olives, grapes, and all manner of fruits especially dried such as dates, figs, apricots and peaches. Of course, there will also be bread which is a staple of Iranian food. Iranians are master bakers and produce some fabulous and delicious breads and sweet pastries. The Persian diet is varied, there are plenty of carbohydrates but also fruits and salads to balance it all out.