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Persian Food Is A Product Of Cosmopolitan History

By mahir | March 9, 2011

Persian food takes time-from grinding spices in the morning to simmering fragrant stews for hours, Persian cuisine requires patience. Of course, it took over a thousand years for Persian cuisine to develop. Incorporating elements of Indian, Greek, Arabic, and Turkish cooking, Persian food is a product of cosmopolitan history.

Until 1934, Iran was known as Persia, leading to the association of Iranian and Persian food. An enormous empire that originated nearly 2000 years before classical Greece, Persia once extended all the way to India. One of the earliest introductions to Persian cooking was Indian curry. The Persian occupation of India also brought basmati rice, now a staple ingredient.

Skipping ahead those two millennia, Greece invaded Persia around 200 CE. Then, the Greeks brought grape leaves, yogurt, and a categorization of foods into “hot” and “cold,” a Greek medical tradition.  When the Arab caliphates invaded in Persia in the 600s, lamb, dates, and figs were introduced. Then, the Ottoman Empire took over Persian land in the 900s. Along with the Turks came stuffed foods (Turkish dolma), meatballs (kofte), kebabs, and coffee.

The constantly shifting landscape of empires, expanding trade networks, and increased commerce between Europe and Asia made Persia a meeting place for spices, seeds, and fruits. A true melting pot of different cuisines, Persia constructed a unique culinary tradition from international ingredients and techniques.

Stews, or khoresh, make up the soul of Persian cooking. Ingredients might include celery, prunes, spinach, pomegranates, chicken, walnuts, eggplant, or most importantly, lamb. Incredibly diverse, khoresh usually comes with chelow. A golden-crusted basmati rice, chelow looks like a domed cake. Tah dig, that golden-crust, is given to an honored guest.

For lots of recipes and more information on Persian cooking, click here. If you feel like lamb for dinner, make this lamb stew with morning glory.

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