A taste of Persia

Though I’ve never traveled outside the U.S. myself, I’m excited to share with you some recipes that hail from other nations. This week I have some recipes from the middle east. Though I am an only child by birth, these recipes come to me by way of a sister. First let me tell you a little about the women I call my sisters.

In college I joined a very unique sorority called Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority Inc. Our organization was founded in 1997 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is all about celebrating and embracing diversity.

While some may think a sorority is just a social organization that women participate in during their college years, ours is much more than that and we have many who remain involved with the organization long after college graduation.

I have many fun and great memories of these women, but one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences I have had took place on what was a very sad day for me. I lost my Mamma to cancer in November 2013 and it was one of the darkest times of my life. On the day of her funeral there were a number of my sisters who came to support me and that meant more to me than I could ever say. Many of my sisters also came back home with me after the service. The funeral was the week of Thanksgiving and I knew that many of these women were taking time they normally would have been spending with family to be with me. My little sister in the sorority, Amanda, even flew all the way from Texas to be with me during this time.

Though it was an extremely sad day for me, I have a very calming and glowing memory that I hold close to my heart when I think of gathering with my sisters around the kitchen table that afternoon following the funeral.

And now on to happier memories …

One of the great things about being in a sorority is having women you have a deep connection with even if you’ve never met in person. Not long after I graduated from college, a sister and I decided we wanted to take a weekend trip to Washington D.C. Being recent graduates we were not exactly rolling in the dough and were hoping to spend as little as possible on the trip so we decided to see if there were any sisters in the area we could stay with. I had worked with a sister named Bahareh (We call her B for short) on some national committees and though I had never met her in person I emailed to see if she might be willing to host us for a few days in D.C. She readily agreed and off we went! Though she and I very seldom get to spend time together in person, we have remained close.
B was gracious enough to share some wonderful Persian recipes with me. These are dishes that hail from Iran and are specific to the northwestern part of the country near the Caspian Sea where B’s family is from.

“People from different parts of Iran will have their own variations on these basic recipes,” B explained. B and her sister compiled their mom’s recipes a few years ago and made a cookbook to give to family members as a gift. (What a great idea!)

“These are my favorite recipes because they are so flavorful — rich flavors of garlic, lemon, herbs, onion, olive oil, turmeric — I’m getting hungry just thinking about them,” B said. “Some meals remind me of summers growing up in Virginia when I’d devour a plate of food in minutes after a day of swimming. Others, like ashe-reshteh (a noodle soup) are really hearty and delicious on a cool fall day or a cold winter day. The loobia (Persian red beans and rice) is one of my go-to meals. So easy to make and so delicious.”

At the end of each recipe are the words “Nooshe jon” which means “to your health,” B explained.
“It’s something we say whenever someone says ‘yum’ or ‘this is delicious.’ It can also be used to say, enjoy!” she said.

The Loobia recipe calls for a spice known as Golpar which is ground Angelica. B said Angelica comes in a form that looks like cinnamon sticks, but you use the ground version for this recipe. She said the flavor is unlike anything else, although the closest comparison she could make was cumin. I’m not sure if Golpar or Angelica is available around here so if you attempt this recipe it may not taste like it does when B makes it.

Being a southern girl I was naturally drawn to a recipe that calls for pinto beans so I will be making Loobia soon!

Loobia (Persian Red Beans and Rice)
Ingredients (Amounts of ingredients are adjustable to taste)
• 2 cups pinto beans, soaked for at least 30 minutes
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 2 tbsp tomato paste
• 4 cups water
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 medium potatoes, cubed
• Olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and Angelica ground to taste as garnish

Put all ingredients, except salt and potatoes, in a pot on medium heat. Cover and let cook until beans are soft. Add salt and potatoes. If stew becomes too thick for your liking, add water. When serving, in each bowl, drizzle a little olive oil and lime juice on top, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. To serve traditionally, also sprinkle Golpar (Angelica ground) on top. Serve with bread or with rice.
Nooshé Jon!

Kookoo Seebzamini (Potato pancake)
Ingredients (Amounts of ingredients are adjustable to taste)
• 3 large potatoes or 4 medium potatoes, graded or food processed
• 1 medium onion, graded or food processed
• 4 eggs
• 4 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp black pepper
• 1 tsp turmeric
• 1 clove garlic crushed/minced

Heat frying pan on medium with three tbsp oil. Mix all ingredients, put in hot frying pan and cover. Bring heat down to low-medium and let cook 20 minutes or until light brown. Flip kookoo over to cook other side (add additional oil if needed), don’t cover. Let cook 20 minutes on low heat or until golden brown. Serve with bread, feta cheese, and cucumbers, tomato, and onion salad.
Nooshé Jon!

Ingredients (Amounts of ingredients are adjustable to taste)
• 1 pound ground beef or turkey
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 can crushed tomatoes
• 1 tbsp tomato paste
• 1 tsp turmeric
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp black pepper
• ½ tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 lime (for juice)
• 2 tbsp olive oil
Make French fries to mix in (B says any kind of French fries will work)

Heat frying pan on medium heat, add oil, chopped onion, turmeric, and salt, cook until onions are translucent. Add meat and fry until brown. Add tomatoes and let simmer for about five minutes. Add lime juice, cinnamon, black pepper, ½ cup of water. Cover and let cook until mixture thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Top with french fries and serve with rice or bread, and cucumber, tomato, and onion salad or with cucumber-yogurt (yogurt, cucumber, mint, salt, pepper, amounts to your taste.)