persian flavors: 6 posts

Persian Olives in Walnut-Pomegranate Sauce

For the symphonic complexity of Persian cuisine, with all of its rice pilafs bathed in saffron and rosewater, meats flavored with dozens of herbs and desserts made out of nuts and flowers, it’s the simplest dishes that illustrate most fully the imaginative riches of this venerable culinary tradition. It can be said that Persian cuisine is the closest relative to perfumery. It’s based on accords and notes.

One of the most popular accords is walnut and pomegranate. It’s a perfect harmony of sweet and sour, delicately smoky and fruity. You can build plenty on this base, but one of my favorite recipes is a simple blend of green olives in a walnut-pomegranate sauce. The dish is called zeytun parvardeh, which means preserved olives, but with the word “parvardeh” having the secondary meaning of “nourished,” it also makes me think of olives that have been well taken care of before they ended up on my plate. You will be too after tasting this dish.

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Haft Seen

Out of all holidays, Nowruz and Easter inspire me the most with their promise of rebirth and hope. Nowruz, which means “new day” in Persian, falls on the spring equinox (March 20th in 2016) and is celebrated for the thirteen following days. Often called Persian New Year, it’s an important celebration not only in Iran, but also Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Georgia, India, Turkey, and other lands that were once part of the political or cultural Persian sphere.

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I received a glimpse of Nowruz through my Azeri stepmother, although my own explorations directed me further down the path. While today it is by and large a secular event, observed by people of different religions and communities, Nowruz is a 3000 year old holiday with rich symbolism and ties to ancient Zoroastrian traditions. Nowruz contains beautiful, colorful and uplifting elements, a great reason to celebrate it.

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Persian Rice Cookies (Nan-e Berenji)

One of the best things I tasted in Iran was a cookie. On the tray next to the rosewater flavored walnuts, almond baklava, salty dried cherries and pistachio nougat, little pale rounds topped with poppyseeds looked the least impressive of the lot. But when I bit into one biscuit, and it melted into buttery cream in my mouth, I was instantly smitten. That’s how I discovered rice cookies, Nan-e Berenji, the classical Iranian pastries.

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Nan-e Berenji has a delicate sablé-like texture and a rich perfume of cardamom. Throughout my trip, I looked for this simple confection in every town I visited, but none have rivaled the version I found in Yazd, a city famous for sweets. Yazdi rice cookies were the same golden color as the adobe walls of the ancient town, and a simple shape belied their decadent flavor.

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Gifts From The Silk Road

One of my favorite stores in Brussels isn’t a chocolate shop. It’s not even a fabulous perfume treasure trove called Senteurs d’Ailleurs. It’s a supermarket at Rue de l’Escadron 35 called FreshMed. Technically, it’s not even in Brussels proper, but in Etterbeek, one of the 19 communes that make up the metropolis. It’s a store offering a vast selection of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods, with a smattering of Baltic and Polish products.

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FreshMed isn’t a fancy store; it’s a place where the aesthetics are provided by the towering pyramids of fresh vegetables and fruits, not an overly creative interior design. I like this simple and unpretentious approach. Here you can find fresh tarragon and pomegranates, stock up on Greek retsina and Lebanese arak, and then load up your cart with homemade foods: tiny Syrian pies, Turkish-style pizza, hummus, tzaziki, olives and 10 kinds of feta. Then there are shelves of Iranian floral waters, Cretan dark honeys and Moroccan amber scented soaps. It’s a journey down the Silk Road within the space of a few supermarket aisles.

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Saraban : Persian Spiced Hazelnuts

Saffron, pistachios, apricots, pomegranates, angelica seeds… When my inspiration for scent pairings starts to wane, I flip through my favorite Iranian books and think of the vibrant combinations of Persian cuisine. It’s one of the world’s most sophisticated, with complementary and contrasting flavors used in a single dish. There are rice pilafs steamed until every grain is separate and glossy and then embellished with saffron scented butter and rosewater. Poultry is cooked with fruit and sweet and sour sauces. Meat is grilled in a variety of ways and vegetables star in everything, from soups to jams. Even something as simple as a yogurt cucumber salad is served topped with a flourish of golden raisins, walnuts and herbs. Every mouthful is an adventure. Every taste is a surprise. It’s a cuisine custom-made for perfume lovers.

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If your perspective on Iran comes from the news, then you’re likely to associate it with the brutal events of the 1979 Islamic revolution, religious intolerance and reprehensible treatment of women. Persia, on the other hand, may connote the orientalist visions of roses and nightingales. As Greg and Lucy Malouf note in their marvelous book on Persian cuisine, Saraban: A Chef’s Journey Through Persia, “there is an element of truth and exaggeration in each version, but they are, of course, one and the same place… This duality, these contrasts, the opaqueness–once we arrived in Iran, we realised that they all contribute to a very real sense of mystery, and of reward.”

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Latest Comments

  • Ninon in Recommend Me a Perfume : August 2017: Oh my! I’ve wondered about this one for ages. I will get my hands on a small vial 🙂 August 17, 2017 at 5:55pm

  • Ninon in Recommend Me a Perfume : August 2017: Thank you! I tried Ormonde Woman many years ago, when I was new to niche. I will be sure to try it again. And thanks for the Coty rec–Ma Griffe… August 17, 2017 at 5:52pm

  • Ninon in Recommend Me a Perfume : August 2017: Thank you so much! I actually just received a mini of vintage Niki Saint Phalle parfum this week and it is heavenly! I’ve been wondering about Zelda…I will be sure… August 17, 2017 at 5:50pm

  • rosarita in Recommend Me a Perfume : August 2017: Still relatively easy to find at discouters/eBay is Niki de St Phalle, a classic softer chypre. Estee Lauder Private Collection or Aliage also. For a more modern yet vintage feel,… August 17, 2017 at 4:23pm

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