So here’s the deal. About 10 years ago, while I was still living the US and was on a trip to London, I had an amazing meal at the home of my good friends’ parents. My two friends (who are brothers) are Iranian, and their mother has such a good hand in the kitchen that 10 years later I was still salivating over distant memories of my first and only meal at her home.
Iranian food, when cooked properly at home by a skilled cook, has to be one of the best cuisines in the world. Unfortunately, I have found that, at least in London, it is nearly impossible to find any Iranian restaurant food that is remotely satisfying compared to ‘the real deal’. Restaurants are supposed to serve better kebabs than you can make at home (and from what I understand the kebabs at restaurants inside Iran are truly out of this world), but it is very rare that I have come across one which I have enjoyed unconditionally in a London-based establishment. In fact, the home-cooked kebabs I have had at friends’ houses are usually far better than the ones I have had in restaurants here.
Oh yes, sorry, back to the story…
Anyway, about a month ago I began pestering my friends to have their mom ‘invite’ me and some other friends over for a follow-up meal. Now I know this is pretty rude, but what else can you do when you need your fix? Eventually, a date and time manifested and everything was in order. And last Sunday was the magic day.
The meal lived up to all expectations, and some of the food exceeded them. There were about 12 of us all together, and we had an amazing, relaxed meal. I have posted some photos of the food below to let you have a little peak.
After sitting in the, erm, sitting room and chilling out over some drinks, it was time for the main event. Of course, I should mention that even when you sit around in an Iranian household, you will be surrounded by food – in this case, various assortments of nuts, sweets, fruits, tea, beer, wine, etc. – and they will softly implore you to have as much as you can stomach. Perfect just before a big meal :).
So, what was on offer? Well, there were two types rice:
Polo – traditional white Iranian-style basmati rice
Havij Polo – carrot rice (one of my favorites!)
To accompany the rice (or, rather, the other way around?) was:
Ghormeh Sabzi– a traditional green Iranian stew (often called the ‘national dish’ of Iran), another favorite of mine. Some of the main ingredients are parsley, leek and fenugreek (which make it a dark green color), and it usually includes red kidney beans, onions, chives, dried limes (which are key) and lamb or veal. The dried limes, which are left in the stew, give it a very sour kick, and it has a deep flavor of green herbs. The texture of the beans and the softness of the stewed meat make this one of the world’s truly unique and delicious dishes, though it is an acquired taste for some. The one we had on Sunday was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Faultless and perfectly balanced. This goes with the plain rice, which is the perfect complement. And for those of you who have not had rice made Iranian style, it is by far the best and tastiest method I have come across for cooking basmati rice. Of course, it is probably the most fattening, too, but who’s counting?
Gheymeh Bademjan – another amazing dish, though not one I’ve had very often. It’s key components are aubergine/egg plant and yellow split peas. The rich brown sauce is composed of various other ingredients, some of which include onion, garlic and tomatoes. This was a rich dish, with the eggplants being slow-cooked to perfection with no bitterness, and the split pea stew completely delectable. You eat this with the plain rice, fyi, and with some plain sour yogurt if you want.
‘Chicken Dish’ – pathetic description, I know, but this is apparently the best translation from Farsi (?!) according to my friends. Anyway, you eat this with the carrot rice (and yogurt if you want), and this was the best combination of food I’ve had for some time. It is sweet as it is cooked with carrots and cinnamon, very delicate and so tasty that you cannot stop eating it. The chicken must have been marinated forever as the flavor was present in every bite (not just on the outside), and was cooked perfectly too – it just fell off the bone while retaining a soft but firm enough texture.
The above was also served with a simple salad of greens, mint and radishes, and then afterwards a slightly more complicated salad was served (which is very Iranian, and French come to think of it – but then again, the word for ‘thanks’ in both Farsi and French is merci…so there is definitely some commonality / stealing going on between these two nations 🙂 ).
The photos simply do not do this meal justice, but at least you can get an idea of our wonderful Sunday evening.
The evening was capped off by retiring to the sitting room again and sinking into some huge Iranian chairs which their family had brought over from Iran when they first moved over here. This furniture was probably more suited to the larger house they had in their home country as it looks slightly like it is on steroids even in a rather large detached London home – but whatever the case, the chairs were very comfortable to pass out in!
A perfect Sunday evening, all in all.
ADDENDUM – in all the excitement of writing about this meal, I forgot to mention one of the best parts – the ‘taa-dig’! Taa-dig is the hard, crispy bits that are at the bottom of the saucepan in Iranian rice dishes and, if done well, they are very naughty and damn tasty. On this occasion, my friend came out of his mom’s kitchen with a small plate of the taa-dig from the carrot rice in one had, and a mouthful of it in the other, as he knew it would be a hot commodity that the vultures would devour instantaneously upon it touching the table. It was made of thin sliced bread, and was a mouthful of crisp, bready, buttery deliciousness – I managed to score a substantial portion, which others tried to steal from me throughout the course of the meal. The normal polo had a potato taa-dig, which was also great too, but not as popular or as tasty as the bread-based one. Sorry, no picture of these…