A taste of Persia

Carolyn Lister reports back from an adventure into Persian cooking in Christchurch. 

As a single parent I’ve had a number of years focussed on my 14 year old twins. I promised myself this year I would dedicate some more time to ‘me’ activities now they are old enough to be left home alone.

In late February I joined 15 other women for my first food ‘adventure’ of the year – a hands-on Persian cooking class at Christchurch cooking school Riverside Kitchen. Our chef for the day was the amazing Alba, who also runs a private chef service offering stress-free in-home cooking for dinner parties. She’s lived all over the world, including 10 years in the Middle East, but has a real passion for Persian food.

“My first encounter with this amazing food was one of the biggest surprises I ever had in term of new flavours,” she says. “I fell head over heels for it. Iranian food is uncomplicated and yet so delicious, spices are mixed in such an elegant way, sourness, sweet and savoury are carefully balanced making the final outcome so special.”

That certainly was the case from what I experienced in this class. We started off with Sabzi Kordan – a welcome platter which is the first thing you will usually be offered as soon as you enter an Iranian home. It comprised a mix of fresh herbs, bread, olive oil, tomatoes, radishes and walnuts (soaked in water overnight which gave them a lovely texture and removed any bitterness). It was a lovely light and refreshing way to kick off and was also accompanied by a choice of wines or non-alcoholic drinks (all very generous as Kirsten who runs the Riverside Kitchen was regularly making the rounds topping up drinks).

The class alternated between demonstrations and then hands on making the dishes at stations of four. After preparing all the dishes we sat down together and enjoyed them accompanied by more wine – who could ask for a better was to spend a Sunday? The recipes for the day were:

  • Zereshk Morgh: a wonderful tender chicken stew with saffron and barberries. Saffron is used a lot in Persian cooking with a saffron ‘tea’ being made at least an hour before cooking or even the night before. The barberries added a lovely tang to the dish.
  • Polo ba Taadig: Persian style fluffy rice with a golden crust. The rice is parboiled and piled into a saucepan in a pyramid to slow cook for an hour and develop the crust on the bottom. Apparently you must wrap the pan lid in a tea towel or it just won’t be the Persian way!
  • Kotlets: spiced beef and potato cakes. The addition of potato to these meat patties gave them a wonderful texture and they would be lovely in a pita bread with salad and a yoghurt dressing.
  • Salad e Shirazi: tomato, cucumber and onion salad. The use of both dried and fresh mint gave this salad a wonderful flavour.
  • Exotic fruit carpaccio with basil and mint sugars. Iranians aren’t big on desserts so this was a wonderful way finish to the meal. Very simple as you simply grind fresh herbs and sugar in a mortar and pestle and sprinkle over thinly sliced fruit. Mint paired wonderfully with fresh pineapple and basil with rock melon.

Overall it was a wonderful class in an amazing venue. One of my classmates was of Iranian descent and congratulated Alba on the authenticity of the class. I thoroughly recommend others give the classes a go. Maybe we could even have a Food Writers get-together there one day when such things are allowed again.

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