Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Persian cooking class

I've been looking forward to this class for quite a while. Since I enjoy Moroccan and Indian food so much, I thought it would be nice to branch out a little in that general part of the world. Persian cuisine is very old, maybe the second oldest after Chinese. It is very regional, and if you look at the ingredients, like the use of ghee instead of olive oil, you see how dairy-dependent it is. It also uses a lot of saffron and lime.

We made lots of good things -- lamb kebabs, eggplant koresh (an eggplant and chicken stew), rice with favas and dill, rice pudding, peppers stuffed with rice and beef, walnut and feta spread, pistachio soup. We grilled the lamb over charcoal, and it was wonderful -- marinated in lime, saffron, and onions.

The eggplant koresh (photo at right) was an interesting preparation. First you saute a lot of onions, then add chicken and garlic and get it all nice and golden. Then while you simmer that with pureed tomatoes and spices, you fry quartered eggplant that you've first brushed with egg while so it doesn't absorb as much butter (because remember, you're using ghee, not olive oil). Then it all goes into the oven for a while. I really liked it, but I'd probably use chicken thighs instead of breasts if I make it, since I think that would be a little richer in flavor. The limes for garnish and flavor are a really nice touch.

In this picture of the rice "polow" (pilau or pilaf) you can see bits of the nice golden crust that forms at the bottom of the pot. In Persian cooking, this is the best part :)

Overall the class was pretty intense in terms of the menu -- many of the recipes had quite a bit of prep work, then they needed 45 minutes in an oven or on the stove. The lamb needed prep, then marinating time, then grilling. Once we sat down to dinner, I felt like I'd been running for a couple of hours. But as usual, it was a "good" tired. Some of the dishes didn't have quite the seasoning complexity of Indian or Moroccan food, but others (like the stuffing for the peppers) had all of that and more. So maybe in some ways there is more variety in seasoning intensity than what I've encountered in those other cuisines. But of course I've only had a limited exposure to all of these rich and ancient traditional cuisines, so I'm arriving at conclusions from a less-than-fully-informed basis. Oh, darn, that sounds like I need to do more research :)

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