At a Persian table 1

THE table was set with the traditional samovar at the ready, the glass teapot nestling atop, a jug of cold water waiting expectantly to replenish the samovar when needed with the hope of delivering the customary hospitality to family and friends. A tray with small glasses for the tea and the home made cubed sugar completed the setting. The tea was no ordinary tea but perfumed with orange blossom.

‘At a Persian Table’, a Slow Food Perth event on Saturday 21 February 2009, was attended by 24 Slow Food Perth members and friends. Farangeez Ahmadi highlighted the way her family have been preparing this very traditional Persian dish khorma sabzi. She also explained that sabzi means herbs. Traditionally the herbs and greens were gathered fresh and this is still the ideal. Today it is possible to purchase these herbs already prepared in tins from a Middle Eastern grocery shop. Farangeez also explained about the different basmati rices that are available and the different qualities they each have. A trip with Farangeez to an oriental grocery shop is planned at some stage, so she can explain to us about some of the different foods available.

After much preparation, the cutting of the herbs, the frying, the adding of the fried meat and onion and the dried limes, then the red kidney beans and fried herbs, all into the pot for an hour. When the oil comes to the top the dish is ready. Earlier that morning Farangeez had prepared another dish of Khorma Sabzi and Polo and this was taken to the table, which is set for our meal, the food should always be accompanied with a basket full of sabzi or fresh herbs of parsely, tarragon, coriander, basil and watercress, flatbread, yogurt, sometimes mixed with mint and walnuts, homemade pickles which included the pickled garlic. In Farangeez’s family garlic is pickled each year, in plain vinegar and reaches its optimum flavour at seven years, maturing into the most delicious unctuous food. To prepare pickled garlic all we need is to place good clean and fair Australian whole unpeeled garlic into jars and top with vinegar. Some of us tasted the seven year matured garlic on Saturday. It does not get any better than this, so keeping it longer than seven years is not to be. It is said to be a cure for everything.

Iranians look at food in three different ways, cultural, medical and philosophical. Hot and cold still convey the ancient science of harmony and balance in the way they eat food. This belief is said to date back to the Hellenic world carried through to the Zoroastrians and still held today by the people of Iran.

Khorma sabzi
1 kilo of lamb (can use lamb shanks or other meat)
2 onions
250gms red kidney beans
6 dried limes
1 bunch English spinach
1 bunch spring onions
1/2 large bunch parsley
½ large lunch coriander
½ bunch fenugreek
Salt and pepper and ½ teaspoon turmeric

Wash the red kidney beans and gently boil for about 20 minutes , they will be cooked altogether later on, so do not overcook
Wash, clean, dry and chop all the greens, fresh fenugreek can be planted in a pot 5 days before and is harvested when it grows to a height of four fingers outstretched.
Cut up one onion and fry till golden in the oil, whichever you prefer and then add the greens which have been very finely sliced. Cook this for about 15 minutes, make sure the colour of the greens does not darken.
Fry the other onion till golden and then add the cubed meat and brown. Pierce 5 or 6 holes into the dried limes and place with the meat add two glasses of water and cook till meat is tender.
Add the greens to the meat with the red kidney beans, along with ½ teaspoon turmeric, ½ teaspoon black pepper and salt to taste. Add a little more water if needed.
Gently cook for about an hour, it is ready when the oil rises to the surface.

Polo, or pilau (persian rice)
2 ½ cups of good Basmati rice.
1 teaspoon saffron
Flat bread or potatoes
Oil or butter
Wash the rice many times and leave in a large bowl of salted (2 dessertspoons) cold water for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Drain rice.
Put 1 dessertspoon of salt into large pot of boiling water. Pour rice slowly into boiling water and boil for about 2 minutes, do not overcook. The outside of rice is ready when it is tender but there remains a slight uncooked resistance at the core of the grain. It usually takes no longer than 4 minutes. Drain and rinse in tepid water to prevent it from cooking any more.
Place pot back over high heat and add the oil or butter. Place the flatbread (halved into two) onto base of pot on top of the sizzling oil or butter. Gradually add the rice sprinkling it in to form a mound. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to make three or four holes through the mound, and then cover the pot with a lid wrapped in a tea towel. The towel helps to seal the lid and absorbs moisture from the rising steam. Each grain should be able to be counted.

Heat rice over a medium high heat until steam builds up 1-2 minutes then lower the heat to medium low and cook for about 30 minutes. When it is done the rice will be tender and fluffy with a flavourful crust, the Tahdig on the bottom. Grind the dry roasted saffron and add to 2 tablespoons of warm water and sprinkle on top of rice. Instead of the flatbread, one can use thinly sliced potatoes on the bottom. There is also the method of whisking together 2 tablespoons of yogurt (whole milk)with a large egg then add ½ cup of rice. Place this on top of the sizzling butter of oil and follow the recipe above without using the bread or potato.

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