As I may have mentioned in a previous post, one of the things I find utterly amazing about Persian cooking and cooking in general is how a collection of ingredients can take on a totally different identity when they come together with other ingredients to form a dish/cake/treat. Never has the phrase ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ applied more than when discussing food.
One of the main things I have been asked over the years when we have friends for dinner is where I source my ingredients and what people should have in stock if they want to be able to cook Persian food. So here it is, a quick store cupboard essentials list of non perishable items that you’ll find in most of my recipes.
- Rose – you can read more about the use of rose in my previous blog ‘the gift of a rose’, however as a quick overview, the rose-water is great to add to khoreshts, stews and cakes if you want the flavour notes to run throughout a dish. Use the dried petals as a pretty garnish or to steep in tea.
- Turmeric – this lovely yellow powder is great if used properly. My dad taught me to always fry off the turmeric with onions before adding any meat to a dish as this takes the bitterness out of it and gives a deeper flavour and colour.
- Cardamom – both ground & pods. Green cardamom for adding an aromatic flavour to sweet or savoury dishes. Black cardamom if you are opting to add a coolness like mint to a dish
- Omani lime – you can buy these little dried limes on-line or from a good Asian food store. You can also buy them ground in powder form. I love them whole added to my stews and tagines and I just pierce them before throwing in.
- Saffron – my favourite of all the spices. These little red strands are the most expensive spice in the world by weight and the best Saffron in the world comes from Iran. The reason for this is due to the richness of the soil in Iran. Although the country has little rain fall there is a system of underground aqueducts called qanats that were invented by the Persians 1000’s of years ago and these aqueducts supply water to over 70% of the country’s farms and households. You can buy Iranian Saffron online, however if you can’t get this, supermarket Saffron will do. Just ensure you grind it with sugar and dissolve in rose-water or warm water before adding to your dish.
- Cumin – seeds and ground. If using seeds always toast them first to bring out the flavour.
- Advieh – you can make your own Advieh if you are feeling adventurous or you can purchase from an Asian food market. It is a household spice combination in the same way as ‘Garam Masala’ or Ras al hanout’. I use this in rice and tagines or khoreshts (Persian stews)
- Tinned tomatoes – there is nothing wrong with using tinned tomatoes instead of fresh and don’t be afraid to use passata as an alternative if you wish. I always keep around 5/6 tins in my cupboard in case I feel like an impromptu khoresht (which happens more often than you would think)
- Basmati Rice – My dad and my uncle always buy my rice for me. They buy me a 20kg sack and this normally lasts until I get another visit from either of them. I’m not suggesting you rush out and buy a 20kg sack however with rice I would recommend getting a good strong basmati not a cheap version as it makes a lot of difference to the length and strength of the grain. You can tell a good basmati as the grains stay long and firm when cooked and don’t break in half easily. Always wash the rice until the water runs clear before cooking.
- Herbs – Iranians love herbs and with most meals you will find a bowl of ‘sabzi’ (fresh chopped herbs) accompanying a meal. For some khoreshts you can use dried herbs and for these due to the quantity you will use I would purchase from an Asian supermarket – Ghormeh Sabzi, Sabzi Polo, Shivin (dried dill). You can buy fresh and do all the chopping yourself or you can use a combination of both. Most commonly used is dill, corriander, fenugreek, parsley & leeks.
- Oil & Salt – I generally use coconut oil in all my cooking now however olive oil is a good alternative. I always use fine milled salt for Iranian cooking and it is used favourably!
So that is it! Not as vast as you would imagine and with the addition of some pulses like kidney beans and broad beans and a protein source you are ready to start Persian cooking! Nooshe jaan!
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