A taste of Persia

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Award winning authors, Greg and Lucy Malouf, take CD-Traveller readers on an unforgettable journey through the culinary landscapes of ancient Persia and modern day Iran. The recipes they are sharing with us today and tomorrow, offer a rare glimpse into a fascinating country that remains elusive and enigmatic to the western world

DIZI – MORTAR AND PESTLE SOUP WITH CHICKPEAS, LAMB AND FLATBREAD


Dizi became one of our favourite quick-and-easy lunch dishes during our travels, and we would actively seek out specialist restaurants, with their large ovens full of neat rows of individual stoneware dizi pots.

It’s a simple enough idea: small chunks of meat on- the-bone are simmered slowly over several hours with potato, tomatoes, beans and a piece of lamb tail fat, which releases an unctuous richness during the cooking. To serve, the broth is poured into a bowl onto pieces of flatbread and slurped up with a squeeze of sour orange or lemon. The bone is then fished out of the dizi pot and discarded, and the remaining meat, fat and vegetables are pounded to a coarse paste using a special dizi pestle. This tasty mush (for want of a better word) is eaten with plenty more flatbread, pickles, onion, sour orange (or any citrus, really) and fresh herbs (try tarragon, mint and basil). It’s far from refined, but unspeakably delicious.

This version omits the scary lamb tail fat to suit Western palates and health concerns, and it is probably a tad more spiced than authentic dizi. The longer you can simmer the lamb, the better the result.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 lamb shanks
1 teaspoon sea salt
8 small shallots, peeled
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1½ teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
250 g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
8 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 litres water
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
12 small tomatoes
fresh herbs, onion wedges, citrus wedges and flatbread, to serve

Method
Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based casserole dish over a high heat. Add the lamb shanks and season with salt, then brown all over and remove from the pan.

Add the shallots, garlic and spices to the pan and fry over a medium heat for a few minutes until the vegetables soften. Stir in the tomato paste and fry for a minute, then stir in the chickpeas. Return the lamb shanks to the pan with the thyme and bay leaves and pour in the water. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for 2–3 hours, or until the meat is falling away from the bones. Tuck the potato and tomatoes in among the lamb shanks and return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes, or until the potato is tender. Lift the lamb shanks from the soup and remove the meat from the bones. Break the meat roughly into smallish chunks and return it to the pan.

Encourage everyone to eat the dizi the authentic Iranian way. You may not have a dizi pestle at home, but after you’ve drunk the soup, you could use a mortar and pestle, or just mash the meat and vegetables in your bowl with a fork. Scoop it all up with flatbread, add herbs and onion and squeeze on citrus juice – delicious!

SERVES 6

MAHI-E-MAST-GERDU: YOGHURT BAKED FISH WITH WALNUT–HERB CRUMBS



Although it might at first seem a little strange to bake fish in yoghurt, I guarantee that this wonderful dish from the north of Iran, with its crunchy walnut and herb topping, will surprise and delight you. You’ll need to select a firm white fish that becomes succulent and tender as it cooks – I find rockling ideal. While chelow rice is good with this, I also particularlylike Baghali Polow or Sabzi Polow.

Ingredients
unsalted butter, for greasing
1 kg firm white fish fillet, skin removed
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
rice and fresh herbs, to serve

WALNUT–HERB CRUMBS
150 g fresh breadcrumbs
150 g shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped and sieved
¼ cup shredded flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ cup shredded tarragon leaves or
dill sprigs
90 g unsalted butter, melted

YOGHURT SAUCE
250 g thick natural yoghurt
½ teaspoon cornflour
1 large egg
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 tablespoons finely snipped chives
juice of ½ lime
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Method
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Lightly butter a baking dish just large enough to fit the fish comfortably.
To make the walnut–herb crumbs, combine the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl.
To make the yoghurt sauce, whisk the yoghurt with the cornflour and egg. Stir in the shallot, chives, lime juice and oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Remove any stray bones from the fish, then cut the fillet into six even pieces. Season the fish lightly all over with salt and pepper and arrange in the baking dish. Pour the yoghurt sauce over the fish. Pack a generous layer of the walnut–herb crumbs on top of each piece of fish. Season lightly again and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the topping is golden and crunchy and the fish is cooked through.
Serve straight away with your choice of rice and fresh herbs.

SERVES 6

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