A PERSIAN FEAST WITH EXEC CHEF JP
At times like these when international travel is a distant memory and even a truly memorable dining experience at a local restaurant is tainted by Covid protocols, the opportunity to explore rare and fascinating flavours has moved to our lowly suburban kitchens.
Having being forced to close my beloved Salisbury Café in Westville at the beginning of this year and
now cooking up a plan to relaunch close by when all the mayhem abates, I often take to my home kitchen to not only sizzle away the stress but also to celebrate the truly exotic food journey that I have been on for the past couple of decades.
One of my favourite food influences is Persian cuisine.
Due to its demographic, Persia was once renowned as centre of the earth. It was known for its plush, exotic tradition, artwork and weaving (hence the Persian carpet), its magnificent architecture and, of course, its eclectic cuisine.
Being on the silk route, Persia soon gathered the influence of Greece, India and surrounding Arabic countries to create the fragrant, colourful, exotic and spicy fare for which what is now modern day Iran is well known. This is a combination of tart and healthy fats as well as sweet and sour flavours and mild and delicate spices.
Even back in the days of historical Persia, naan bread was a staple starch, lamb was a potent protein and spices like saffron, cumin, clove, mint and coriander were there to delicately enhance the flavours.
Imagine being excited as you, in around 480AD, travel the spice route, browsing and tasting delicacies from little stalls en route. Although not quite as glam as route 66 with a Taco Bell and Mc Dees on every mile stone, this certainly would have lived on in your memory for far longer.
Weighing spices and dry goods must have been quite tricky at the time as there were no digital scales – hence the pinch of salt and dash of pepper.
I’ve set out to give you a true taste of this nostalgia, to evoke your senses and provide a modern take on a traditional Persian delight, lamb koobideh kabab. Both in the kitchen and outside on my patio where I serve up many of my meals, this brings back images of the river of Babylon, where we sit down….
Our dish comprises two individual kabab skewers with either cumin lamb or grilled peaches and grilled beet, with clove infused tufo, served on spicy, turmeric naan bread. Sides include cucumber garlic, mint and yoghurt as well as traditional humus.
For the carnivore: 150/200g lamb
For the vegetarian:
100/150 grams of sliced beetroot,
100 g of fruit, sliced
50 grams of tofu, or pepper feta
half tin of chickpeas
1/2 of an Israeli cucumber, if available
double cream, plain Greek yoghurt
FROM THE KITCHEN CUPBOARD
grape seed oil
one egg or xanthan gum
hibachi grill (if you want to impress the Romans)
steamer or 3-inch pan for poaching
FROM THE SPICE RACK:
Tahini, mint, garlic, sweet basil, turmeric, soy and cumin seeds
HUMUS AND TATZIKI
Yes, you can run too Woollies before your guest arrive…. or, better still, be brave and go DIY.
For the hummus – strain half a tin of chick peas, mash, add some olive oil, tahini, a dash of ghee, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and smoked paprika.
For the tzatziki, combine double cream yoghurt, diced cucumber, garlic, olive oil and then season with salt and pepper.
This will feed four.
To plate up, follow what I have done as per the photographs. Don’t forget the lemon and a luxurious honey drizzle just to sweeten the palette. Spoil yourself and enjoy this magic Persian carpet ride.
Usually, I would advise which wine to pair with this meal – but, given restrictions during Covid, my lips have to remain sealed! I’m told that, back in the days of yore, a favourite was what we would see as an “illegal mampoer” better known as Arak in Persia. This is a fermented liquor made from raisins. I have decided that I might just try it – and I’ll definitely share what happens on my next blog!
PS … I’ve also since found out that modern Iran is the world’s largest producer of caviar (eggs from the beluga sturgeon). Damn, I didn’t realise that – that could just be the next exotic dish for next time round.