The cuisine of Iran is diverse, with each province featuring dishes, as well as culinary traditions and styles, distinct to their regions. It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from chelow kabab (barg, koobideh, joojeh, shishleek, soltani, chenjeh), khoresht (stew that is served with white Basmati or Persian rice: ghormeh sabzi, gheimeh, and others), aash (a thick soup), kookoo (meat and/or vegetable pies), polow (white rice alone or with addition of meat and/or vegetables and herbs, including loobia polow, albaloo polow, zereshk polow, and others), and a diverse variety of salads, pastries, and drinks specific to different parts of Iran. The list of Persian recipes, appetizers and desserts is extensive. Iranian food is inventive, rich and varied. It is exotic yet simple, healthy and colorful. Iranian food is not spicy. Herbs are used a lot, as is fruit from plums and pomegranates to quince, prunes, and raisins. The main Persian cuisines are combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish and plenty of garlic, onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. To achieve a delicious taste and a balanced diet, unique Persian spices such as saffron, diced limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes.
Typical table setting and elements of a popular Iranian dish. The traditional Iranian table setting firstly involves the tablecloth, called sofreh, which is often generally embroidered with traditional prayers and/or poetry, and is spread out over a Persian rug or table. Main dishes are concentrated in the center, surrounded by smaller dishes containing appetizers, condiments, side dishes, as well as bread, all of which are nearest to the diners. These latter dishes are called mokhalafat (accompaniments). When the food has been served, an invitation is made to all those seated at the sofreh to help themselves.
There are certain accompaniments (mokhalafat) which are essential to every Iranian meal at lunch (nahar) and dinner (shahm), regardless of the region. These include, first and foremost, a plate of fresh herbs, called sabzi (basil, coriander, cilantro, tarragon, watercress), a variety of flat breads, called nan or noon (sangak, lavash, barbari), cheese (called panir, similar to feta), sliced and peeled cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and onions, yogurt, and lemon juice. Persian pickles (khiyarshur) and relishes (torshi) are also considered essential in most regions. Tea (chai) is served at breakfast and immediately before and after each meal at lunch and dinner, and also many times throughout the rest of the day. The traditional methods of tea preparation and drinking differ between regions and peoples.
Varieties of rice
It is believed that rice (berenj in Persian) was brought to Iran from southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent in ancient times. Varieties of rice in Iran include champa, rasmi, anbarbu, mowlai, sadri, khanjari, shekari, doodi, and others. Basmati rice from India is very similar to these Persian varieties and is also readily available in Iran. Traditionally, rice was most prevalent as a major staple item in northern Iran, while in the rest of the country bread was the dominant staple.
Methods of cooking rice
There are four primary methods of cooking rice in Iran:
§Chelow: rice that is carefully prepared through soaking and parboiling, at which point the water is drained and the rice is steamed. This method results in an exceptionally fluffy rice with the grains separated, and not sticky, and also results in a golden rice crust at the bottom of the pot called tah-digh (literally "bottom of the pot"), which is exceptionally popular with Iranian children. §Polow: rice that is cooked exactly the same as chelow, with the exception that after draining the rice, other ingredients are added in layers or sections of the rice, and then steamed together. §Kateh: rice that is cooked until the water is absorbed. This is also...