#29 Date selected: 22/4/19 Date completed: 26/4/16
Country selected: Iran
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu/recipe addresses:
- Abdoogh Khiar
· Khoresh Anaar-Aveej
Friday 22nd April 2016, 4.51pm
This challenge to takes us to one of the more controversial countries in the world today, Iran.
These days when we think of Iran, we tend to think of a war torn country frequently in the news but the country is actually home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Historically it’s been known as Persia by the West but in 1935 Reza Shah requested that the international community refer to the country by its native name, Iran.
Human presence has been recorded in Iran as early as 800,000 – 200,000 BC and there are many prehistoric archaeological sites scattered across the country, giving a glimpse into ancient cultures.
Iran is actually one of the world’s most mountainous countries with the landscape dominated by rugged mountain ranges that separate various basins or plateaux from one another. It’s bordered by Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey with coasts along the Caspian Sea, The Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
Due to its variety of ethnic groups and the influence of other cultures, Iranian cuisine is quite diverse. Herbs are used frequently as are fruits such as pomegranates, quince, plums, prunes, apricots and raisins. The staple of the diet is plain yogurt and it is usually eaten with both lunch and dinner. Onions and garlic are often used and characteristic flavourings such as saffron, cinnamon, dried limes and parsley are mixed delicately to help achieve a balanced taste. Iran is renowned for its caviar.
Tuesday 26th April 2016, 1.07pm
This week’s challenge was a little unexpected in that I ended up cooking for my entire family. I had already selected the recipes I wanted to try and was planning on giving them a go sometime over the next few days. My sister-in-law had already expressed some interest in trying out one of the challenges with them and when I mentioned that I was planning on trying out some Iranian dishes when they were over, things escalated and I wound up cooking for everyone.
It was a bit of an odd scenario really – an Australian family, eating Iranian food on an ANZAC Day holiday. For those not familiar with it, ANZAC Day is a traditional holiday here and in New Zealand which commemorates the ANZAC (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers who served and died in battle. It’s also the anniversary of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. This took place in Turkey – a neighbour to Iran – so I guess it’s vaguely relevant, if not in a traditional sense.
First on the menu was Abdoogh Khiar. I’m not sure what the English translation for this dish is but it was like a yoghurt dip. Similar in many ways to Tzatziki but jazzed up somewhat.
It consisted of plain yoghurt, diced cucumbers, walnuts, raisins, minced herbs and, inexplicably, ice cubes. I’m not exactly sure what the purpose of the ice cubes were (they were mixed into the dish), but I’m assuming it had something to do with keeping the yoghurt cold in hot temperatures. Either that or the dish was supposed to be thinner than what I made and eaten as like an iced soup. I’m not entirely sure. It was a little odd but made for a lovely summer snack.
You are supposed to serve it with bread so I had purchased some pide to have with it and it was simply a matter of digging in. The herbed yoghurt and cucumber dominated most of the dish but every now and then you’d bite into a bit of walnut or raisin and get a shot of flavour through from those. I had shredded the walnuts quite small but I wish I had left them a little larger to increase their impact a little more. It was delicious none the less and I could see this being slightly westernised perhaps by serving the dip in a hollowed out cob loaf or similar. I could see it going perfectly alongside barbequed meat and salad.
One word of warning however – this makes quite a large quantity! I used a half quantities of ingredients and, as a dip, it was a large serving and more than enough for the five of us. You might want to keep this in mind if serving for a smaller group.
Next on the menu was a chicken dish called Koresh Anaar-Aveej. I was drawn to this one because it sounded different from the norm and I was intrigued with what flavours it might produce. There were no pictures provided with the recipe I used so the end result was truly going to be a surprise!
The dish consisted of chicken pieces (I used chicken thighs), onions, garlic, herbs, pomegranate juice and ground walnuts. The chicken and onion are fried off, before water is added and it’s left to simmer for half an hour. In the meantime you prepare what can only be described as a huge amount of fresh herbs (500g worth in the recipe!) and fry those along with the sliced garlic. When ready, the herbs mix, walnuts, pomegranate juice and seasoning is added to the chicken and cooked a while longer. You thicken the gravy with a little rice flour at the end.
The end result is almost curry-like in appearance. I had thought that it might come out a red or burgundy colour from the pomegranate but instead the green of the herbs mixes with the juice and forms a very odd brownish colour that’s not the most appealing (in hindsight this may have been in part due to the fact that I used a processor to chop down the herbs which made them quite fine). The mixture is quite thick and a bit lumpy from all the walnuts and the chicken pieces shrunk considerably during the cooking process and were almost lost in amongst the sauce.
I have to admit that I was pretty dubious when it came to serving. I tried to jazz it up a little by moulding the rice accompaniment and throwing a few fresh chopped chives and dried rose petals over the top to make it as pretty and appealing as I could.
Despite my reservations however, the dish was actually very tasty. It was a lot more subtle than I would have thought and the taste is quite difficult to describe – sort of a sweet, nutty flavour. It wasn’t overpowered by the herbs or onions as I would have thought and even my toddler niece (who turns 2 in July) was quite happy giving it a try. The chicken was nice and tender and fell apart on the fork and the gravy went beautifully soaked up with the white rice.
Whilst I don’t think this would be something that I would make frequently, it would certainly be something I would try again if I were after something a little different and unique. I would potentially look at using different types of chicken (perhaps larger skinned pieces to help prevent it shrinking so much) but overall this was a surprisingly yummy dish that everyone seemed to enjoy. Definitely consider this one a win!
As a little treat, I let my niece pick the next challenge for me (much to the delight of my sister-in-law!). I think she did quite well actually……