Food Culture and Tradition

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Glossary of Foods and Food Terms in Iran


Aarak: a strong colorless liquor (possibly Chinese in origin) made from fermented rice and molasses, taken as an aperitif and sometimes diluted with water. Because it is not made from grape fermentation, for some Muslims it somehow circumvents the prohibition against alcohol, more specifically wine. In Iraq, Aarak may be made from dates and flavored with mastik; Iran’s Aarak may be flavored with the addition of anise or fennel.

Abdug or Dugh: a refreshing tangy drink of yogurt diluted with plain or mineral water and lightly salted. Often served with meals or as a refreshment by itself.

Abgusht: a thick soup of chickpeas and onions, flavored with lamb or mutton. Accompanied with bread and pounded to a smooth puree, this dish is the staple of workmen.

Abgusht Miveh: a thick soup made with lamb, beets, red beans, and lentils. In the last hour of cooking, a cup of assorted dried fruits is added.

Adviel: spice mixture of fragrant cinnamon, angelica, nutmeg, crushed dried rose petals, and cumin.

Ajeel: a mixture of nuts and seeds simmered in water and lime juice then salted and toasted and eaten as an appetizer or snack.

Ash or Aash: general name given to thick soups prepared from several beans and lentils plus vegetables and sometimes meat. Lemon or lime juice is added at the end and the thick soup is served topped with yogurt as a meal. Frequently, many thick Iranian soup-stews are served as a strained clear broth to be followed by the soup ingredients neatly chopped or pounded into a smooth mound, this second course to be eaten with bread and crisp fresh vegetables.

Bademjan: eggplant.

Basmati or Patna: unpolished long-grain white rice, the basis of traditional Iranian dishes.

Borani: salad of freshly steamed and drained spinach dressed with a sauce of yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and crushed walnuts. Toasted sesame seeds and sprigs of fresh mint are the final garnish.

Chai: tea. In Iran, tea is taken clear, strong, and sweet, usually in small cups.

Chelo or Chilau or Chello: classic Iranian dish of rice (long-grain and unpolished) cooked lightly for eight to ten minutes, then allowed to fluff over low heat. The addition of melted butter and sometimes egg yolks to the last step results in a crispy-brown crust on the bottom of the pot. Chelo is served in a mound, topped with the broken crisp crusts and poured over a Khoresh (sauce) is poured over to make a main dish. Sometimes a raw egg yolk in its shell and a sprinkling of Sumac is added by the diner.

D’Abdugh: popular summer dish of diluted Mast (yogurt) mixed with chopped cucumbers and seasoned with powdered rose petals and dried raisins. Served as a chilled soup.

Fesenjan: a whole duck or cut-up duck pieces are lightly browned in butter then set aside while the sauce is made of crushed walnuts, pomegranate juice, or syrup all lightly flavored with onions and cardamom. Served over Chelo, this may be considered a Khoresh. Chopped walnuts and sections of fresh tangerines are the garnish.

Firni: powdered rice starch used for thickening soups and desserts.

Fustuck: pine nuts.

Geisi Polo: a pilaf of cooked lamb, rice, raisins, and dried apricots.

Gushe Barreh: similar to Italian ravioli. Small noodle dough envelopes filled with finely chopped meat and vegetable mixtures, usually served in soups.

Halva: popular sweet made throughout the Middle East, but varying from place to place. Iranian Halva is a pasty mixture of browned butter and flour blended with syrup and takes its color and taste from saffron. It is served as a dessert or eaten on bread.

Harisa: a thick puree resembling a porridge and made of burgul (coarse wheat), mutton, and chick-peas with butter and cinnamon, served hot.

Joojeh: a dish of stuffed roasted chicken. The mildly flavored stuffing is made of cooked rice or burgul (coarse wheat), cooked chickpeas, slivered almonds, and salt and pepper.

Kebab: marinated meat, broiled. Marinade is most often lemon juice with finely grated onion.

Kabuli Polo: a mixture of cooked rice and lamb scented with saffron, allspice, and cardamom, strewn with cooked slivers of almonds, carrots, and white raisins.

Keysava: a rich conserve of dried apricots and nuts. Served as a dessert garnished with yogurt or whipped cream.

Khoresh or Koresh: general name given to any one of dozens of exotic combinations of seasoned fruits, meats, nuts, vegetables. Prepared as a thick sauce served over Chelo. Ingredients depend on season.

Kufta: of the whole “meatball family” this one is probably the largest. Finely ground meat (lamb or mutton) is blended with ground chickpeas, rice, and seasonings and shaped to form a large ball. Chopped prunes and hard-cooked eggs are tucked into the center and the Kufta is gently simmered in broth. Broth may be served as a soup, while the Kufta is sliced and served separately.

Kuku, Kukune, or Coucou: classic Iranian picnic dish, delicious whether hot or cold. It is actually a large omelet full of chopped vegetables; potatoes, leeks, onions are the usual ingredients (plus eggs of course).

Mahi Dudi: smoked fish.

Mast: yogurt.

Mastva Khair: a salad of chopped cucumbers with white raisins, mint, onion, salt and pepper and dressed with yogurt.

Miveh: a mix of fruits, usually fresh, sometimes dried.

Nane Lavash: thin crisp wheat bread with good keeping qualities.

Nane Sangak or Sangak: fresh yeast bread, baked on hot stones and eaten while still warm.

Paludeh: any crushed or coarsely grated fresh fruit, sprinkled with lemon juice and heaped in a serving dish. Garnished with mint or cinnamon, it makes a quick and refreshing dessert.

Panir: a firm white goat’s cheese similar to the Greek Feta.

Polo: general name for a layered mixture of fruits, vegetables, meats, and rice. Similar to Pilaf.

Rogan: clarified butter.

Sabzi Panir: appetizer platter of dark bread, slices of goat’s cheese, walnut halves, and sprigs of coriander served separately and to be assembled according to taste by the diner. May be accompanied with Aarak.

Seranjabin: a sweet and sour syrup prepared from sugar, water, vinegar, and mint. Used as a basis for cool summer drinks (as are other fruit syrups) combined with water and sparkling mineral water. Also may be used for dipping Romaine lettuce as a light dessert.

Shekar Polo or Polou: classic Iranian sweet rice dish prepared as the highlight of all special occasions. Cooked rice is sweetened with heavy syrup and flavored with saffron. Finely chopped almonds and pistachios complete the dish.

Shirini: cubed pumpkin is cooked in a heavy syrup and served with walnuts, cinnamon, and topped with clotted cream. Traditional Kurdish dessert. (Kurds are Muslims scattered over Iran, Iraq, and southeast Turkey, mainly farmers or herders.)

Shish Kebab: Iranian dish well known in the western world. Cubes of meat marinated in lemon juice. onion, and salt. The meat, usually lamb, is arranged on skewers and broiled.

Sofren: elegantly embroidered cloth spread over rich floor carpets upon which is placed the platters of foods for meals and special occasions. Often a mirror is placed to reflect the beauty of the foods.

Tah Chin: classic Iranian dish of lamb marinated in yogurt both for flavor and tenderizing, then layered and cooked with rice (Chelo).

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