Persian cuisine has a lot in common with its regional neighbors but it still stands on its own with unique flavors and ingredients. A complex political history and icy relations with the West has kept these foodstuffs largely confined to cities such as Los Angeles with large Persian populations. Here are some trends with Persian roots that are popping up around the country.
Sumac is spice made from the dried fruit of the sumac tree. While this spice is used widely across the Middle East, Persian cuisine often utilizes uniquely sour flavors in dishes. Sumac provides a tart, lemony flavor along with a pop of reddish purple color. This combination of visual appeal and flavor has helped sumac find its way into all sorts of dishes, from hummus to sauces to salad toppings.
Called limoo amani in Iran or loomi in Oman where they originated, dried limes are prepared by sun-drying the citrus fruits until they lose most of their moisture and turn black. The dried fruit is then sliced, diced, or ground to provide a lime flavor with earthy brown complexity. This trendy ingredient is currently being used where lots of novel ingredients start – cocktails. But just like sumac, loomi can be used to add tartness where a chef wouldn’t want to add excess liquid to a dish. As chefs become more accustomed to using these ingredients I expect them to capitalize on the complex flavors that come along with that sourness.
Loyal trend watchers know that regional condiments are excellent ways to familiarize oneself with the flavors of a cuisine. Delal is a condiment from northern Iran that is made by puree herbs like cilantro, parsley, and basil and then salting heavily in order to preserve it. Think chimichurri but where the herbs aren’t competing with garlic or olive oil flavors; instead you get something salty, green, and bright.
Fresh and Dried Herbs
Sitting at the middle of the Silk Road and ancient trade routes, Iranians are no strangers to spices. But Persian cuisine is also known for using lots of both fresh and dried herbs. Cilantro, parsley, dill, basil, chives and mint are all used frequently and can even stand alone as the main ingredient in salads. While American chefs often avoid dried herbs such as dill and mint these ingredients are welcome in Persian kitchens and have slightly different flavor notes from their fresh counterparts.