THE FABLED RICHES of Persia can be as close as the family kitchen for those of us westerners who have a spirit of adventure and the willingness to spend a little additional time in the market and at the stove. Iran, as modern-day Persia is known, boasts one of the most delightful cuisines in the Middle East.
Persian dishes are perfumed with spices and served ceremoniously with an accent on refinement. Wonders are worked with spinach, pickles, pistachio nuts, duck, and of course Persian lamb (though not, in this case, for coats). For drink, tea - Persia's most popular beverage - is brewed in samovars, served in glasses, and sipped through a sugar cube. How sweet it is.
Rice is a staple in the Persian diet, appearing at almost every meal. This refined method of preparing rice is well worth the extra effort. Chilau
Serves six 3 cups long grain white rice Water Salt 4 tablespoons butter or oil
Wash rice in hot water. Discard water, place rice in a bowl, cover with salted water and soak for several hours. (If possible, let rice soak overnight.)
About an hour before serving, drain rice. Place in a pot with water to cover. Add one teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and let cook about eight to ten minutes. Remove a few grains of rice and test by trying to cut a grain with a fingernail; it should offer no resistance. Rinse in a colander with warm water. In a heavy pot, melt the butter (or warm the oil) and add three tablespoons water. Add rice. Cover top of pot with a tea towel. Let it steam gently over a very low flame for fifteen to twenty minutes.
To serve, reserve pot into a plate. The steamed rice will be crowned with a golden crust. Persian Lamb
with Apricots and Raisins
Serves six 3 tablespoon oil or butter 2 medium onions sliced 2 pound lean lamb cubed 3 tablespoons chopped parsley Salt Freshy ground pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 1/2 cup chicken or lamb stock 1 cup dried apricots halved 1/2 cup seedless raisins 1/2 cup lemon juice
Heat oil or butter. Cook onions until transparent but not brown. Add lamb and brown on all sides. Add parsley, salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and stock. Cook over medium heat about twenty minutes. Add apricots, raisins and lemon juice and cook gently until meat is tender. Serve with rice. Duck with Pomegranate and Walnut Sauce
Serves six 1 roasted duck (four to five pounds) 2 tablespoons butter or oil 1 medium onion thinly sliced 2 teaspoons chopped parsley 1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice or 2 cups fresh pomegranate juice 1/2 cup chicken stock 3/4 cup ground walnuts Salt Freshly ground pepper
Heat butter or oil, add onion and saute until transparent. Add parsley, pomegranate and stock. Simmer gently for twenty minutes. Add walnuts, salt and pepper. Coat duck with mixture and return to 350 degrees oven for twenty minutes. Serve with rice. Persian Pickles Jerusalem artichokes Carrots Celery Onions Cabbage Cauliflower 6 bay leaves 6 cloves garlic 6 stalks fresh green coriander 2 tablespoons black peppercorns 1 quart water 1 quart vinegar 3/4 cup coarse salt
Thinly slice the vegetables and layer them in clean glass jars.Make a brine by combining the remaining ingredients in a large pot and bringing to a rapid boil. Allow the brine to cool and pour over vegetables. The brine should completely cover the vegetables. Allow the pickles to remain in refrigerator for at least three to four weeks. Spinach Salad
Serves six 3 cups cooked spinach, chopped 2 tablespoons butter Salt Freshly ground black pepper Dash paprika 1 1/2 cups yoghurt 1 clove garlic, crushed 1 teaspoon dried mint or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint 1/4 cup lemon juice
Allow butter to melt in spinach. Add salt, pepper and paprika. In another bowl whip yoghurt, add garlic, mint and lemon juice. Combine all ingredients. Chill for at least one hour. Garnish with lemon wedges.
Almost of the pistachio nuts consumed in the United States are imported from Iran. The best ones are beige in color, crunchy, meatly and lightly salted. They are usually sold in their shells, which have, theoretically, opened during roasting.
Pistachio aficonados begin by eating a well-opened but that slips out of the shell easily. One half of the emptied shell is used as a lever and inserted into the next nut, prying it open and allowing the nut meat to fall out of the shell.
Pistachio cookies are one use for the delectable nuts. These tasty morsels, served with fresh after a big meal. For the cookies use the unsalted, shelled pistachios sold by the pound at Middle Eastern markets. Pistachio Cookies
Makes thirty to forty 2 1/2 cups flower 1/2 cup powdered sugar 1/2 pound sweet butter or unsalted margarine (2 sticks) 1 teaspoon rose water 1/2 cup finely crushed pistachio nuts 1 egg york
Whip butter until fluffy, add sugar, rose water, egg yolk and nuts. MIx well. Add flour and knead into dough until a ball is formed. Shaped tablespoon-size balls into oval cylinders and press a whole nut into the center of each cookie. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until slightly colored. Roll in extra powdered sugar.
Marook or lavache is a large flat bread that will lend an authentic touch to a Persian meal. It measures eighteen inches in diameter and can be found folded in quarters in the frozen food section of Middle Eastern markets. To serve, just heat in a 350 degrees oven until completely warmed. Place on the table whole and allow guest to tear off pieces.
Marook or lavache, salted pistachio nuts in the shell, shelled, unsalted pistachio nuts, imported whole, dried apricots, walnuts and pomegranate juice can be found at the following stores:
Acropolis Food Market, 1206 Underwood Street NW, 829-1414.
Skenderis Greek Imports, 1612 20th Street, 265-9664. Also, 5558 Randolp Road, Rockville, 770-5558.
Thomas Market, 2650 University Boulevard, Wheaton, 942-0839.
Salted pistachio nuts in the shell, imported whole, dried apricots, walnuts and pomegranate juice can be found at:
Hellas Greek Market, 1245 20th Street NW, 795-0361.