Sharbat syrups are very popular drinks in Iran. Often made with distilled water of herbs or flowers, one of my favourites was made with mint syrup and fresh grated cucumber with a hint of vinegar, like a shrub. Of course, these are alcohol-free but add a slug of gin or vodka if you are so inclined. These drinks are often served at room temperature in Iran, but I prefer mine with a little ice.
Recipe Category: Fiona Smith Issue 199
The lovely Joulep café in Shiraz serves an unusual saffron latte, a combination that is surprising and very good so I have used it here in a saffron cake with a coffee cream. I made a tall celebration-style cake which serves 12 but you can easily half the sponge mix to make one shorter cake for 6 people. If you do that, reduce the coffee cream only by a third (2 eggs, 150g icing sugar, 200g butter, 11⁄2 tablespoons coffee), so you still have plenty of icing. The sponge needs the moisture of the coffee cream and liqueur, so if you don’t want the alcohol, use weak coffee or even orange juice to drizzle over the layers.
The saffron toffee is a little tricky because the saffron makes it such a lovely orange colour that it’s hard to tell when the sugar starts to caramelise. Keep a close eye on it and you can tell by the smell, or test little bits on the paper as it bubbles. If the weather is muggy, make the toffee just before you need it. Of course, it is not essential to the cake if that all seems too hard!
Yoghurt dips are an important part of Persian meals. One of my favourites is an eggplant dip with walnuts, topped with yoghurt or kashk – fermented, dried milk whey. Kashk, which can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores, has a pungent, sour cheesy taste when rehydrated; it is unique but you can make an approximation by combining sour cream, crème fraîche or yoghurt with strong cheese such as parmesan or a blue. If you don’t fancy that, just use plain yoghurt.
Tahchin is a baked rice dish with a lovely crunchy outside. It is most often made with chicken or lamb but this is a vegetable version inspired by a delicious caramelised carrot and rice dish I ate in Tehran. Spicy foods are uncommon in Iran but I like the kick of a little harissa in this recipe.
Mosen, our driver in Iran, has also owned restaurants and is passionate about food. He gave me his special chicken kebab recipe which I have recreated here. He always uses bone-in leg and thigh pieces, but I have used nibbles for ease; you could use boneless thigh, just cook for a shorter time.