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
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.
One of my go-to summer recipes at the beach is a simple Italian salad of canned beans and tuna. Here I have added a few more ingredients and served it with olive and feta barbecue flatbreads. There are no anchovies in this recipe, but you could add them if you are a fan.
Olives, anchovies and garlic make a very punchy under-the-skin stuffing for chicken. I have used leg and thigh pieces, but you could also use a whole chicken or a butterflied bird for the barbecue. Ajvar or acvar is a sauce/relish made with red capsicums. This recipe is from a version I ate in Istanbul which also included eggplant.
In this simple and elegant barbecue meal, lamb and eggplant are dressed with Greek flavours. The type of lamb you choose will affect cooking times so adjust accordingly. If you have pescatarians to cater for, keep the eggplant and lamb separate and you could always spoon some warm lentils, tossed with olive and lemon, over the plain eggplant to boost the protein.
I like the idea of a vegan breakfast/brunch/lunch dish (actually anytime, I eat this for dinner) that is full of Mediterranean flavour. Most scrambled tofu recipes include yeast or the like to get an eggier, umami flavour. Because this recipe is full of punchy flavours that is not necessary here, but if you do have seaweed salt or flakes, black salt or something like that, it’s perfect to use here. You need to have the capsicum, olives and semi-dried tomatoes prepped and ready to go as you don’t want to overcook the tofu. You can use just firm or silken tofu, but I love the texture and mouthfeel that comes from using both. Leftover tofu can be kept for a few days covered in water that you change daily.