Talking about Persian food, the first dish that comes to people’s minds is usually Kebab, which has also travelled far beyond its homeland’s borders. It now could be found in many European and North American cities, thanks to the large Iranian diaspora!
Kebab is much more than a portion of food in the Iranian culture; it is a lifestyle! It is the inseparable part of Iranian picnics, lunch boxes, parties and even funerals! The critical ingredient of Kebab is meat (veal, lamb, chicken), much like the majority of other famous Persian dishes in which meat plays an important role. Given that, vegetarian and vegan diets are not typical in the Iranian food culture, and meat-based protein is considered an essential source of nutrients which cannot be omitted from one’s diet according to Iranian moms.
Although Iranian cuisine seems to be in stark contrast with veganism, thanks to the internet and social media, in recent years the international wave of awareness about global warming and the importance of reducing animal products consumption for both its environmental and health benefits, has also reached Iran and has been mostly welcomed by the younger generation. Accordingly, the country’s dining out scene has also been influenced by this animal-friendly eating style, and now more restaurants in Iran are considering vegan dishes in their menus.
As previously mentioned, the classic Iranian cuisine is highly meat-based, thus coming up with creative, nutritious and tasty plant-based recipes might be still a big challenge for many Iranian vegans. While the majority of them usually go for non-Iranian recipes (which is indeed a great source of inspiration) or make meatless versions of the everyday Persian dishes, some curious Iranian vegans are trying to explore the local culinary heritage of the country in search of plant-based dishes. Surprisingly it turns out to be a rich and diverse source of vegan recipes!
Benefiting from a four-season climate and covering a vast area of land, Iran culinary culture has been influenced by both the variety of crops, vegetables, fruits and other foodstuffs as well as the diversity of ethnic groups each having their cooking traditions and local dishes native to their area of residence. The interesting fact is that many of these delicious forgotten foods are 100% vegan!
Here is a concise introduction to some of these unique dishes to inspire your next vegan meal.
1. Dampokhtak: Let’s start with the Capital, Tehran. Although it has not been proved yet, the majority of Iranians agree that this dish originates in Tehran.
The key ingredients are rice, yellow fava beans, onion and turmeric as the protagonist. The process of cooking Dampokhtak starts with sautéing a chopped onion. Afterwards, it would help if you spiced the almost fried onions with a generous amount of turmeric, a pinch of black pepper and salt, then add the previously soaked yellow fava beans to the mixture and let them stir together for a few minutes. Next, you have to add some water to the pot and wait until the beans are half-cooked, then it is time to add the rice (previously soaked in water). Place the lid and let it cook for about 25 minutes. The final result must be a golden aromatic pot of rice which some like to top it with a fried egg and is usually served together with Salad Shirazi (a special Persian Salad) or local pickles.
|2 cups of rice||Turmeric, salt and pepper|
|2 cups of yellow fava beans|
|1 medium onion|
2. Kal Kabab: Do not be deceived by its name! It is not a Kebab. It is a vegan appetizer similar to the Lebanese Baba Ghanoush and native to the Guilan Province in Northern Iran. Kal Kabab is a tasty combination of grilled eggplants, pomegranate juice, ground walnuts, garlic, aromatic herbs (mint, Chouchaq and Persian hogweeds) and pomegranate molasses. The smoked, grilled eggplant is peeled and mashed together with the rest of the ingredients till a thick creamy mixture is obtained. It is usually served cold, with bread.
|500 grams of grilled eggplants||3-4 teaspoons of grated garlic|
|½ cup of ground walnuts||½ cup of sour pomegranate juice|
|3-4 tablespoons of herbs||salt|
|3-4 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses|
3. Yatimak: A nutritious plant-based dish from the city of Bushehr in Southern Iran which is made of: eggplants, black-eyed peas, tamarind water, onion and chilli pepper powder. First Chop the onion and sauté it in a pan, peel and medium dice the eggplants and add them to the fried onions. Spice the mixture with chilli pepper powder, turmeric and salt and stir till the eggplants are fried and have absorbed the flavour of the spices, now add a cup of water to the pot and let them cook for half an hour. Pour ½ cup of warm water on a small pack of tamarind. Let it soak for 20-30 minutes (you can mash the tamarind with your fingers to get a thicker extract). Then strain it and add the tamarind water to the eggplants mixture along with the peas and let them cook till the water is almost absorbed (yet the mixture should not be dried), serve it with bread.
|4 eggplants||½ cup of tamarind water|
|1 medium/large onion||Turmeric, salt and pepper|
|1 cup of black-eyed peas|
4. Shish Andaz: Another vegan dish from Northern Iran (Guilan province) rich in healthy fats. The ingredients are somehow similar to Kal Kabab, yet the recipe is different. Shish Andaz is a stew made of finely ground walnuts, eggplants, pomegranate molasses, onion and spices (turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon and salt).
It is a rather time-consuming dish since you need to prepare the ingredients separately. As the first step, peel the eggplants cut them into round slices and fry them in oil. Likewise, chop a large onion and fry it till it turns almost gold. Then sauté the ground walnuts in a tablespoon of oil for about five minutes, add the onions and spice the mixture with salt, turmeric, pepper and cinnamon, stir for a few minutes. Now it is time to add the pomegranate molasses and 2-3 cups of lukewarm water. Place the lid and let it cook for an hour, then add the fried eggplants to the pot and let them cook together with the other ingredients for ten more minutes. In the end, you should have a delicious dark thick stew, which is best served with Persian rice.
|5 eggplants||300 grams of walnuts|
|3-4 tablespoons of fried onion||Turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper|
|2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses|
5. Gal-e Hami: This dish holds a special place among the Iranian vegan foods as it is a traditional Zoroastrian dish native to the province of Yazd in central Iran. Gal-e Hami which literary means “all mixed together” is made of eggplants, zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, onions and garlic with a pinch of turmeric and black pepper. The recipe is super easy. Small dice all the ingredients, pour a little oil to your pot, add all the vegetables to the pot except for the tomatoes when they are half cooked add the diced tomatoes as well and spice the mixture with turmeric, salt and pepper. Put on the lid and let them cook for 15 more minutes. Serve it with the bread of choice.
|5 eggplants||100-150 grams cauliflower|
|4 zucchinis||2-3 cloves of garlic|
|2 carrots||1 medium/large onion|
|3-4 tomatoes||Turmeric, salt and pepper|
6. Zeitoon Parvardeh: Like the majority of Persian vegan/vegetarian foods, this side dish or meze also comes from the Province of Guilan in Northern Iran. Zeitoon Parvardeh literary means “processed olives” or olive dip. It is made of pitted green olives, ground walnuts, garlic, pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, pomegranate arils, herbs (Persian hogweeds and Chouchaq) olive oil and salt. Unlike the long list of ingredients, the recipe is easy, grab a bowl, add the olives to it and mix it well with the rest of the ingredients, do not forget to finely mash the garlic cloves before adding them to the mixture. You can use sour, sweet or sour-sweet pomegranate juice and molasses-based on your taste, yet most Iranians prefer a sour-sweet taste. For a better result, let it rest in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before serving
|1 kg pitted green olives||300 grams of ground walnuts|
|2-3 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses||1 medium head of garlic (or less as per your taste)|
|1.5 cup of pomegranate juice||3 tablespoons of olive oil|
|3-4 tablespoons of herbs||salt|
|½ cup of pomegranate arils|
7. Shole Zard: It is a super popular vegan national Iranian desert, mostly made on religious holidays. The key ingredients are rice, sugar, butter (margarine), Saffron, cardamom, rose water, cinnamon and pistachio/almond slices for decoration.
This sweet golden Persian rice pudding is a time-consuming dish which is definitely worth the effort. First of all, soak the rice in water for at least 2-3 hours, it is much better to change the water a couple of times. Then drain the rice, add it to a pot together with a couple of cups of water, bring it to a boil, turn down the heat and let it on the stove for at least an hour till the rice is fully cooked. Then add sugar, ground cardamom, rose water, butter and Saffron -the most important spice of this dish- to the cooked rice. Cook the mixture on low heat for at least two more hours, till the rice finely absorbs all the flavours. During the cooking time, keep stirring the mix (every 15 minutes or more frequently) to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot and keep an eye on the thickness of your pudding as it should not be too watery or too thick and whenever you felt it is draining, add some water. It is served both cold and hot and is usually decorated with cinnamon powder, and pistachio/almond slices.
|1 cup of short-grain rice||½ cup of rose water|
|2 cups of sugar||½ cup of brewed saffron (or more)|
|6 cups of water||1 tablespoon of cardamom|
|50 grams of butter||cinnamon, slices pistachio and sliced almond for decoration|
By Nazanin Moayed