Recipes for herbed frittata, yogurt and cucumber Soup

Is the more correct term “Persian cuisine” or “Iranian cuisine”?


It’s still a quandary. We go to Persian restaurants, not “Iranian” ones. People from Iran call themselves and most everything about them “Iranian.” There’s no place on a modern map marked “Persia.” Like its history, much about Persia, er, Iran, is fluid. (I’ll mostly reference Persia here.)

But there is no mistaking that Persia has given the globe both significant foodstuffs and their cooking. Going back 4,000 years, when scribes there recorded recipes on clay tablets in cuneiform, Persia has had a massive influence on all the cuisines of the Middle East and, through them (especially via Arab conquests) into all of Mediterranean Europe and, looking eastward, on the cuisines of Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

Many of the foods that we associate with India—biryani, naan, garam masala, pilaf and kebab—are originally Persian. Persia gave the world of food saffron, the pomegranate, spinach and (get this, hundreds of years ago) almond milk. Almond milk! Rosewater and the edible parts of the rose (petals, rosehips and buds) originated in Persia and are commonly consumed there today.

In the days of the Great Silk Road, Persia acted as a sort of hub airport for the diffusion of the lemon, the orange and the eggplant. Of all foods for which it has been a conduit, rice (from China of course) is the most significant in its own contemporary cooking.

The Iranian ways with rice are legion, but of two general sorts, as “chelow” or plain rice and as “polow” or rice cooked with (it appears, from many recipes) anything else edible. The three-stage way of cooking all rice dishes—rinsing and soaking, then boiling, then steaming—assures rice that is cooked like flavored air, light and dry.