A good reason to wake up in the morning in Tehran, Breakfast.
I’m not a big lover of breakfast. Or at least the breakfast we have here. I’ve always preferred a slice of bread with olive oil and coffee than the usual biscuits and milk. The Persian breakfast completely reflects my taste.
Not so grand as the English one, not so sweetish as the French one, the Iranian breakfast tells in its delicate simplicity the perfect balance of flavour.
After waking up, we used to sit around the counter top that divided the living room from the kitchen.
Sob bekheyr azizam.
Azizami, sob bekheyr. Khubi?
Man khubam, merci. Khubi?
Kheyli khubam, merci.
Every morning I could brush up on my poor Farsi. How are you, dear? Fine, thanks my dears. And you? Really good. Do you want some tea? Yes, thanks. Hamed’s mother gave us a steamy cup of tea to drink while eating everything that was already on the table: panir, the french feta, more creamy and less salty than the greek one, honey, walnuts, marmalade and bread, usually lavash, sometimes sangak.
I love Persian bread.
Sangak and Lavash
Sangak is a plain, rectangular, or triangular Iranian whole wheat sour dough flatbread. It is considered to be Iran’s national bread. Its name consists of two parts: ‘Sang’ in Persian means stone or pebble and ‘sangak’ means little stone. There are, normally, two varieties of this bread offered at Iranian bakeries: the generic one which has no toppings and the more expensive variety which is topped with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
Lavash is a soft, thin flatbread. Traditionally the dough is rolled out flat and slapped against the hot walls of a clay oven. While quite flexible when fresh, lavash dries out quickly and becomes brittle and hard. The soft form is easier to use when making wrap sandwiches.
The ritual was always the same: take a piece of lavash, put on a bit of cheese, nuts and some honey, wrap it. Never put sugar in the glass of tea, but always in the mouth. A sugar cube at a time, paying attention to not let it melt at first. A sugar cube should be enough for a whole cup of tea. I couldn’t do it.
Talking about food I remember that night when Pooya invited us to have dinner at his place. His mother, a tiny woman with cute eyes, cooked all the possible Persian food. It was like ending up in a paradise for lovers of food. I’m going to try to remember everything, but it’s difficult : Khoresht-e fesenjān, a poultry stew with pomegranate juice and nuts; mirza-qasemi, a mix of roasted aubergines with garlic, tomatoes, turmeric, oil, butter, salt and pepper, with an egg on the top if you like it that way; koofteh berenji, huge meat balls with green peas similar to the greek kufta; tachin, a rice pie with jogurt, saffron and chicken; ghormeh sabzi, a lamb stew with herbs, amongst them parsley, coriander, leek, spinach and fenugreek. Obliviously not wine or beer to drink, but coke and a flavoured non alcoholic beer. My favourites were lemon and peach flavour.
Beside the incredible food, that night I could also get a life story from this family. Pooya’s father told me about his life. First an engineer in Iran and than a taxi-driver after the Revolution. Pooya is not a muslim. Neither is his father. His mother is Muslim. I was not used to seeing women with scarfs inside the house. They are not Muslim in Hamed’s house. Pooya’s mother always covered his head when another man was there.
I told them about a movie I watched, Persepolis. I noticed a bit of bitterness in the air. Pooya told me the story of his uncle, he fought for the war, he was not Muslim. He had his own ideas. After the revolution, when the Islamic Republic began he was sentenced to death. It was a story similar to the one you could see in Persepolis.
Khoresht-E Ghormeh Sabzi
- 1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans
- 1 handful fresh fenugreek leaves or 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
- 1 bunch parsley
- 3 small bunch coriander
- 2 bunches spring onions
- 1 handful dill
- 2 bunches chives or 2 bunches of shallot greens
- 360 g diced lamb
- 1 onion
- 1 large dried lemon
- salt and pepper
- 2 lemons, juice of
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Wash fresh herbs. Chop finely and remove stalks/roots. Fry the herbs (sprinkling in the dried fenugreek if using) in the olive oil, turning constantly, adding more oil when necessary until the herbs begin to darken (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside. Fry chopped onion in pan until soft. Add meat until they get brown. Stir in the herbs. Add the beans and enough water to cover. Put lid on pan and simmer gently for forty five minutes. Slice the dried lemon into quarters and add to stew. Simmer gently for forty five minutes. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.