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  • Martin Castle

I opened-up a yogurt, underneath the lid it said, "Please try again."

Updated: May 20, 2020


My fridge is housing some beef & lamb burgers from our local farmshop and the weather seems set fair so the waft of BBQ grills will be coming across the fences from the neighbours. One consequence of the lockdown (still fairly strongly held here) is that as everyday feels a bit like a weekend every day could be BBQ time.


On meeting Katayoun I was introduced to a whole new cuisine - that of Persia/Iran: aromatic rather than spicey; based on fresh ingredients and platefuls of the most wonderful of salads. I quickly came to like many of the dishes she cooked, although I did struggle a bit with the lack of potato in the dishes (the potato is only one of a handful of things not invented in Persia). For the first five years we lived in different parts of the country so only met at weekends when timing allowed. Early on I decided that I would try to impress her by cooking a Persian dish from scratch - pomegranate soup (Ash-e anar) was my choice because I'm pretty good with soups. Anyhow, it turns out that Persian 'ssoup' is actually a form of stew and it took me all day (and I needed a maid) and had about a thousand ingredients and the pomegranate went in right at the end and was a tablespoon of pomegranate paste! Fortunately, it did the trick and she was impressed.


Typical Iranian main dishes are combinations of rice with meat, vegetables, and nuts. Fresh herbs (Iran is a fertile country) are frequently used, along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots and raisins. Characteristic Iranian flavorings such as saffron, dried lime, cinnamon, turmeric and parsley are mixed and used in various dishes along with the spice sumac.

The greatest praise from katayoun is that the rice is "very good"! Perfectly cooked rice is the key to an Iranian's heart and the traditional method is as follows:

Chelow is plain rice served as an accompaniment to a stew or kebab, while polow is rice mixed with something. They are, however, cooked in the same way. Rice is prepared by soaking in salted water and then boiling it. The parboiled rice is drained and returned to the pot to be steamed. This method results in an exceptionally fluffy rice with the rice grains separated and not sticky.

A golden crust, called tahyedigh (pronounced tadig), is created at the bottom of the pot using a thin layer of bread or potato (yep the potato made it into the cuisine) slices. This helps stop the rice at the bottom burning. Meat, vegetables, nuts, and fruit are sometimes added in layers or mixed with the chelow and then steamed. When chelow is in the pot, the heat is reduced and a tea-towel or thick paper towel is placed under the pot lid to absorb excess steam.


In our house, we simply wash the rice under running water, add one and a half cups of water to each cup of rice and add salt and a dollop of olive oil. The rice is then boiled uncovered until 'holes' appear as the water is boiled off and at that point the heat is turned down to the lowest, a cloth or paper towel is placed over the pan and the lid put on tightly. After 20 minutes your rice will be ready.


To accompany many Persian dishes is a yogurt drink, dugh - its name derives from the Persian word for milking, dooshidan - that is easy to make and refreshing, whether you are cooking a Persian dish with a list of ingredients as long as your arm or simply BBQing.


Recipe:

Dugh

2 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup of whole-milk yoghurt, well beaten

1 tsp finely chopped fresh mint

½ tsp of salt (optional)

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1½ cups chilled soda or spring water

Ice cubes

Method:

1. Pour yogurt, mint, salt & pepper into a jug. Stir well.

2. Add the soda or spring water gradually, stirring constantly. Add an ice cube or two.

3. Serve chilled.



Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"oobit – a long, hairy caterpillar (Scots, also "wowbat", "yubit"). By association, an unkempt person of shaggily hirsute appearance (e.g. after a long period of lockdown without access to hairdressers!).

photo: @camasmor


ps: on recommendation watched The Two Popes on Netflix. Inspired by true events it is worth watching and I would love to think the ending actually happened.


pps: I have witnessed Katayoun & her siblings fighting over the tahyedigh - that's the power of potato!


Quotes

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. “ - Corrie ten Boom
"The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." - William Wordsworth
"Cling tight to your sense of humour. You will need it every day." T E Lawrence
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