Iranian cuisine offers feast of flavours

Lyna Mohammad

Iran’s culinary culture has historically interacted with the cuisines of the neighbouring regions – Caucasian, Turkish, Levantine, Greek, Central Asian and Russian – with typical Iranian main dishes comprising combinations of rice with meat, vegetables and nuts.

Aspects of Iranian cuisine were adopted into Indian and Pakistani cuisines. Herbs along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots and raisins are frequently used in the cuisines and characteristic Iranian flavourings such as saffron, dried lime and other sources of sour flavours along with cinnamon, turmeric and parsley are mixed and used in various dishes.

To prepare a real Iranian dish, it takes quite a long time, explained Iranian Chef Ahmad, who is currently in the country at the invitation of the Embassy of the Republic of Iran to Brunei Darussalam, in conjunction with Iran’s upcoming National Day.

In an interview with the Bulletin, Chef Ahmad shared that his passion for cooking comes from his love for food, taste and various colours of nature. Additionally, having a father who is a chef also played a part in his interest in food.

It was his father who taught him how to cook. Chef Ahmad has worked as a chef at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran for the past 30 years and has vast cooking experience in several countries.

Chef Ahmad demonstrates how to prepare an Iranian dish. PHOTO: LYNA MOHAMAD

With cooking expertise in Koobideh Kebab – an Iranian dish that offers the most juicy and amazingly flavourful minced meat kebabs grilled on skewers, traditionally over hot coals – Chef Ahmad shared that cooking with love (hence the long time and care in preparing an Iranian dish) and eating together with family are part of Iranian culinary culture.

Koobideh Kebab as well as Jujeh Kebab, Dizi and Ghormesabizi are the dishes among his creations that are loved by diners.

Jujeh Kebab is a staple of Iranian cuisine and has two popular variations – grilled chicken with or without bones, marinated with various marinades and saffron, skewered and grilled and often enjoyed with grilled tomatoes, onions, lavash bread or saffron rice.

Having learnt the use of saffron in Iranian dishes, Chef Ahmad said during a recent cooking demonstration for members of the Brunei Darussalam National Anti-Drug Association (BASMIDA) and the Council of Women of Brunei Darussalam (CWBD) that saffron is an expensive seasoning as it is a labour intensive crop.

It is a spice derived from the crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus, where the vivid crimson stigma and styles, called threads, are hand-picked and dried to amplify its flavour and are used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food.

During the cooking demonstration, Chef Ahmad prepared two dishes: Kookoo Sabzi, a herb-baked omelette, and a traditional sweet dessert called Halva.

While in the Sultanate, Chef Ahmad tried some of the local food. He said there are many varieties that he finds tasty, and added that he particularly likes the various cucur-cucuran (fritters) such as cucur pisang and ubi manis, many of which he saw at the Gadong night market. “Brunei has very friendly people and is a very peaceful country,” said Chef Ahmad. “I believe as a chef that this kind of environment can produce good quality food and products.”