Whether or not you've ever watched Shahs of Sunset, you probably know that rice isn't just a key part of Persian cuisine: It's a way of life. But when it comes to this extraordinary culinary tradition—which some prefer to call Iranian and others Persian—rice is only the beginning. The cuisine is full of rich, nuanced, incredibly flavorful dishes, and if you're looking for a place to begin your exploration, Shahs' Shervin Roohparvar has a few ideas.
"I love Persian food. It's my favorite of all foods, not just because I'm Persian but because it's made up of everything I love," Shervin tells The Feast. "I'm much more of a rice versus pasta guy. We feel that rice brings so much joy." Sherv also shared his must-eats for newbies to Persian cuisines, because a life without yellow lentil stew is hardly a life well-lived.
1. Shervin wants you to eat all the kebab, all the time.
"My favorite Persian food is the kebab— all of them! I love the chicken kebab, ground beef koobideh kebab, lamb chops, and of course the filet. My mouth literally just salivated as I said that. You must try the chicken kebab marinated the Persian way with yogurt, lime and saffron."
2. Real Persians eat crispy rice
"If you're not obsessively in love with tadigh, you're either in need of medical attention or a Persian imposter," says the Sherv. He's right, because this traditional crispy Persian rice is the stuff dreams are made of, offering top layers of fluffly light rice and lower layers of dense, slightly oily crisped rice, with layers of either potato or bread in addition. It's basically what happens when carbs go up to food heaven. "When it comes to tadigh options, between bread, potato, pasta or just rice, I consider myself an equal opportunist. If I had to choose just one I would say potato: It's amazing and more rare to come across."
3. Gheymeh is the party your tongue has been looking for
"Persian food includes a wide variety of stews as well," he says of the fine Persian art of khoresht, or stew. "My stew of choice being gheymeh. This is a lentil stew that will have either beef cubes or can be made with chicken as well, which is my preference." It's traditionally served as a slow-cooked, nearly creamy-textured yellow lentil stew with subtle meat pieces thrown in for added depth.
4. Doogh will put you in the right kind of coma
Don't let the sound of the name fool you; doogh is delicious. Still, "this is definitely an acquired taste," says Shervin. "I have had my non-Persian friends try this and seldom was the sour yogurt soda drink well-received by them. Growing up, a family get-together and feast would not have been the same without doogh, so the taste went hand in hand with the meal. Be fair-warned as the doogh is almost guaranteed to induce a deep, drooling on yourself, fetal position type of food coma." Is that a promise, Sherv?
5. Want to play polo?
"Polo" means rice in Farsi, the language spoken by most Persian/Iranian natives, so any time you see that on a menu, know you're getting into some solid carb territory. "Zereshk polo is a favorite: It's rice with cooked barberries mixed in, to give it just enough of a zang, a tangy sour flavor to each bite." If you don't know, now you know.
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