Because the way to every in-laws' heart is through their stomach.
Since rice is the staple of every dinner table, your rice repertoire must be on point. Fluffy, separate grains is what you want, and if there's a rice cooker in sight, you're finished!
Translating to “arranged at the bottom”, this traditional Persian dish features crisp saffron-infused rice layered with chicken, yoghurt and tangy barberries (zereshk). The secret to this? Using the best quality basmati rice you can get, only parboiling it till there's still a sliver of white in the middle of each grain, and then controlling the heat carefully to get an even browning.
Rice with a golden crust (‘tah digh’) is one of the signature dishes of Persian cooking. It can have many different ingredients, but I love the simplicity of this dish with the crimson of the barberries against the gold of the crust, which makes any rice dish special.
When in season, baghali – fava (broad) beans – have many uses in Iranian cuisine. Baghali polo is one of our favourites. Cooked with rice and dill, the bean dish makes the perfect accompaniment to stews and sauces. Podding the broad beans does take some effort, but nothing is too much when trying to impress your new family.
If your in-laws are a little bit progressive, then you can also start riffing on the classic tahdig. This version is a mix of brown rice, lentils and wild rice, boosted with pistachios and tart sour cherries and topped with pomegranate seeds. Colourful and filling, this variation uses easy-to-find ingredients in place of specific Persian specialities.
Stews and other things
Once you've conquered the rice, then you need something to eat the rice with! Usually cooked for hours, hearty family favourites are the next thing they'll be judging at the dinner table.
Hailed as the national dish of Iran, this green stew is made from a mix of herbs (sabzi) and stewed with tamarind and dried lime. For an extra authentic flavour, use goat shanks from a Middle Eastern butcher. And don't forget the condiments - Iranian tables always house bowls of fresh herbs and pickles so that guests can add to their dishes as they please.
Fesanjoon is one of those stews you should start the day before - it's so much more flavour the next day. Thick with pomegranate molasses, this poultry stew has a tangy/sweet quality that will keep you coming back for more. Many families use chicken as an affordable alternative, but for the in-laws? Duck only, please!
Normally associated with South East Asian cuisine, tamarind features in the food of the Persian Gulf (probably due to its closeness to India and Africa). On its own, tamarind is very sour, but when tempered with sugar it becomes pleasantly tart. This dish is sometimes made with fish and features more commonly in the southern part of Iran.
This vegetable noodle soup is traditionally prepared to welcome in the Persian New Year. Noodles are believed to bring good fortune so this soup is also prepared for those embarking on something new. Packed with pulses and vegetables, the important thing to get right in this hearty soup is all the toppings. They are not garnishes: be generous, and watch your new family smile with approval.
You didn't think you only had to master one carb, did you? Bread is another basic that you should master - breakfasts will never be the same again.
Similar to Indian Naan, just lighter and flakier (and in my opinion yummier), taftan is a hearth-baked flatbread from Persia and Pakistan. It is often flavoured with saffron – as this one is – which gives it a striking golden hue and alluring flavour perfect to serve alongside curries and soups (although don’t discount just nibbling it on its own). Just remember to use real saffron - this product comes from Iran, and a discerning eye will be able to see if your saffron is more colour than flavour.
One of the most dramatic-looking Persian bread is nan-e barbari, a 35 cm oblong. A defining characteristic of the barbari, apart from its shape, is that its surface is spread with roomal, a flour and water paste, before baking, which puts a layer of moisture directly on the bread, and creates an excellent crust. Serve it as part of a breakfast platter with feta and honey.
Okay, so this one isn't exactly a recipe, but just like Mulan and the matchmaker, your tea-making skills can make or break your reputation in the family. Persian teas are usually spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron, and steeped for ages to make a strong cuppa. A touch of rosewater is added, and the resulting tea is had with sweets so saccharine that it balances the bitter tea. One colour that you should aim for? Red. Not brown (the colour of black tea), or yellow (the colour of saffron). Red. This balance of the two will create a dark terracotta hue that will make any Persian mama proud.
Oh, and needless to say - no teabags allowed. Tea leaves only, please!
Now you can't have all the tea and nothing to serve with it, right? Yes, rock sugar stirrers are commonly served to sweeten the tea, but having treats alongside will sweeten the deal. (Geddit?)
A popular feature on many Persian New Year tables, these honey, almond and saffron caramels are a speciality from Iran’s Isfahan region, known for its honey production. It adds an aromatic sweetness to this Persian confectionary; feel free to use different honey varieties like orange blossom, thyme and clover.
Think those golden baklava-ish flavours, but in a moist cake with sticky, dark caramelised sides.
This simple yet addictive deep-fried Persian dessert works equally well with any kind of sugar syrup. I use saffron, but you could try rosewater, orange blossom or your own blend of flavours. The saffron syrup will continue to develop flavour and colour over a period of seven days, so begin this step up to a week in advance.
Now, there's choux pastry, and then there's choux pastry. Regular choux are dainty clouds of vanilla, whereas the Persian version is almost twice as large, and filled with a rose-scented cream that'll keep you coming back for more. The tricky part to these pastries are that they need to be made and filled fresh - you might have to time it amongst all the other foods you're cooking!
Just like Noon Khamei, Iranians also have their version of what looks like a Swiss roll to the rest of us. Except it's rose-scented and with wayyyyy more cream. Thick fluffy rolls are a favourite to have with cardamom-spiced black tea.
This soft, crumbly cookie dough is filled with a date and walnut paste and will spark many childhood memories for Iranians. Special stamps are sometimes employed to make the pattern on the top, but if you're making it at home, feel free to get creative with anything on hand! Bottle caps are commonly used - shhh, we won't tell!
What an eye-opener this dish is - read the recipe and you’re thinking herb frittata - assemble it and you realise that herbs are the supreme stars and eggs simply bind it all together.
This is an Iranian version of surf and turf, elevated in true Shane Delia style. This tamarind and pork belly stew with prawn mousse stuffed red mullet is rich, fragrant and beautifully spiced.
Translated literally, kaleh pacheh means "head and hoof soup". While traditionally regarded as a festive winter soup, when eaten for breakfast, this Persian soup is a hearty way to start a day.