Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

Last summer, my son made friends with two well-behaved Iranian boys, P & A, at the pool who had recently moved to Marbella. Over the course of the year, the boys have stayed friends and have gone biking and played together a lot. I also made friends with their mother, M, and we have even gone to the Marbella market together. She is one of my readers and has tried a few of the recipes from my blog. This summer, she and her husband A had a grill built on their terrace and when all was ready, they invited us over to dinner. We were so looking forward to this evening as she had promised to prepare a traditional Iranian meal for us and it was going to be the first time we would eat authentic Persian cuisine.
We arrived a little bit after eight and the three boys went off to play while we sat on their terrace had some Iranian tea – black tea flavored with cardamom seeds and sweetened with nabat (saffron-rock sugar crystals) in a glass inside a silver-filigree holder. The tea was sweet with a whiff of aromatic spice. With this we had some pistachio nuts and gaz – a traditional sweet made with pistachio nuts, sugar, egg whites and saffron – an essential ingredient in Persian cooking . There were also all sorts of fruit – peaches, kiwi, apples, tiny pears and figs – piled up beautifully on a small tray table which looked too good to eat. We talked about the current situation in Iran and life in Marbella before starting up the grill.

While it was still bright and sunny, we went upstairs to their back terrace where with the view of the mountains and the Mediterranean, A started to fire up the traditional grill for the kebobs (kebab). The table was set with crystal glasses, silver serving dishes and maroon napkins. A started grilling the many skewers of yoghurt-marinated chicken kebabs and ground lamb/ground beef kebabs while M started to bring up the many different salads and dishes that she had been preparing since the day before.

M explained that these salads and vegetable dishes were eaten with the kebabs and that Iranians ate family-style with the platters in the middle of the table and everyone sharing the different dishes. There was a salad shiraz, named after the famed city in southwest Iran, was a mixture of diced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions mixed with chopped dried mint and tossed in a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and lots of fresh lemon juice. There was another mixed salad of lettuce, spring onions, tomatoes and cucumbers and a platter of beets, tiny pickles and mashed aubergine. The star of the salads though was the large cut glass container of cucumber, walnut and yoghurt salad which M had lovingly topped with rose petals, saffron and mint in the shape of a flower. There were also two other dishes – kuku sabzi (green vegetable frittata) made with leeks, parsley and cilantro and kuku atun (tuna frittata) made with leeks, carrots and tuna. Both were very similar to the Spanish tortilla. There was one more pot on the table – not vegetables or a salad – but the traditional dish fesenjan – meatballs stewed in pomegranate molasses, crushed walnuts and sugar. There was so much food on the table that I was sure we weren’t going to finish all the kebabs lined up on the grill.

By this time, the kids were chanting ke-bab, ke-bab and so we sat down to eat just as the sun was setting. M prepared us a plate of lamb and chicken kebabs, grilled peppers and tomatoes and long-grain saffron-flavored rice mixed with butter. The lamb was crisped on the outside while the chicken chunks were moist and tender and accompanied by the cooling cucumber yoghurt salad and the tasty rice, the meal was truly delicious. I was wrong about the number of kebabs because we had at least four each and even my son had two lamb kebabs and lots of rice and so there really wasn’t much left. When we had finished with the kebabs, we each had a plate of rice topped with the fesenjan – a last taste of sour-sweet to end our dinner.

The sky was now dark although the night was still warm and after a last mug of hot cardamom tea, we thanked our hosts and walked slowly back home around midnight. It was a delicious introduction to Persian cuisine and an invitation that we will have to return with either a Philippine-themed dinner or an Argentine asado. Mamnoon M & A!

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