One of my favorite cuisines in the entire world is Persian (Iranian). I can’t even remember the first time I tried it though I have a feeling it was when we were living in Washington DC and were exposed to dozens of different cuisines. The long tandoori flat breads, perfectly cooked meats, and piles of saffron dyed rice were an invitation to indulge. With the warm summer days we’re having during our visit to the US I decided to put together a Persian picnic for dinner!
With the help of my mom (who is a party planning/table setting pro) we put together this special dinner in no time. While we opted for the picnic table you could easily do this on a picnic blanket. Some table setting tips;
- use simple plates, these are just clear glass with some pewter decorative plates underneath. Use what you have and get creative!
- mismatched small vases and cups can hold a few flowers (pick them wild or from plants in your garden), and also serve as a utensil caddy
- fabric napkins take things up a notch. While paper napkins are easy to throw away they don’t look quite as nice.
- Simple glasses with ice water are easy and attractive. Add fresh cut citrus for an added pop of color and flavor. Lime pairs well with Persian flavors.
Time to Eat Persian Picnic Food!
- Kabob Torsh
- Polow (Rice)
- Simple Cucumber and Tomato Salad
- Fresh melon
I kept things very simple. This meal only took about 45 minutes to put together. If you’ve got extra helpers it could go even quicker. Additionally you could include lavash bread and sabzi, an herb and cheese platter.
Typically you’ll find sabzi on every Persian table. It’s an assortment of fresh herbs, bread, feta cheese, and walnuts. Sometimes there are also onions and radishes on the plate. It’s really the perfect summer side! My Persian Kitchen has great information on how to create your own.
This type of kabob comes from northern Iran and from sources I’ve read specifically the Gilan province but it could certainly extend further. I chose this recipe because it was so unique. I’ve eaten a lot of kabob in my day but nothing like this! You can use ground beef, ground lamb or cut pieces of meat.
Ingredients (for 6 people)
- 1 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 4-5 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- Dice onions and chop walnuts as fine as possible. Mix into the meat along with the molasses, salt and pepper.
- Leave to marinade 1-2 hours (if possible).
- The longer you leave it the more flavor will absorb into the meat.
- Skewer meat while grill is preheating.
- Cook on medium heat until beef is firm. Be careful not to overcook as it will dry out.
Persian rice is not sticky, in fact most Middle Eastern rice does not stick together. It took me a REALLY long time to learn how they managed to do this but it turns out I was overthinking things. One other characteristic is the crunchy layer of rice that is to die for. You’ll be fighting for it.
- 4 cups basmati rice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 Tbsp cooking oil
- 2 Tbsp butter
- pinch of saffron
- Rinse rice in warm water several times until the water is nearly clear and no longer cloudy.
- Choose a large pot and bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add rice and salt and continue to boil until water is nearly gone and rice is tender.
- Crush saffron between your fingers and add to the pot. Stir to combine.
- Place a tea towel between on top of the pot and put on the lid of the pot (the towel will be sandwiched between the pot and the lid. Turn off the heat and leave for 15 minutes until the water is gone and the rice is tender. The towel absorbs the condensation, separating the rice grains.
- In a pan add oil and butter. Spoon just enough rice to create a thin layer on the pan and cook on medium-high heat until it creates a crunchy layer.
- Place the soft rice in a bowl first, and then add the crunchy rice on top.
Cucumber and Tomato Salad
This salad is really common throughout the entire region. It’s perfect for summer when all of the produce is fresh and the flavors are great. The onions are optional. I don’t care for them so I leave them out.
- 1 large cucumber
- 2 tomatoes
- 1/4 onion
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Peel cucumbers and cut in half.
- Use a spoon to remove the seeds in the middle of the cucumber.
- Slice into strips and then dice to uniform size.
- Wash tomato and cut in half.
- Remove the seeds and liquid part in the middle so you’re just left with the exterior flesh.
- Cut into strips and dice to a similar size as the cucumbers.
- Dice the onion as small as possible.
- Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Pour just enough onto the vegetables to coat.
Layout your picnic and enjoy!
This post is part of the Global Learning series, where each month we focus on a different country. This month we are learning about Iran, so be sure to check out our main page for more great ideas for sharing about Iran with kids!
Also, don’t miss our blog series and giveaway for Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month, going through the end of August!