Though most of us will never visit, Iran is home to one of the world’s first empires and one of its oldest civilizations, with roots reaching back millennia. With the Middle East and Europe to the west, central Asia and China to the east, and bodies of water to the north and south, ancient Persia was strategically valuable and frequently attacked. But Persia’s position as a crossroads worked both ways: Its cuisine reflects elements from all sides, and travelers spread word of the court’s dazzling feasts, taking with them native foods. Pomegranates, pistachios, saffron and many other ingredients originated there.
Enter a traditional Persian home today and you may be invited to join the family at the sofreh, an embroidered cloth spread over the carpet or table, laden with an irresistible array of foods: Sabzi khordan, a bounty of fresh herbs with radishes and spring onions; salty goat’s-milk cheese, nuts, pickles and bread; yogurt mixed with various vegetables; khoresh, long-simmered stews often made with lamb, the flavors carefully balanced between sweet and sour; kebabs, marinated meat or fish, grilled on a skewer. And always, abundant fresh fruit, whatever’s in season.
Nush-e jan! your hosts might say — bon appétit!