Day 14: Red Gold on the Silk Road
 

Iran is home to one of the oldest continuously inhabited geographies in the world.  It has been at the center of the Greek, Mongol, Ottoman, and Seleucid Empires.  Most notably, this geography is the cradle of the Persian Empire which stretched from modern day Iran all the way to Greece on the north and Egypt on the south.

In modern days, Iran produces 90% of the world's Saffron (they call it Zaffron) and Caviar and is also famous for their pistachios.  Religiously they are Muslim, which is perhaps why people confuse them with Arabs (see below).  Islam is broken into two major divisions, with many subdivision.  Most of these divisions begin with the death of Muhammad who did not name a successor.  The majority (Sunni) followed Muhammad's main General, Abu Bakr.  The minority (Shia) followed his son-in-law as a kind of genetic successor.  The country is 90-95% Shia and is the largest population of Shia Muslims in the world followed by India, Pakistan, and then Nigeria.

An often overlooked fact about Iran is that they are the historic home for some of the largest and oldest Jewish communities in the world.  Many Jewish characters, such as Queen Esther and Daniel, are buried there in Iran and Muslims, Christians, and Jews pay their respects there in their own respective ways.

Iran is home to a wealth of historic artifacts and ancient cultures

Cultural I.Q. Iranians are not Arabs. 

A common mistake that many people make is that Iranians are Arabs.  Iranians are not Arabs, they speak Persian rather than Arabic and are not of Semitic descent.  The problem is so common that there are several sites dedicated to correcting this error, the most humorous moniker being www.persiansarenotarabs.com.  The name Iran means "Land of the Aryans."  Check out the funny video of the very funny Persian comedian, Maz Jobrani, describing the differences between Arabs and Iranians.

Chicken Kubideh 

Iran is at the crossroads of Afghanistan to the east and Iraq to the west.  Although there are many regional similarities between Iranian food and Mediterranean food, one of the pleasant unique foods we tried was Chicken Kubideh (also spelled koobideh).  If you have ventured into Middle Eastern, Greek, or Mediterranean food, then you might have tried Kofta.  Kofta is ground meat that is grilled on a skewer and is common throughout the region.  Chicken Kubideh is essentially the same mix but in a chicken variant.  One ingredient that gives Kubideh a little something extra is saffron.  This spice is the world's most expensive spice and this is due to the fact that it comes from a flower that is harvested by hand.  It takes more than 75,000 saffron blossoms to produce a single pound of saffron!

Someone couldn't make up their mind as this is a mix of Beef and Chicken Kubideh with a mix of dill and cranberry rice.

Feta and Herbs

Herbs and Fetta

One of the delights at Kasra Persian Grill is the plate of fresh herbs and feta cheese.  It is some of the best feta we have tried and goes paired nicely with their baked flat bread and humus.  The humus at Kasra is a step up from other places and this is due to their generous use of garlic.  Dipped dishes are meant to be shared straight from the dish.  Don't be individualistic and pull out your own portion.  Share it with your friends directly from the dish.  Remember, only use the right hand!

Kasra's bread is the best.

Chicken Kebab

Dishes such as kebab are a staple from North Africa, through Central Asia, all the way to India.  What makes kebab worth trying at every stop along the way is the fact that the spice "bouquet" changes with delightful nuances at every stop.  Honestly, we like them all, but Iranian kebab is noteworthy for its delicate balance of flavors.  It is savory and nuanced.

Chicken kebab with artistic slicing and grill marks on the top.

Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup

Lentil soup is another regional dish which is worth trying.  This is a dish which probably predates most of the common modern food in the region.  It is unique to try since most people do not eat a lot of lentils and they are, while not being odd in flavor, not common in most cuisines and restaurants.  The dish comes in two main variants, one where the lentils are whole, and the other where they are blended.  The latter is my favorite and has a smooth texture.  The lemon is not just a garnish, squeeze it into the soup for just the right finishing touch.

Cranberry Rice

As Cajuns, we grew up on rice dishes.  We are always game to try new ones.  A common flavor along the silk road is sweet rices.  You can try one at Kasra.  Cranberry rice is a long grain rice that is garnished with a cranberry, pine nut, carrot "slaw."  Another favorite is the dill rice.  Cut the roasted tomato on the side and mix it in with the butter for a delicious but simple medley.

Cranberry Rice