Spice & Spirit
Mayer Niknava has been in the United States for 25 years. He married an Ashkenazi woman. Still, every Friday night, his house is filled with traditional Persian aromas. He said he still dreams of the tastes of Iran.
Turmeric is the main spice used in Persian food, Niknava, who lives off Seven Mile Lane, said. Turmeric is a yellow powder with a very distinct aroma and taste. Recently, it became popular in the news when researchers discovered a connection between turmeric and the prevention of breast cancer. Today, scientists are trying to determine if they can use it to treat the disease.
Religious or not, said Niknava, all Persian Jews sit together for a traditional Friday night meal. The centerpiece is ghormeh sabzi.
“The main [part of the] dish is white, basmati rice. … The second is some type of stew made out of different vegetables, mainly herbs and meat and beans. It is all cooked together,” he said, noting the most popular herbs are mint, cilantro, dill, tarragon, basil and leek.
“If one Friday night I don’t make it,” said Niknava, “the kids complain.”
Rosewater is also an important part of the Persian diet. Niknava said the flavorful liquid is mixed with sugar and used in all types of pastries. The most well known is khame, a sandwich made from two slices of cake filled in the middle with a cream of milk fat, sugar and rosewater.
“Until this day, if you mention khame, everyone melts. It’s like, ‘Wow!’” he said.
In the summer, Iranians drink a lot of juice made from a combination of water, ice and homemade syrups. The most popular is one made from quince, a yellow fruit shaped like an apple. It has a dry texture for a fruit but is highly aromatic. Persians slice the quince and cook it with sugar and water. The pulp becomes a jam, which can be spread on breads for breakfast or snacks. The liquid part is preserved as syrup, until the summer, when it is mixed with water, poured over ice and enjoyed.
Other syrups are made from peppermint and citrus blossoms. Niknava said another popular drink is a carrot smoothie.
“They juice fresh carrots, put in two scoops of ice cream and mix it all around,” he said. “It is very common and very delicious.”
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