Inside the Persian kitchen

A few days ago I visited one of my all time favorite restaurants in Sandy Springs, Fanoos Persian cuisine. I had spoken to the owner, Jalal on several occasions before asking him to share some of his delicious Iranian recipes with me. This turned out to be my lucky night! Jalal gave me the pleasure of his company and some of his original recipes from his native Iran. Not only did he come over to my table and narrated the recipes of my choosing, he even brought out some of the essential ingredients used in Persian cooking.

Jalal told me how to make Kashke Bademjon (fried eggplant and kaske dip), Mirza Ghasemi (grilled eggplant and tomato dip), Shirin Polo (sweet rice mixed with barberries, orange peels, sliced almonds, and pistachios) and Fessenjon (chicken stew in pomegranate and walnut sauce).

I tried to take as detailed notes as possible as I have not cooked any of these dishes before but it wasn’t that easy. Jalal, being a true chef from Iran gave me measurements using his palm and fingers. At one point when I asked him how much rice to use in the Shirin Polo, his response was “Well it depend on how hungry they are!”

You will rarely find a Persian kitchen that does is not well stocked with these common grocery items, so Jalal sent me home with them. They can be used in multiple dishes and measurements differ by who’s cooking.

Rose water – Almost like an essence, rose water is very delicate and used for flavoring food and in beauty products. A few teaspoons are sprinkled over rice dishes, ice creams, cookies and puddings for a hint of rose flavor and aroma.

Saffron – A spice derived from a flower in very small quantities, the real saffron can be quite expensive. It is used in Spanish cooking to make yellow rice, in the Middle East to flavor rice (pulaos), added to milk and desserts for rich color and flavor. A few strands of saffron added to hot liquid (water or milk) and left for a few minutes will produce a golden rich color that is added to the dish. It also has a sweet yet smooth taste that goes well with everything from risotto to ice cream.

Pomegranate paste – Used for sauces and seasonings, the pomegranate paste is derived from fresh pomegranate seeds and is heavily concentrated. It adds a rich, complex texture to chicken and meat stews. As a result, the dish will have a sweet and nutty flavor (add some heat for a spicy contrast).

Kashk – Persian whey that comes in a bottle and looks like yogurt. A delightful eggplant spread, called Kashke Bademjon is made with roasted eggplants and kashk. If you are lactose intolerant, gluten free, need more protein, consider Kashk. It is used as a substitute for cream in many Italian dishes too.

Sumac – A deep red or brown powder that is common served in Middle Eastern and Persian restaurants alongside salt and pepper. Sumac adds a lemony taste to the food and is generously sprinkled on tops of bread, kebabs, dips and more. It is also used as a garnish on most dishes from this area.

Dill Weed – Dill is commonly used across the globe in different cuisines but is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region. However, where and when you buy your dried dill is very important. Dill has a strong, crisp flavor, similar to caraway or fennel. The Persian kind is very strong in fragrance so you will really be able to notice it in the food. A couple of teaspoons used in sauces, stews and spreads goes a long way.

Fanoos Persian Cuisine

6125 Roswell Rd Ste 104 B
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(404) 256-2099

Bollywood in Persia

I celebrated a dear friend’s birthday this past weekend at a Persian restaurant called Fanoos located in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta. I have been to this place a few times before and over time, have come to know its owner Jalal.

Jalal moved from Northern Iran to the US over 30 years ago. He took over Persian Tea House couple of years ago. He renamed the place, added a bar but kept the menu and started offering a scrumptious lunch buffet. The restaurant is a typical family arrangement with an open hall and a water fountain in the centre. There are several booths with Persian carpets and cushions, where large families of 10-15 people can sit comfortably on the floor. In the corner, there is a glass booth with a tandoor (round clay oven) where the chef makes fresh bread as soon as you order.

Our group of friends started with a round of pomegranate martinis to celebrate the occasion. These were very different than what I have had at other bars before. Instead of the typical sweetness in the cocktail, there was a spicy flavor (from anise or cinnamon) but it was delicious and smooth!

Baskets of fresh bread was served with a small plate of starters (feta cheese, mint leaves, walnuts olives) even before we had our menus. We ordered some appetizers to share – Must O’ Kheiar, Must O’ Mousir,  Salad Shirazi, Dolmeh, Kashke Bademjon, Hummus, and Must O’ Kheia. If you have tried Lebanese or Turkish food before, some of these may sounds familiar.

For main course, I usually stick to one of their Polo’s, as that’s something I can’t find elsewhere. The Shirin Polo (sweet rice mixed with barberries, orange peels, sliced almonds, and pistachios) is my favorite. I ask them to pair it with Salmon, which is always grilled to perfection. When I am not in mood for sweet, I order the Zereshik  Polo (Rice mixed with barberry and saffron). My friends who ordered the lamb kebabs seemed to have loved it as well.

After dinner, we helped ourselves to the dance floor. Usually, there are belly dancers after 8pm on weekend. But since we were there on a Sunday, we asked Jalal to play some Bollywood music for us. Even the non-Indian patrons joined in for some Bhangra moves.