No matter where I go or what I do, of course Persian food will always have a place in my heart. I say that Indian or Sri Lankan might be my top favorite cuisines, but that is only because it is new to me and I've had Persian food all my life. But if you took it away from me, I would miss it like crazy. It's only that its so prevalent in my life that I sometimes take it for granted.
But for those of you out there who were not raised on Persian food, I imagine you are probably in heaven when you are eating it, and if you haven't had Persian food ever...then I truly have no words. It is single-handedly one of the greatest joys in life. This needs to become your priority. And with a gazillion places to go to all over LA, there is really no excuse.
But, I say if you are going to do it, then do it right. My recommendation is Sadaf in Encino. It is the safest bet and I trust them to represent Persian food because they do it very well.
I'll get to the kabobs in just a moment, but let me speak on the appetizers for a minute. I would stick to more traditional Persian appetizers. Although hummus has become a very common appetizer at Persian restaurants, that and tabouleh are not traditionally Persian. Instead, my recommendation it to try some different, something you'll never get in any other cuisine...Ash-e-reshteh.
Ash-e-reshteh is a hearty stew that has really won me over over the past few years. The older I got, the more I came to appreciate the complexity of the textures and the flavors...fresh herbs cooked down with lentils and kidney beans, topped with fried onion, garlic and mint. Drizzled with a dried yogurt sauce. This is one dish that very few people get right, so I can't recommend you try it just anywhere. But I can vouch for the one at Sadaf. This was seriously one of the best ones I’ve had. I didn’t have to add any salt because it was perfectly seasoned.
Dolmeh can be a hit or miss...either you get the store bought dolmeh that only has rice on the inside, or you get homemade goodness with meat, rice and herbs. Don't get me wrong, I'm a phatty and I eat and love them both but make no mistake, the latter is the one you want. And when I tried the dolmeh at Sadaf, and heard that its made in-house, thats when I knew this was the real deal.
This is an overly complicated and time consuming dish to make. You gotta make the filling, which consists of meat, and rice, cooked separately. Then you have to stuff each grapeleaf with the filling. One. By. One. It reminded me of my own family and the few occasions we came together to make this. Definitely worth a try.
Next to kabobs, the next most important component of Persian food is the Khoresht, which is a simmered stew, usually with meat. There are many different kinds, but at Sadaf, the 3 that they serve is khoreshteh bademjoon, fesenjan, and ghormeh sabzi. Now, all Persians know that the best khoresht is the one served at home. So if you ever have the opportunity to tag along with one of your friends at their next family party, I HIGHLY encourage you to do so because you will experience hospitality and presentation unlike any other culture, in my opinion. But if that is not an option for you, then the next best thing would be to get it from a restaurant. Either way, it is a bucket list MUST.
With the stew comes a generous piece of tahdig, which is the part of the rice pot all the way at the bottom that gets cooked in oil and becomes really crispy. In this case it is served alongside the khoresht so that you can essentially pour the khoresht on top, dip it, eat it however you like. If there ever was a food that was so sought out, so coveted at the dinner table, that would be this right here. People LITERALLY fight over it. They'll lie, beg, and steal for it. We've all had that Persian uncle who distracted us by pointing at some imaginary object just so that they can swoop it off our plates. I have not met a single soul that does not like tahdig. For most, this is the favorite part of the meal.
Now on to kabobs. If you are reading this, you probably know what kabobs are. It is meat, vegetables or fish roasted or grilled on a a skewer. Although many cultures have kabobs, Persian kabobs are DIFFERENT!! They are different than the ones you will find at an Arabic, Greek, or Armenian restaurant. They are delicate in that the shape and look of it matters. Our meat is generally not mixed with herbs except for onions and minimal spices. While marination is extremely important, it is also about the taste, texture, and quality of the meat itself. Again, not many restaurants do it right, but you can trust to get the right experience here.
Factoring price alone, entrees at nice restaurants in the valley will cost you AT LEAST $15 but usually much more than that. At Sadaf, my recommendation is to do a combo which can actually feed 2 to 3 people, depending on the one you go with. So you're getting more value in my opinion.
There are a few different types of kabob, but I think I'll save that for a different post. They're all pretty good and can't go wrong with either one.
I hate to be bragadocious about everything, but if there is one more thing we know how to do, its the rice. In my opinion, Persians make THE BEST rice. EVER. And by best, I'm considering type, which is basmati, always. Taste. Aroma. Texture. And more importantly, it must have the yellow rice colored by saffron. If it is bright orange, that is food coloring and a complete sham. You want the real deal ONLY.
Just look how amazing and juicy that meat is! And it is so incredibly tasty and very tender as well.
Our salad dressings are usually the same across the board, and in every house hold...lemon, with oil, salt, pepper, and occasionally herbs. But if you are trying out the Persian experience, g with the Shirazi salad (not pictured here), consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, and onion.
If you made it to the end of this article, I wanna thank you for taking the time to learn a little more about my culture. I really do hope you get to experience it for yourself. Remember, not all Persian restaurants do it right so if you want to go to one who does, go to Sadaf and tell them FOODECALL sent you!