Fresh herbs in Iran have a very vital and inevitable role in Persian cuisine, compared to western style of using herbs, we use abundant amount of herbs in one dish, not just a few leaves. For a dish of Sabzi (herb) stew you would need half a kilo of 5 different herbs;, leek; parsley; spinach; wild leek; and some fenugreek. Herbs are used in different ways in Persian cuisine: dried; fresh as a side dish; freshly cooked in meals.
All around Iran in the fruit and vegetable stores, there is a section dedicated to selling fresh herbs. These herbs are sold just as they were picked from the fields, so they need to be separated from their branches, than wasted and finally cut or chopped before consumption. In the past when the extended family lived together, cleaning herbs was a time for woman to gather and talk. Before our modern times, when marriages were arranged, one of the arts that the bride had to have was cleaning herbs properly, the bride had to clean the herbs in front of the grooms family. Since if not done properly the herb will expire very soon, its also important to do it fast.
Foods Containing Fresh Herbs in Iran:
Many Iranian traditional foods cannot be cooked without fresh herbs. This is one of the reasons that cooking Iranian dishes abroad is difficult, the herbs aren’t available. Stews that include herbs have their specific collection of herbs, plus Iran ash. These herbs which are cleaned and dried, have to be chopped into very small pieces so their essence fully mixes with other ingredients.
Nowadays new brands have emerged that offer ready cleaned and chopped herbs for different Iranian dishes. The most popular Iranian dishes with fresh herbs are: herb stew ( khorsht sabzi), Herb ash ( ash sabzi ) kuku sabzi, (authors notes: while I was working in Tehran from 8 to 6, and living alone, I decided to make celery stew one day. it contains celery and other fresh herbs. I bought the ingredients on day one and spent 2-3 hours cleaned the herbs. The next day after work I chopped the herbs and cooked the ingredients, the more it cooks the more delicious it becomes. Finally on the third day I got to eat it! One the most delicious celery stews I ever ate, but that’s how tough foods with herbs can be)
Fresh Herbs as a Side Dish:
Fresh herbs on the table as a side dish in nothing new to Persia. In the remaining scripts from ancient empires we see that fresh herbs were a must on the table. The herbs placed on the table are often:
A combination of Bread, cheese and fresh herbs is also a very common appetizer in Iran. One of rituals still practiced in Iranian weddings is giving a small sandwich of cheese and fresh herbs to the guests while the bride and groom and great them. Nowadays they also include walnuts to enrich this traditional combination too.
Many Iranian dishes have a dried herb as an ingredient. The aroma that they give to the dish makes them very delicious.
Traditionally families would buy several kilos of fresh herbs in the season, clean, dry and preserve them for an entire year. They are available dried in shops nowadays.