Ancient Persia: Bright hues, complex flavors and vibrant culinary traditions
Since at one point the Ancient Persian empire, under Cyrus the Great, stretched all the way from Egypt to India and parts of Greece, its culinary influence lives on in many of the world’s traditional ancestral cuisines. A pinch of saffron here (used long ago as an exquisitely abundant offering to the deities), a sprinkle of zesty sumac there – Persian flavor has undoubtedly transported each and every one of us at some point in our lives, no matter where we reside. It comes as no surprise that Persian ingredients feature in some of our most cherished dishes and flavor combinations, lovingly blended in our Nowruz Ash among others.
Aromatic ingredients, rich textures and ancestral cooking methods transport us to a world of elegant culinary expression and vibrancy, a world our chef Megan skillfully encapsulates: “Persian cuisine is one of my personal favorites. It's bright in color, varied in texture, super fragrant, flavorful and has an abundance of nutritional value. I love the liberal use of herbs, and ingredients such as saffron, turmeric and sumac are staples in my Laroot pantry.” With Ancient Persian foods having so much to offer both our taste buds and our bodies, here we take a moment to explore the ingredients that keep the heritage of this spectacular culture alive around the world today.
Saffron is a spice that comes from the stigmas and styles of the saffron crocus and has long been one of the world’s most expensive commodities. As well as a plant of sacred devotion, woven into their funeral shrouds and royal carpets, saffron was used by Ancient Persians for medicine, dye and fragrance. One of its main properties aside from the distinctive flavor it brings is as a nervine support when taken in large quantities, working on neural pathways to support serotonin levels. The Ancient Persians knew this and used it to keep melancholy at bay. Here at Laroot we know that even a pinch instantly uplifts both palate and spirit and we treat ours with the utmost reverence.
Zingy red Sumac is another spice we love, so much so that it is one of the hero ingredients in our signature Laroot spice mix. This tart, zesty spice comes from the ground dried berries of the sumac shrub and is both sour and subtly sweet, with an astringent tannin kick. It blends well with other spices (widely loved when blended in za’tar), gives a colorful lemony kick and is a source of antioxidants and antimicrobial protection.
Infusing us with the golden warmth of the sun, turmeric is honored as a nutritional powerhouse in many of the world’s ancestral medicinal cuisines, from Ayurveda to TCM. This earthy and fragrant ochre root packs a multitude of antioxidant, antiviral and anti inflammatory compounds and brings an uplifting warmth to many Laroot dishes.
Cardamom is a key staple of Ancient Persian cuisine, used in many cultures for digestive health as well as stunning flavor and known in Ayurveda as a medicine for the heart. It is a beautifully fragrant spice whose presence in any dish cannot be mistaken; crush some of its small green seeds freshly yourself with a pestle and mortar and allow their aroma to transport you to another place and time entirely.
No exploration of Persian food would be complete without a mention of fresh herbs. Packed with medicinal properties, and delicious fresh flavor, herbs such as mint, cilantro, parsley, dill and even rose petals are used abundantly in their cuisine, both modern and ancient. At Laroot we are devotees of the power of herbs as expressed creatively by so many ancestral cuisines and we love to bring the perfect ones in to give our dishes that little something extra when it comes to freshness, nutrition and taste.