In the summer of 1976, I visited Iran. After a few days in Tehran, I traveled to a resort on the Caspian Sea, stopping by a riverside restaurant for grilled freshly-caught fish. Later I found myself in Isfahan, with its exquisite palaces and mosques, its silk looms and silversmiths. The soft colors—peaches, blues, greens—and sinuous lines of the frescoes and brilliant blues of the exterior tile work were breathtakingly beautiful.
The food was also refined and exotic. There were herbed stews, delicious condiments (garlic cloves pickled for years, I was told, in red wine), a brilliant red cherry jam, and buttered flatbread fresh from the brick oven for breakfast; there were lamb kebabs marinated in lemon and herbs for dinner. With almost every meal there was chello, long grain white rice, with a crispy, golden crust. If you got a large piece of tahdig with your serving, you knew you were an honored guest. A perfectly-made tahdig, crunchy yet delicate, was the mark of a fine cook.
A simple, refreshing yogurt soup is frequently served during the hot, humid summers. Here, the pistachios, raisins, and pomegranate arils add bursts of color, crunch, and flavor, tempering the tartness of the yogurt. —creamtea
Test Kitchen Notes
If you’re into raita (an Indian cucumber/mint/yogurt sauce that goes with everything), you’ll like this soup. It’s creamy from the yogurt, sweet/tart from the pomegranate and raisins, and the cucumber and pistachio add different kinds of crunch. My mode of destruction was pita chips, though creamtea’s suggestion of (hot!) pita and/or naan sound amazing, too. I forgot to salt the cucumber and shallot, and it didn’t make the soup watery, so you might be able to get away with not doing it. —Heather | Delicious Not Gorgeous
4 to 6
small Persian cucumbers, diced
cloves of shallot, thinly sliced
filtered cold water
whole or 2% milk
sprinkles of white wine vinegar
Ground pepper, to taste
minced fresh dill, plus extra dill fronds for garnish
scallions, white part and some of the green, cut lengthwise most of the way (allow to remain still attached—this is all to make a finer mince) and sliced finely crosswise
shelled unsalted pistachios
Fresh pomegranate arils, for garnish
Pita or naan or crisp whole grain crackers as an accompaniment
In a small dish, combine the raisins and about 1 cup of warm to hot water. Set aside for 20 minutes or so to plump up, then drain and pat dry with a paper towel.
While the raisins are soaking, combine the cucumbers and shallots in a small bowl and add the salt. Combine well and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Rinse, drain, and pat dry with a paper towel.
In a large bowl, combine yogurt, water, and milk;whisk together and season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper. You should have a tart taste but not overwhelmingly so. Stir in the dill, scallions, and cucumber mixture. Chill, then ladle into individual bowls, garnishing each with the raisins, pistachios, pomegranate seeds, and dill fronds. Serve as a starter with flatbread as an accompaniment.