Side dishes are definitely a must in Persian culinary culture. From a simple plate of fresh herbs or a seven-year-old Sir-Torshi (pickled garlic), there is a perfect variety of Persian side dishes. We Persians always pair our food with at least one side dish.
Persian side dishes are vegetarian and refreshing to stimulate the appetite. They are usually served on the Sofreh (the dining table) alongside the main course to be eaten with every bite. Most Persian side dishes are simple and made out of minimum ingredients. They are there to compliment the main course and not to override it. These side dishes are served mainly cool to freshen the mouth. Salads, flavored yogurt dips, and pickled vegetables are some of the most common side dishes to be found in Persian cuisine.
6 most common Persian side dishes
1. Sabzi-Khordan (fresh herb platter)
Sabzi means “herbs”. Khordan is a verb and it means “to eat”. Put them together and it means fresh herbs that Persians love to eat with almost all of their meals.
The simplest and most ancient salad in the world is Iranian Sabzi-Khordan. A basic plate of Sabzi-Khordan contains the following items:
- Persian chives
- garden cress
Or it goes as far as having to add:
- spring onions
A more complete version of it can include any Persian flatbread such as Lavash, accompanied by feta cheese, walnuts, tomatoes or cucumbers. You can have it as a perfect breakfast, appetizer or even a midday snack.
Sabzi-Khordan goes best with traditional Persian meals such as Kebab or different kinds of stew. Raw onion can also be served with Sabzi-Khordan but be careful with the smelly breath afterwards!
This salad originated in Shiraz and that is why it is called Salad-Shirazi.
A mixture of small diced cucumbers, tomatoes and onions seasoned with salt and pepper, finally served with dried mint and Abghoore (an unripe grape juice vinaigrette) makes the delicious Salad-Shirazi. Some Iranians add lime juice instead of the unripe grape juice. This Persian side dish is a salad with a tasty combination of different flavors. If you like a mildly sour taste, then you must try Salad-Shirazi on your visit to Iran!
Salad-Shirazi is the perfect side dish for Kalam-Polow-Shirazi (a rice made with kohlrabi, which also originated in Shiraz).
3. Borani (yogurt dip)
Although a cup of simple yogurt is a very common side dish for all Iranians, there are also other foods that are made with yogurt called Borani.
Borani is a Persian side dish, simply made by adding fresh or baked vegetables, spices and dried herbs for extra flavor to yogurt.
The Indian Raita or Pachadi and the Turkish Tzatziki are a lot like Persian Borani.
From the green Spinach Borani to the vibrant pink beetroot one, the base recipe is the same but the variety of vegetables added, makes a great range of side dishes with different tastes and eye-catching colors. The most common Boranis are made with baked eggplant, steamed spinach, cooked beetroot, raw zucchini, cooked artichoke, and sun-dried Persian shallots.
Salt and pepper are needed for a basic taste. Other things such as fresh garlic or garlic powder form can also be added for a richer taste. It’s better to use strained thick yogurt for Borani. Most vegetables contain a lot of moisture and you don’t want to end up with a runny Borani.
4. Mast-O-Khiar (yogurt and cucumber dip)
Mast-O-Khiar simply means yogurt and cucumber, much like Borani.
Iranians make this side dish by adding grated or diced fresh cucumber to yogurt. Sometimes diced red onions are added too. Season with salt, pepper and dried mint to balance out the hot and cold nature of yogurt. For this matter, Iranians also add raisins or dried rose petals (Read here about the balance of hot and cold nature). Just like any other Borani, different spices can be added for better taste such as cumin powder.
Iranians make Mast-O-Khiar mostly in summer because the combination of yogurt and dried mint does a really good job in cooling the mouth and body. Mast-O-Khiar tastes great with Persian rice or any other Persian Polow.
5. Torshi (pickled vegetables)
Torshi is a very popular condiment Persian side dish with a rich sour taste of aged vinegar, therefore it is rarely eaten alone, even though most Persians go crazy on sour things.
Eating with the main course makes the taste of Torshi more tolerable and also enhances the flavor of the food. Torshi is one of those cravings that pregnant ladies have on their own. Serving a variety of pickles and relishes with main courses is a major part of Iranian cuisine. Iranians make Torshi, literally with any different kinds of fruits and vegetables.
There are so many different Torshi varieties. Some Torshis are made with more than one kind of vegetable and there are many ways of making this Persian side dish depending on which part of Iran you are from. Some Torshis are baked and some are not. Adding spices and aromatic herbs are also very important in making the Persian pickles.
The most common Persian pickle is a mixture of vegetables such as eggplant, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, carrot and pepper called Torshi-Makhloot (Mixed Vegetable Pickle).
The size of the ingredients in pickle can vary from being greatly finely chopped like Torshi-Lite to a whole eggplant filled with herbs that can make Torshi-Shekam-Por. A special Persian pickle, made with garlic, needs to rest away for several years in a cool and dark place to ferment well. All though all pickles need to be stored in cool and dark place, they don’t need to be aged like garlic pickle, and can be consumed within a day or two.
Torshi (Persian pickle) is the perfect tangy, crunchy and flavorful pickle for your Abgousht (lamb soup), Kababs, Kotlets, Polow & Khoresh (rice and stew) dishes.
6. Zeitoon-Parvardeh (Persian style marinated Olive with Pomegranate & Walnut)
Zeitoon is Persian for olive. Zeitoon-Parvarde is a side dish made with fresh olives, pomegranate molasses, crushed walnut, and aromatic fresh herbs.
This side dish is from the north of Iran because olive is cultivated there but it is also popular in other parts of Iran.
As it is a northern side dish, it goes best with other northern foods such as Kebab-Torsh (sour Kebab), Mirzaghasemi and Baghala-Ghatogh.
These were some of the basic Persian side dishes. Iranians have these separately as midday or evening snack or as a complement alongside the main meal.
If you want to have an original Persian culinary experience, be sure not to miss out on having at least one of these side dishes with your food. Enjoy!