My Country, My Cuisine: Iran

December 10, 2010 8:33:29 PM PST
Once a month for the past year, we've been taking you on a global food tour, all within the city limits, as I asked local ex-pats to take me to restaurants that reminded them of home. We wrap up our series "My country, my cuisine" with a taste of Iran. And the country formerly known as Persia just happens to produce some of the most delicious food I've had.

Chicago has a handful of Persian restaurants, but when my friend Firouzeh Naghdi longs for the flavors she remembers as a child, she always heads to Noon O Kabab in Albany Park.

"This is called kashk-o bademjan. It's basically pureed eggplant with whey - which is sort of like yogurt - and then you got caramelized onion, lots of garlic, mint," Naghdi said.

There is gormeh sabzie - a lamb stew with spinach, cilantro, red beans and Persian dried limes, plus fessenjan - chunks of Cornish game hen swimming in a pomegranate-walnut sauce. Then there are the magnificent kababs: filet, chicken, ground beef, each one more tender and juicy than the next. Then there is the rice, almost always embedded with saffron. Her eyes light up at one particular dish.

"Tahedig. It's very popular; everyone basically fights over it as soon as it comes to the table," said Naghdi.

Saffon-laced rice is spread over wedges of lavash, then covered and cooked.

"So he cooks that until it's a crusty shell, but then what does he put on top of it?" I asked. "That's a stew called geymeh, which is chickpeas and beef and some French fries on top of it," she told me.

"And then there's shirin polow, which is the jeweled rice," she said. "It's beautiful and usually used in weddings and important parties. There are pistachios, carrots, orange peels and these berries called zereshk (barberry) which are very sour but very tasty in the food," she said. "Reminds me of my own wedding."

As for the kababs, Naghdi says everything from the way the meat is cooked, to the method of making and serving the rice conjures images of home.

"This reminds me of the Persian restaurants in Iran that used to actually deliver the food on top of their head in huge tray, and bring it to your house," she said.

Everything is delicious, I'm not surprised, especially this jeweled rice. I'm curious, so in your native tongue - Farsi - how would you say 'this is delicious?" I asked her. "Cheghad Khoshmazi Hast," she responded. "Nushe Jan (bon appetit) and Firouzeh (thank you)."

Noon O Kabab also has a handy carryout location next door, which can handle large orders or catering.

Noon O Kabab
4661 N. Kedzie Ave.

Previous "My Country: My Cuisine" locations from 2010:

6714 W. Belmont Ave.

Big Ed's Potsticker House
3139 S. Halsted

The Gage
24 S. Michigan Ave.

4654 N. Damen Ave.

San Soo Gab San
5247 N. Western Ave.

Le Bouchon
1958 N. Damen Ave.

Tien Giang
4925 N. Broadway St.

90 Miles Cuban Cafe (2 locations)
3101 N. Clybourn Ave.
and 2540 W. Armitage

Tre Kronor
3258 W. Foster Ave.

Little Quiapo
6259 N. McCormick Ave.

Chopal Kabab
2240 W. Devon Ave.