Perfectly timed to coincide with the arrival of the Persian New Year celebration Nowruz (also called Nevruz in other parts of the region), the cooking and travel magazine Saveur has published a great article by chef Annisa Helou about a recent trip she took to Iran. From the article:
Iranian cooking is legendary in the realm of Middle Eastern food, and many dishes across that part of the world can trace their roots to Persian precedents: For example, take Morocco's fragrant tagines, relatives of Iran's khoresht stews, or the sweet-tart savory dishes whose distinctive flavor is achieved by cooking meat with fresh or dried fruit, which originated in Persia during ancient times. Persians brought their cuisine to the Indian subcontinent in the Middle Ages, and to this day the Persian and Hindi names for many dishes are nearly identical. (Persia is what the country was long known as in the west; in 1935, the Shah asked the international community to use the country's native name, Iran.)
The Persian Empire, which spanned with some interruptions from 550 BC to AD 651, was the greatest of the early civilizations; there were well-built roads from one end of the empire to the other, and caravansaries, or roadside inns, at regular intervals to provide shelter and food to travelers. Herodotus, the Greek historian, wrote that he was seduced by Persian food, and King Croesus of Lydia, an ancient land that is now part of Turkey, advised Cyrus the Great to lure troublesome tribes with "the good things on which the Persians live." Between the middle of the eighth century to the mid 13th century, the Abbasid Caliphate, an Arab-Muslim dynasty that encompassed swaths of the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Spain and Portugal, hired Persian chefs to cook for the heads of state. As Islam tightened its hold on the region, Arabs adopted and adapted Persian cuisine.
I've enjoyed cooking with Iranian friends in London and Los Angeles, two cities with large expat communities, but I desperately wanted to know the cuisine, its ingredients and techniques, more intimately. So when a friend of mine, an architect named Nasrine Faghih, moved back to her native Tehran a few years ago, I hatched a plan. I have a Lebanese passport, which makes it easy for me to get a visa; relations between the two countries are friendly. Through Nasrine and other Iranian friends' networks, I set up a series of cooking dates for a visit this past December, both to the city and to areas nearby that are known for their regional specialties.
The full article, complete with several recipes, can be found here. Meanwhile, for those interested in cooking up a proper Nowruz feast, the excellent Turmeric & Saffron blog has a long list of recipes, while the New York Times serves up the recipe for javaher polow, a traditional Persian rice pilaf.