Cooling off the Persian way

Photo courtesy of the Caspian Chef

Cool off this summer and celebrate Persian culture with traditional and tasty drinks and desserts. Vancouverites Soroush Amiri and Mahdiyar Biazi, Iranian-born Canadians, share their personal expertise and experiences on their favourite Persian drinks and desserts.

Amiri and Biazi both immigrated from Iran in the early to mid 2000s and fondly remember the desserts and drinks they had in their youth, such as doogh, faloodeh, khak-e-shir and more. These delights are delicious, easy to make at home and will be sure to provide relief on a humid summer day.

Something to drink

Doogh is one of the most popular summer beverages Persians drink, and it is enjoyed across Europe and Asia. It primarily consists of greek yoghurt, chilled water and salt, with optional toppings of mint and diced cucumbers. Its salty, cold taste perfectly complements grilled meat and rice, but it can also be served on its own on a hot day. Not only is doogh refreshing, it is also an excellent source of probiotics, calcium and B vitamins. Doogh is served at many Persian restaurants and eateries, but it can also be made at home in under 15 minutes.

Doogh has a salty and milky taste that you cannot find in any other drinks says Sroush Amari. | Photo courtesy of Oma Fresh Foods

“I really like doogh because it has a salty and milky taste that you cannot find in any other drinks,” Amiri muses. “I really enjoy seeing the reaction of non-Persians when they try the drink. Try it!”

Biazi also praises doogh, not only for its taste but for nostalgia’s sake.

“My mom used to make me and my brother all kinds of tasty drinks during summer. I still drink doogh every chance I get, whether with a meal at a Persian/Iranian restaurant,” Biazi says.

Another treat to beat the heat is sharbat. Sharbat, or sherbet, is a cold Persian drink that is not only popular in Iran but in various other parts of the world such as Turkey, South Asia, Afghanistan and more. The basic ingredient in sharbat is syrup made from sugar, and the flavour is up to personal preference. There are dozens of flavours utilized by Persians to concoct this syrupy, fragrant delight, such as saffron, rose water, fresh rose petals, cardamom and mint. Amiri favours sharbat-e-ab limoo, Persian lemon sharbat (or lemonade), and recommends it too all this summer.

Rose water sharbat is particularly valued by Persians because of its health benefits. It is mostly known for its ability to reduce stress and calm the mind, but it can also help slow ageing by keeping the skin and hair healthy, as well as prevent bloating and indigestion with its anti-inflammatory properties.

Speaking of medicinal benefits, Biazi recommends khak-e-shir. Khak-e-shir is a mixture of flixweed or herb-Sophia seeds and water, sugar and, optionally, rose water. It is often served during the summertime to quench thirst, but is also consumed year-round for its ability to improve one’s skin by clearing it of blemishes and for its liver-detoxing qualities. Khak-e-shir is also known for reducing fever, making it a common herbal remedy during the cold and
flu seasons.

Khak-e-shir has many medicinal benefits and makes for a great summer drink to satisfy one’s thirst,” Biazi concludes.

Cool desserts

At the end of a Persian meal, it is customary to eat something sweet. Unique flavours, such as saffron, turmeric, rosewater and cardamom are expertly incorporated into many Persian desserts to give it a strong and crisp flavour.

“My favourite dessert is faloodeh, a noodle-like, white dessert usually served with lime juice,” says Amiri.

Originating from Shiraz, Iran, faloodeh is an ancient dessert that resembles ice cream. It consists of thin, rice noodles and semi-frozen rose water and sugar syrup. It is usually served with lime juice, making this frozen dessert refreshing, sweet and citrusy. Faloodeh can be found in many ice cream shops in Iran, along with saffron ice cream called bastani.

Also known as bastani sonnati, meaning ‘traditional ice cream,’ this dessert is widely popular in Iran. It can be traced back to the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, and was a delicacy for figures such as the Macedonian leader, Alexander the Great. Its defining flavours are saffron and rose water, and it is sometimes topped with crushed pistachio. Bastani is a must-try Persian dessert, perfect for those who enjoy sweet and floral treats.

On the other hand, there are many Persian desserts that have a milder taste, suited for those who do not have that big of a sweet tooth. Koloocheh, Persian cookies, is a delicacy enjoyed primarily during special occasions such as Nowruz (Persian New Year’s Day), but is also a treat that perfectly accompanies chai (tea) and sharbat. These golden buttery biscuits are decorated with indented circles that are pressed into the dough before baking, usually in the formation of a large outer circle and a few in the middle. Despite these cookies being on the simpler side, they are a satisfying and exquisite mid-day snack for any season.

Another cool dessert to try is fereni, a creamy rice pudding accented with rose water and decorated with crushed pistachio. Fereni usually contains notes of cardamom, making it taste warm despite being served cold. Although commonly offered at weddings and parties, fereni is a delicious snack that can be easily prepared and enjoyed to combat the heat.

This summer, be sure to try some of the local Persian delicacies and drinks. They are tasty, refreshing and healthy, and a perfect way to rejoice and acknowledge Persian culture.