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Our latest Iran Chat is with Iranian-American celebrity chef Ariana Bundy. Ariana is the award-winning author of two cookbooks, Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes and Sweet Alternative: More than 100 recipes without gluten, dairy and soy. She is also the writer, director and star of the 8-part television series Ariana's Persian Kitchen, which airs on NatGeo People. Ariana's work has been featured in a variety of magazines like Food & Travel, Harper's Bazaar and Food & Wine Magazine; she has also appeared on television programs like BBC's Good Food Live, Euronews and Top Billing. For more information about Ariana Bundy or to get some delicious recipe ideas, you can visit her website arianabundy.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Some highlights from our conversation:
Why She Chose to Focus on Persian Cuisine
"As I was working hotels and coming across different cuisines, I met a lot of people who said ‘Oh my God, my food, Turkish cuisine, is so amazing... and Thai people would say 'my food, Thai food, is so amazing.' And everyone would know about Thai food and Turkish food, but nobody knew anything about Persian food and it kind of ticked me off! I thought, wait a minute, we have an incredible cuisine with a really rich history. Why is it that, because of our political situation, people aren’t trying out our cuisine? And I realized also that I was a professional chef who didn’t really know how to cook proper Persian food. I knew what it was supposed to taste like and smell like, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it. So that’s when I decided I needed to share it... with my coworkers, other chefs, other people I came across, myself (I wanted to learn more about it); and ultimately I wanted people of my generation who were kind of detached from their cuisine to know about it."
About Persian Cuisine
"People are surprised because they imagine it to be spicy; more like Indian food… maybe Turkish food or like Arabic food. I would always say that it’s delicately spiced. It’s well-balanced. It uses ingredients you can commonly find anywhere. It’s the way the ingredients are put together that makes it super special. Common things like oranges and chicken come together beautifully with carrots to create something spectacular like Shirin Polo. Pomegranates and walnuts come together to create something magical."
What She's Learned From Her Audience
"What I've learned is that it’s all about emotions and memories. And not necessarily about the food. It’s about something they can tap into and either take them back in their own memory or be proud of when showing to their foreign friends. Or talk amongst themselves about a trip they had to Iran and how they would like to go back again. It’s all about feelings and emotions and how that food and that culture makes them feel."
Misconceptions about Iran
"People just don’t get to see the real Iran; there are very few shows out there on Iran. I think most foreigners when they visit are surprised at how lovely and normal everything is. People go to school, people cook, people party, people love playing cards, people go to the park, people have picnics; and they are just super hospitable.. You can ski, and you can go hiking and you can go to a fancy restaurant... all these things you get in any European city you can pretty much get in Iran, and more!"
Persian Cooking Tips
"For blooming your saffron don’t use hot water, just pound the saffron in your pestle and mortar and add an ice cube to it and let it melt. I learned that in Mashhad while filming my show on saffron and the guy taught me that that way you keep the color really bright and you keep the fragrance. You should also add saffron at the end of your cooking time so if you’re cooking a stew and you have an hour, you add it at the last 10 minutes so you keep the flavor and aroma in there. Another tip: Add a little yogurt with butter and oil at the bottom of your pan when making tadiq so that you get a really crunchy lovely tadiq at the end of it."
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