While my Midwestern roots are strong, a lot of friends are surprised to find out that my background and heritage is anything but Midwestern.
I'm originally from Canada. My grandparents are of British and Scandinavian ancestry. On my dad’s side of the family, my late grandmother immigrated to Canada from Iran. I never got to meet her, but prior to moving to Iowa, I was surrounded by Iranian great aunts and uncles when we would all gather together around classic Persian cuisine.
This early exposure to worldly cuisines left a permanent imprint on my choices of food and travel and, of course, wine.
Whether it's the complexity of flavors and spices used or an attempt to connect with my heritage, I can find many reasons to bring out the basmati rice and get to work.
Persian cuisine is filled with a mix of complex flavors, ingredients and cooking methods. Some common ingredients include dried limes and lemons, cilantro (or coriander), turmeric, cinnamon and sometimes dried dates and raisins. Saffron, another heavily-used ingredient in Persian cuisine, is one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Saffron is derived from the "saffron crocus" flower, dried and crushed to be used in stews, rices, and desserts. It adds tremendous depth and complexity to any Persian dish.
Over the weekend, it was time for me to bring out the rice cooker. I decided upon a feast of kebabs, rice and grilled tomatoes. The kebabs were made from a mix of ground beef, grated onion, lime, saffron and other spices.
I prepared basmati rice and added sauteed onion, raisins, lentils and saffron ground with water to give the rice a vibrant yellow hue. If you've ever eaten Spanish Paella, it’s very similar in color.
To pair with our feast, I went with Rombauer Zinfandel 2016, which you can find at most major grocery stores for around $36.
While I chose to pair with this wine with Persian cuisine, the wine is also a wonderful accompaniment to sticky BBQ pork or beef ribs, as well as a juicy New York Strip or Ribeye steak.
Pairing wine with Persian cuisine can be a little bit of a challenge since it uses so many different components, spices used and cooking methods.
I find pairing with either a Zinfandel, Syrah or Shiraz is a great place to start.
Zinfandel wines often complement the ingredients used in the Persian cuisines by highlighting the fruit flavors and apparent sweetness that comes with the addition of dates, raisins and saffron. Zinfandel’s tannin structure also balances the rich meats that are used, from braised beef to ground beef kebabs called “koobideh."
The oak flavors in Zinfandel wines add spice elements to the wine that go hand-in-hand with the spicy nature of Persian cuisine.
This particular Zinfandel, which comes from St. Helena, Calif., is created from blending 94 percent Zinfandel grapes and 6 percent Petite Sirah grapes, sourced from several counties around the region. The combination gives the wine a smoothness as well as a depth of character and color.
When opened, the wine reveals colors of deep and rich purple mixed with hues of faint orange and brown as you swirl it in your glass. As you smell the wine, you can pick up on aromas of black plum, stewed cherries — almost as for a pie — and the mixture of allspice, cloves and vanilla, all indicative of oak usage.
When tasted, you’re immediately greeted by the fruit and vanilla flavors picked up on the nose, stewed berries and even a little rhubarb. I immediately noticed and was pleasantly surprised by how velvety smooth the wine tasted. The tannins were quite mild, especially for being a newer vintage.
The wine is high in alcohol content and acidity and has a long-lasting finish, which paired beautifully with my dinner. The fruity nature of the wine complemented the raisins and sautéed onions as well as the sweetness of the grilled tomatoes. The tannins found in the wine also help to balance the fat content in the ground beef preventing one from overpowering the other.
While it may not come as a surprise that there isn’t a big Persian restaurant scene in Quad-Cities, don’t let that stop you from trying your hand at preparing it.
One great resource is “Food of Life,” a cookbook by Najmieh Batmanglij. The book, accented with plenty of pictures, will definitely make your mouth water and have you racing to the store to grab some basmati rice and 2016 Rombauer Zinfandel.