A PERSIAN FEAST… AND THE WINES TO MATCH

A wine industry friend of mine knows I love cooking and exploring recipes, so bought me a cookery book for my birthday… Persiana, by Sabrina Ghayour. A sumptuously beautiful and glamorous book in itself, from cover to recipe photography. I’ve played around with the exoticism of middle eastern food before, and love it, but have never attempted bespoke Persian.

Always a lover of a challenge, I decided to up the pressure and take on the challenge of wine matching. The result was a joint effort. I chose the recipes and delegated several dishes to the friends attending. The task was then to work out the styles of wine needed, whilst sticking to my principle of value for money drinks.

As I learnt, Persian food is comprised of a riot of flavours, sweet, citrus, sour, fruity, nutty, gentle spice, heated by some mild chilli and garlic so it would be no small feat to find wines to stand up to these diverse flavours.

At the outset, I must commend Sabrina Gayhour for the simplicity and sheer ease of her
dishes. The recipes looked exotic, yet they were incredibly quick and simple to pull together, once you have some of the slightly exotic ingredients listed (all hail Waitrose in this case). We managed 11 dishes between us, and all required minimal prep time which is always a huge bonus in my opinion.

The dishes were exotically colourful and the flavours similarly vibrant. Vegetables, fruit, nuts, rice, lamb, chicken, pomegranate, rosewater, harissa, date molasses, preserved lemon and saffron prevail. This was a tumultuous cacophony of colours, aromas and flavour. The majority of the dishes detailed below, were Sabrina’s though on a couple I ventured off track and adapted a couple of ideas.

The general rule with any cuisine is to balance wine flavours to the style of the dish – in this case, full on fruitiness in all manner was needed. Aromatic whites, but with citrus lift, crisply fruity roses and reds bursting with vibrant red berry flavours and low tannins.

We started with a mix of dips – the first was a traditional Persian olive dish using plump
green olives, mingled with the crunchy sharpness of walnuts, pungent garlic, and the
indescribable sweet and sour flavour of pomegranate molasses. The second dip was a mild and creamy Greek yoghurt and tahini dip, flavoured with chopped shallots and lemon, unctuous in its smoothness. The contrast of these dips was further enhanced by the sweet, yet chilli heat flavour of a traditional Muhammara which is a sweet yet fiery dip comprising roasted peppers, toasted hazelnuts, herbs, garlic and chill. These were served with toasted pitta strips, crunchy carrots and celery.

Sparkling Rose is the perfect aperitif here and in this case, we opted for Lidl’s Cremant de Loire (£9.99))( https://angelathefullglass.com/2023/02/13/cremant-de-loire-rose-nv/), however, any vibrant, dry Cremant, Loire or Burgundy would work – Sainsbury’s and Aldi both have great options available.

We moved on to starters – a salty, tangy spiced chickpea and feta salad, involving the
myriad flavours of salty feta, crunchy, and glistening pomegranate seeds, aromatic mint and basil, tossed in a lemon, honey, cumin and cinnamon dressing. Add to this, a jewelled tomato salad – this sounds a simple dish, but one elevated into sumptuousness by the mix of sweet ripe red and yellow baby tomatoes, tangy, salty olives, creamy pistachios, herbs, and the jewel-bright pop of pomegranate seeds. This dish was enhanced further by an intensely rich date molasses dressing.

We then added in another dish – red pepper and courgette kuku, one of the most
traditional of Persian dishes which is a type of frittata, brought to life with fresh herbs;
creamy and smooth in its eggy richness, seasoned with tangy cheese and the sweetness of red peppers and courgettes.

Many wines would have been overwhelmed by this extravaganza of flavours; the best bet were fruity whites and Roses. Our first choice was the deliciously smooth and aromatic Feteasca Regala 2021. This is a little-know grape variety is a white wine from Romania and is part of M&S much lauded, and great value ‘Found’ range (https://angelathefullglass.com/2023/03/25/found-feteasca-regala/). It is fruitily peachy, yet citrus fresh and proved to be a great match for the middle eastern flavours.

Another perfect white would be this very little known one, from Waitrose, Loin de l’Oeil, part of their own ‘loved and found’ range (https://angelathefullglass.com/2023/02/13/loin-de-loeil-2021-loved-and-found/). This is a rare grape variety, unique to south western France, fragrant and floral, smooth and silky, with just the right mix of ripe fruit and crispness.

Pink wines are another great choice for gently spiced food. Keep them fruity, with fresh, vibrant juicy red berry flavours. The natural fruity exuberance of dry pink wines marries perfectly with the sweet and sour, gently spiced flavour of this style of cuisine. We tried two: Tesco Finest Cotes de Provence Rose 2021 (https://angelathefullglass.com/2023/03/25/tesco-finest-cotes-de-provence-rose/), crisp and refreshing, with a clean citrus tang. Another great match would be Lidl’s Negroamaro Rosato (https://angelathefullglass.com/2023/03/08/negroamaro-rosato-2021/). But, as a general rule, fruity dry pinks work extremely well with this style of cuisine.

On to main courses, which included tangy harissa and lemon roasted chicken thighs, tender and marinated in creamy Greek yoghurt, lemon and the sweet, yet with the heated spice of rose harissa. The chicken thighs were accompanied by a dish of pomegranate and harissa roasted aubergines, glossy, sweetly soft, brushed with the aromatic heat of rose harissa, the indescribably intense flavours of pomegranate molasses, mingled with intensely sweet honey. And our third main course dish was gently flavoured herb and turmeric, dill and mint spiced lamb koftas (a slight adaptation from the original).

The wine matches were inevitably a challenge with this riot of flavours.

The solution was a mix of the whites and roses already mentioned, plus the addition of a juicy, light, vibrantly fruity red. We drank Morrisons The Best Chilean Pinot Noir (https://angelathefullglass.com/2023/03/01/the-best-pinot-noir-chile/), and Tesco’s Finest Marlborough Pinot Noir, but the key message here, for this style of cuisine, is to pick lighter, gentler, low tannin, overtly fruity reds – Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, or the one we tried, Lidl’s deliciously vibrant Passamento Frappato Syrah (https://angelathefullglass.com/2023/02/01/passamano-frappato-syrah-2021/).

To end, delicious pistachio bites, chewy meringue-like morsels packed with crushed
pistachios, and soothingly refreshingly and prettily coloured saffron- streaked rose and
pistachio ice cream. We didn’t progress to dessert wines, but I would suggest a sweetly
fresh Asti spumante, or a richly honeyed Semillon, widely available.

A second Persian evening is in the planning – there are too many delicious-sounding recipes in Sabrina Gayhour’s delightful book not to explore further.

Top Wine And Food Match

Lots of delicious matches here, but my favourite was undoubtedly the traditional courgette, red pepper and cheese Kuku, and jewelled tomato salad, with M&S’s long time favourite, Found Feteasca Regala, the fragrantly, fruity Romanian delight.

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