by Linda Viertel
For anyone who hasn’t yet tasted the joys of Persian cooking, your luck has changed now that Shiraz has opened in Elmsford. Shiraz Persian Cuisine and the adjacent Mediterranean Market are both owned by White Plains resident and the restaurant’s chef, Mohammad Ababaf.
Ababaf, a caterer for New York City diplomatic and corporate events, started the first successful Shiraz in New Jersey. In Elmsford, he has created a welcoming, bright and cheerful decor in which to feature the complex tastes of his native cuisine at very reasonable prices.
Persian cooking is a culinary tradition that stems back in time 4,000 years. And the ingredients suggest a rich heritage, the geography of a country blessed with a variety of fruits, nuts, and spices treasured long ago along the Silk Road. So, when a dish filled with the fragrant aromas of mint and fenugreek, or delicately sauteed shallots and garlic appears, you know you are tasting a bit of history that has been refined for modern palates.
Once seated, home-made nan, the fresh-tasting flat round bread, with just the right crunch on top, comes to your table. Try not to eat too much until you order the savory appetizers.
Mirza ghasemi, mashed smoked eggplant, roasted garlic and tomato, blended with special seasonings, is a heavenly version of babaganoush, and should be sampled with maust-o-kheiar, a delicious blend of think yogurt, and cucumber with a hint of dried mint and crushed rose petals on top.
Another yogurt dip, maust-o-mooseir, thick yogurt with Persian shallots and white pepper, is also deeply satisfying and smooth. Boorani-e-spinach, steamed spinach, with onion and garlic, topped with yogurt is also a perfect accompaniment to the eggplant and nan, as is hummus or dolmeh – stuffed grape leaves.
But, it wouldn’t be a Persian feast without a variety of pickles and relishes. At Shiraz, you can try their home-made mixed selection: imported dill cucumber, carrot, cauliflower and olives preserved in an herb infused vinegar. Ash-e-reshteh, a flavorful thick soup, is made with a variety of beans, and peas, herbs and spinach, Persian noodle, dried yogurt, onion and fried garlic – a veritable meal in itself.
Kabab, the Persian word for grilled meats, is a term that, with variations, has entered into the western world’s vocabulary.
And, if there is a signature dish at most Persian restaurants, it would be kebabs served with rice, an elegant comparison to the all-American steak and potatoes. But Persian grilling takes time: the meat, chicken or fish, having been marinated overnight in herbs, onion, garlic, and vinegar or lime juice, olive oil, and yogurt, are threaded onto flat skewers and grilled gently until a fragrant smoky crust appears.
Shiraz’s Cornish hen kabab is succulent and tender, as is the marinated beef tenderloin (barg kabab), lamb tenderloin kabab, and the seasoned ground meat (koobideh kabab). Vegetable and fish kebab’s are also on the menu.
But, for the full kabab experience, a beautiful presentation and multiple tastes are best enjoyed by ordering the kebab sampler – a delight to both the eye and the palate. And, don’t forget to order a rice dish with a flavorful addition such as sour cherries, a Persian specialty.
Diners can also enjoy a simple salad or salad and kabab for lunch or dinner. Tabuli is the traditional diced tomato, chopped parsley and bulgur wheat creation, best savored when tucked into a chewy nan. The falafel salad includes hummus, and the Shirazi salad provides a healthy mound of diced tomato, cucmber, onion, topped with parsley, olive oil and fresh lime juice.
Shiraz’s stews reveal the complexity of Persian cooking, a wonderful balance of sweet and sour tastes, of pomegranate and toasted walnuts, saffron and lime leaves– elegant combinations enhancing slow cooked lamb shanks or braised beef. As Mr. Ababaf says, “It’s a cuisine that takes time to prepare.”
And, there’s no better way to complete a meal filled with fragrant and complex tastes than with a rich Persian baklava or the refreshing and delectable rice stick sorbet, crunchy granita (shaved ice) infused with sweet rosewater. A touch of fresh lemon, and all the flavors meld.
Then, when you recommend Shiraz to friends, you can say, “Nush-e Jan!” (“Have a good meal”), because you know they will.
Don’t miss stopping in at Shiraz Mediterranean Market before dining to see the dizzying display of nuts, dried fruits and Middle Eastern candies in beautiful array. Olive oils, fresh yogurts and string cheeses, meats, colorful bags of lentils, rices, and beans, a comprehensive assortment of dried herbs, a wide range of fruit syrups, and many other compelling products grace the shelves of this friendly market.