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Persiana

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    Posted: 25 May 2019 at 20:47

“The Persian conquerors were conquered by the conquered people!”

 Among historians and anthropologists, that’s gotten to be a cliché.  What it refers to is the tendency for a conquering people to assimilate into the indigenous culture, influencing, and, in turn, being influenced by it.

This two-way assimilation is especially apparent with food. Throughout the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, we find dishes that are not only similar in ingredients and preparation methods, the very names are linguistically related.

 The first time this happened on a large scale was with the ancient Persian empire.  Although unplanned, it was certainly not an accident, given the way the empire was run.

In about 550 BC, Cyrus II (later “The Great”) conquered the Meads. Using that as his base, he went on to conquer and consolidate several other tribes, thus founding the Achaemenid Empire. Eventually, this empire would stretch as far away as Greece, on the north, and Libya, on the south, and, from there, eastwards to the Indus Valley in India. Physically, it was the largest empire to have existed up to that time. In size, it was about twice the area of modern Argentina, or slightly larger than Alaska.

By the standards of the time, Cyrus was an enlightened ruler.  From a practical viewpoint, he knew no one man could run a “country” that size. And, philosophically, he felt that if you left peoples’ religion, traditions, and mores alone, they’d be more acceptant of foreign rule.

Thus, rather than try and administer this far-flung empire from afar, Cyrus set up qualified local administrators---called satraps----to rule locally. Although the word “satrap” has come down to us with negative connotations, it actually was a great concept.  Satraps ruled almost as kings in their region, albeit subservient to Persia itself.  As Cyrus insisted, they did not interfere with the practice of religion or other cultural imperatives. For example, although Cyrus practiced Zoriastorism, no effort was made to establish it as a national religion, or to impose it on the conquered people.

Keep in mind, too, that the satraps were dependent, to get the work done, on large staffs of Persians, who formed the bureaucracy that actually administered each region.

This leads us to the basic difference between invaders and occupiers. In the ancient world, particularly, invaders raped the native women as they passed through. Occupiers married them. So began the great culinary cross-fertilization. 

Cyrus’ successors, unfortunately, were less enlightened.  And were poor military leaders as well. Under  both Darius and Xerxes, for instance, invasions of Greece failed. This, in turn, led to the

Golden Age of Greece. Meanwhile, several invasions from the Arabian Peninsula further weakened the empire (as well as culinarily influencing Persia). Finally, in 331 BC, Alexander of Macedon conquered Persia.

Alexander was smart enough to model his rule on that of Cyrus. His governors, unfortunately were not always as talented as had been the original satraps.  Alexander’s premature death was also the death knell of the empire, which steadily lost ground until its ending in the mid-20th century.  Today, only Iran is left of a once huge hegonomy.

My introduction to Persian food was indirect. Many years ago I bought one of those cookbooks you find in gift shops and gas stations. This one had to do with the myriad ways of cooking chicken.  One of the recipes was called “Persian Chicken with Peaches.” I tried it, loved it, and have been making it all these years.  The book itself is long gone, but not that recipe. You can find it here: http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/chicken-fruit_topic5064.html

Thing is, I didn’t know what made it “Persian.” Only that it tasted great. I’ve since learned what is behind the name, which we’ll discuss later on.

Further hints came from Boston restauranteur Ana Sortun. Many of her dishes are influenced by traditional Turkish and Persian recipes. See, for instance, her take on Persian Fried Chicken

http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/persian-fried-chicken_topic4567.html. Due to the long-term culinary cross fertilization, in fact, it’s often hard to tell them apart.

I’ve cooked out of Sortun’s book since it was published. But, again, I didn’t recognize what made a particular dish Persian.

More recently came an epiphany. I found, in the local library, a cookbook called “Persiana,” a word coined by author Sabrina Ghayour to describe all the far-flung national cuisines that show influences of the Persian Empire.

A light went on.  Several of us, in the past, have discussed to similarities of names and procedures in dishes of the eastern Mediterranean. Here was an explanation for it.  Persia was, after all, one of the two great influences on foodways of that region (the other, of course, being Turkey under the Ottomans).  I wanted to learn more about it, and have---with the help of friends here at FotW---spent the past half year doing intensive research.

One helpful aspect is that, unlike the secretive Ottomans, Persian cooks wrote down their recipes and techniques.  For instance, Ron found the following:

Although the Arabic cookbooks written under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate—one of the Arab caliphates which ruled Iran after the Muslim invasion—include some recipes with Iranian names, the earliest surviving classical cookbooks in Persian are two volumes from the Safavid period. The older one is entitled "Manual on cooking and its craft" (Kār-nāmeh dar bāb e tabbāxī va sanat e ān) written in 927/1521 for an aristocratic patron at the end of the reign of Ismail I. The book originally contained 26 chapters, listed by the author in his introduction, but chapters 23 through 26 are missing from the surviving manuscript. The recipes include measurements for ingredients—often detailed directions for the preparation of dishes, including the types of utensils and pots to be used—and instructions for decorating and serving them. In general, the ingredients and their combinations in various recipes do not differ significantly from those in use today. The large quantities specified, as well as the generous use of such luxury ingredients as saffron, suggest that these dishes were prepared for large aristocratic households, even though in his introduction, the author claimed to have written it "for the benefit of the nobility, as well as the public."

The second surviving Safavid cookbook, entitled "The substance of life, a treatise on the art of cooking" (Māddat al-ḥayāt, resāla dar ʿelm e ṭabbāxī), was written about 76 years later by a chef for Abbas I. The introduction of that book includes elaborate praise of God, the prophets, the imams, and the shah, as well as a definition of a master chef. It is followed by six chapters on the preparation of various dishes: four on rice dishes, one on qalya, and one on āsh. The measurements and directions are not as detailed as in the earlier book. The information provided is about dishes prepared at the royal court, including references to a few that had been created or improved by the shahs themselves. Other contemporary cooks and their specialties are also mentioned.

One result of all this is that you can see, in modern Iranian cooking, the antecedents dating to ancient times.

So, what makes Persian cooking what it is? There are several identifying features. First and foremost is the use of rice.  Persians developed rice cookery into an art form, with at least a hundred ways of preparing it.  Persians eat rice in copious amounts, sometimes as often as three times a day. Even the individual portions are huge, and it’s not uncommon to have a recipe designed to serve four people to start with 2 ½ pounds of raw rice. We’ll have much to say about this in future installments.

Next, and perhaps equal in importance, is the use of fruit---particularly tart fruits such as pomegranate, barberry, lemons and limes, often used in their dried forms, sour cherries, green plums, and unripened grapes---as an ingredient used with animal proteins, i.e., that Chicken With Peaches recipe.

Nuts of all kinds, but especially pistachios, almond, and walnuts, are an important part of Persian cuisine.

Persian food is heavily based on the concept of sweet and sour, which may have grown out of the ancient classification of foods into hot and cold.  Those categories do not describe temperature, but, rather, the supposed effects they have on body chemistry. Although refined sugar is used, sweeteners mostly come from various molasseses, such as grape, pomegranate, and date.   

Speaking of animal proteins, Persian foods incorporate all of them, or did until its conversion to Islam, at which point pork was proscribed.  Lamb and goat are the more common red meats. Beef is enjoyed, but, because the land isn’t suitable for cattle, it’s mostly imported, and, therefore, expensive. Fish and shellfish have always been popular, particularly in the coastal areas. And chicken can only be described as much beloved.

Dairy products from sheep and goat milk are endemic. In addition to the expected yogurt, thee is a unique product called Karsk. This is made by boiling down whey, yogurt or buttermilk into one of two forms; a very thick concoction that makes Greek yogurt seem runny, and an actual dried product.  It’s available on-line and at some Middle-East shops.  If not, drained sour cream or yogurt can substitute.  Either way, it’s a must-have ingredient.

Aromatics, particularly onions, play a large role in Persian cooking as well.  Here, again, the amounts used in specific recipes stagger the Western mind. But, as it turns out, not the palate.

There is a whole range of distinctive herbs, spices, and flavoring agents, including some, such as golpar, which are found nowhere else. Variously translated as Angelica, Iranian Hogweed, and Iranian Marjoram, it is as unique to Persia as Blue Fenugreek is to Georgian cookery. Turmeric and, it goes without saying, saffron, play huges roles. 

Soups are so basic to Persian cuisine that the Farsi word for cook—aashpar---translates as “soup maker.” Braises, called “khoresh” are common and widespread.

Wheat bread consumption, per capita, is about three times that of European countries. Bread is primarily baked in one of four forms---Sangak, Barbari, Taftoon/Lavash, and Hot Pebble---differing primarily in size, shape, and baking method. All four are flatbreads.

This isn’t all that surprising. Like most people who originated in the Caucasus Mountains, early Persians were a wheat-centric people. Bulger is still a popular ingredient. And, there is a body of evidence indicating that pasta actually originated in Persia. Despite the legend, Marco Polo never reached China. The furthest east he traveled was, depending on authority cited, either Kurdistan or Samarkand, and his “discovery” of pasta likely took place in Persia.

Specialty ingredients can be ordered on line, from several suppliers. I’m particularly pleased with The Persian Basket, www.persianbasket.com .  

A note on tamarind: The “fruit” of the tamarind tree consists of hard pods, containing flesh-wrapped seeds. Commercial versions come in two forms: a block of thick, hard paste, and jars of thinner paste that have an almost ketchup like consistency. The latter is ready to use. The former has to be dissolved in hot water and pushed through a sieve. Although the packages all say “seedless,” this is more a wishful goal than a statement of fact. Those blocks contain seeds, fibers, and bits of pod.

 I recommend going with the jars. Or you can make your own, by purchasing the dried pods, boiling them down, and straining through a sieve.  Frankly, that’s the sort of thing you might want to try once, just for the experience.  Especially since the final product has an in-the-fridge shelf life said to be only about a week.

As has become my habit, I’m going to list my sources here, so if any of the discussion sparks your interest you can obtain copies for yourself. Keep in mind that, despite the wide-spread cross-fertilization, I am not listing the myriad of cookbooks I have dealing with various eastern Mediterranean cuisines.  The following were used to focus specifically on Persian cookery.

Persiana, Sabrina Ghayour, Interlake Books, Northampton, MA, 2015

Food of Life, , Mag Najmieh Batmanliji, Mage Publishing, Washington, 2018. First published 30 years ago, this recently revised and updated volume is the bible of Persian cooking.

The Complete Middle East Cookbook, Tess Malos, Charles E. Tuttle Co., Boston, 1993

Middle Eastern Cooking, Harry G. Nickles, Time Life Books, NY, 1969

The Middle Eastern Kitchen, , Ghillie Basan, Hippocrene Books, NY, 2006

International Cuisine, Michael Nenes, The International Culinary Schools at The Art Institute, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ 2009

Sephardic Cooking, Copeland Marks, Donald I. Fine, NY 1992

Spice, Ana Sortun, Regent Books, NY, 2006

But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Wow ..  A phenomenal history lesson. 

I am a grand fan of  Sabrina Ghayour and have a couple of her books on Persian Cuisine.  She has a programme on the B.B.C. T.V.  however, impossible to view from Spain.  We only receive the B.B.C. T.V. News, both European by Country, and by Continent, the economic reports and news making headlines, usually unpleasant to  be polite.  

Thank you for posting.   
 
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A great start Brook! Can't wait to read more.
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It would be easy to conclude that Persia remains a wheat-centric nation.  After all, Persians consume three times the amount of bread, per capita, as any European country.  Bulgur, too, remains popular.

But the simple fact is, rice remains the staff of life.  Persians eat rice as often as three times a day, in copious amounts. As noted above, some recipes, designed to feed four people, call for as much a 2 ½ pounds of raw rice. More typically, recipes use one cup of raw rice per person being served. 

Rice was introduced to Persia from either China or India, ca. 500 BC. So, there has been plenty of time to develop recipes, cooking techniques, and presentations that turn rice from a plebian grain into an art form. It’s been said there are 100 ways that Persians cook rice.  But that was yesterday! By today, there may have been two or three new rice dishes developed by Persian cooks.

To give you an idea of the diversity, here are just a few of the rice dishes: rice with lentils, with toasted noodles & dates with bread crust, with dried yellow fava beans, with apricots, with  eggplant & pomegranate, with shrimp & fresh herbs. There is sweet rice with candied orange peel, Barberry rice, rice veiled in pastry, and jeweled rice---the undisputed queen of rice dishes.  The list goes on and on.

Almost all of these contain animal proteins---lamb, chicken, beef or even fish. Names of the dishes reflect other main ingredients because the protein is often used more as a flavoring agent than a major ingredient. 

There are four basic ways of preparing Persian rice, identified both how they are cooked, and other ingredients that may go into them. They are:

Kateh. The least complicated method of cooking rice. The grain, water, and salt are cooked until the water is absorbed. Then butter, oil, or ghee is added, the pot is covered, and the rice allowed to cook.

Dami. Dami is actually a variety of kateh. Herbs or vegetables are cooked with the rice. The heat is lowered as soon as the water comes to a boil, the pot covered, and the rice allowed to cook for about ¾ of an hour. Oil, butter, or ghee is poured over the top of the rice, which is recovered and cooked for another 20 minutes. Bulgur is sometimes cooked the same way.

Chelow. Chelow has the same ingredients as dami. But much more attention is paid to the  cooking process, which includes pre-soaking, parboiling, and steaming. This yields a fluffy rice, with each grain separate. The bottom of the pot forms a crust, called a tah dig.  At its worst, a tah dig is similar the succarete found at the bottom of a paella pan. At its best, it is crisp, golden brown, and crunchy. Persian cooks are judged on the quality of their tah dig.  More often than not, chelow is eaten either with a khoresh (braise) poured over or around it; or with kababs. Chelow kabab is the national dish of Persia, and is eaten everywhere. For one version, see: (http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/persian-chicken-koobideh-kebab_topic4975.html).

Polow. Polow starts off being cooked the same way as chelow. However, any meat, fruit, herbs and vegetables being used are first sautéed or stir-fried together, then arranged in alternating layers with the rice. The whole thing is them steamed.

What marks Persian rice dishes as special are two things: First, the rice is steamed, rather than boiled as in most cultures. This, along with other manipulative techniques results in a light, fluffy rice, with separate grains.

Second is the tah dig.  Although is it sometimes formed just by letting the rice cook, as happens with paella, Persian cooks set out to produce it. Some of the par-boiled rice is mixed with yogurt, eggs, oil, and other ingredients, and spread, in an even layer, on the bottom of the pot. The balance of the rice is that mounded, in the shape of a pyramid, the pot is covered, and the rice steams gently, for as much as 70 minutes, until cooked through and the tah dig crisped.

Iranian rice is not available in the United States. But basmati comes close.  If you use basmati imported from India or Afghanistan, follow the washing instructions given in the recipe. American basmati, at least in theory, needs no washing. But it doesn’t hurt to give it a rinse, to remove some of the excess starch. 

As we look at Persian rice recipes, we can easily see how they influenced both countries that were part of the empire and nearby neighbors.  The difference is the attention paid, by Persians, as opposed to a more casual approach by neighboring countries. 

For instance, I have, for a great many years, made a Lebanese version of lentils and rice. This one includes crispy onions as a topping, but is relatively simple:

MOUJADARA

(Lebanese Style Lentils & Rice with Crispy Onions)

1 generous cup brown or green lentils

¼ cup olive oil     

½ sm onion, finely chopped

½ cup basmati rice                                                                 

Salt & Pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

For onions:           

Vegetable oil        

4 tbls sliced onion

Place the lentils in a deep saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Boil for 20 minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a lidded saucepan, add the chopped onion and fry until browned. Add the rice, cooked lentils, salt, pepper and cumin and just enough water to cover. Cover pot, bring to boil, reduce heat and stir occasionally until the ice is cooked, 15 minutes. Place in a serving dish.

For the crispy onions, pour vegetable oil into a deep skillet to the depth of about 2 inches. Heat well and deep fry the sliced onion until brown and crispy. Remove from the skillet and arrange on top of the lentil and rice mixture. 

Serve hot.  

Now compare this to the Persian version. Although you can see the antecedents, it’s a much more complex dish, with multiple layers of flavor, even if you skip the chicken part.

ADAS POLOW

(Persian Rice with Lentils)

For the chicken:

2 tbls oil, butter, or ghee

2 onions, thinly sliced

5 garlic cloves, crushed

3 Cornish Game Hens, about 5 lbs. total, butterflied

1 ½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp advieh (Persian spice mix)*

¼ cup fresh lime juice

¼ tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbls rose water

For the rice:

3 cups basmati or other long-grain rice

2 cups lentils

1 ½ tsp sea salt

1 cup oil, butter, or ghee

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 cups raisins

2 cups pitted dates

Zest of 3 oranges

½ tsp black pepper

2 tsp advieh*

1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in ¼ cup orange blossom water

2 tbls plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 450F. Oil a baking dish big enough to hold the game hens in one layer. Spread the onions and garlic in the baking dish, and place the chicken on top. Season with salt, pepper, turmeric, advieh, and lime juice. Cover with parchment paper and bake for 1 ½ hours.  Add the saffron/rose water, cover, and keep warm until ready to serve over the rice or beside it.

Clean and wash the rice five times in warm water.

In a medium saucepan, place the lentils, 6 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook for 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a wide skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil and brown the onions. Add raisins, dates, orange zest, ½ tsp salt, pepper, advieh, and a few drops of the saffron-orange blossom water.  Stir fry for 20 seconds and set aside.

Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large, non-stick pot. Pour the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6-10 minutes, gently stirring twice to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Drain rice in a large, fine-mesh colander and rise with 2 or 3 cups water.

To make the tah dig: In a mixing bowl, whisk together ½ cup oil, ¼ cup water, some of the saffron-orange blossom water, the yogurt, and 2-3 spatulas or rice, and spread the mixture over the bottom of the pot.

Place 2 spatulas full of rice in the pot. Add a spatula full of lentils and a spatula of the onions, raisins, and dates mixture. Repeat this layering, mounding in the shape of a pyramid.

Cover and cook the rice for 10 minutes over medium heat. Pour the remaining oil, half cup water, and saffron-orange blossom water over the pyramid.  Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean dish towel and cover the pot firmly to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 70 minutes longer, over low heat, preferable with a heat diffuser.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes on a damp surface without uncovering. This will help free the crust from the bottom of the pot.

Uncover the pot, take out 2 tablespoons of the saffron-flavored rice, and set aside for garnishing.

Gently take 1 spatula full of rice at a time and place in a serving dish without disturbing the crust. Mound the rice in the shape of a cone. Arrange meat around rice. Decorate with saffron-flavored rice.

Detach the crust from bottom of pot. Unmold onto a small platter and serve on the side with Persian pickles and fresh herbs.

Hey! Nobody said it would be easy. But the results are well worth the effort.

We’ll continue our discussion of Persian rice next 

Whoops! Just realized I had neglected to post the recipe for advieh. 

Advieh is the basic spice mix for Persian food, although most cooks do modify it depending on need. It's available commercially, but is simply to mix your own from readily available ingredients:

ADVIEH

(Persian Spice Mix)

2 tbls ground rose petals

2 tbls ground cinnamon

2 tbls ground cardamom

2 tbls ground cumin

Mix well and store in an airtight container.

Najmieh Batmanglij developed a more complex version---also available on-line from The Persian Basket. If you want to try making your own, however, you'll have to order some of the more exotic ingredients:

NOH ADVIEH

(Persian Nine Spice Mix)

2 tbls ground rose petals

2 tbls ground cinnamon

1 tbls ground golpar

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tbls ground cartdamom

1 tbls ground cumin

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tbls ground coriander seed

1 tsp limu-omani (Persian dried lime powder)



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 May 2019 at 07:08
A member in Europe suggested I do a better job describing the geography of Persia. So, just to clarify:

Draw a horseshoe line from Greece to Libya, around the eastern shore of the Med. Then move eastward from there to the Indus Valley.  This would include all the countries we think of that used to be known as the Near East, plus some of the "Stans," including Kurdistan, Samarkand, and Afghanistan, and parts of northern India.  

Today, only Iran remains of this once great empire.

Persia's culinary influence extends much further than that region, however, because many of the later conquerors, particularly those from the Arabian Peninsula, adapted much of Persian cuisine.  I have, for instance, a recipe from Oman for Shrimp Balls in Tamarind Sauce, which I'm saving for a later installment. Given what you know so far, if I served it to you with no comment, you wouldn't be able to distinguish it from a Persian dish.

By the same token, the Moors carried Persian influences with them, such as introducing the idea of fruit cooked with proteins into Spain.  


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 May 2019 at 07:39


The Moors also carried their fruit protein influences to Sicilia too and do not forget about mazapane and sherberts or sorbetes which the Sicilians turned into Gelato & Rices in both Spain and Italy !! 




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Brook,

These spice mixes are extraordinary. 

Thank you for posting.   
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Brook, 

The récipe for the chicken sounds divine as well. 

You should author a book  !
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Although the method of making a tah dig is contained in the above recipe, I thought it might be clearer if presented in a more basic version. Which means chelow, the building block of many Persian rice dishes.

There are several ways of making chelow.  Here’s the one I favor It makes a lot of rice, so don’t hesitate to halve the recipe.:

CHELOW

(Saffron Rice with Golden Crust

4 cups basmati rice

10 cups water

2 tbls sea salt

1 tbls ground cardamom

1 tbls rose water

¾ cups oil, butter, or ghee

1 tsp ground saffron bloomed in 4 tbls rose water (or hot water)

2 tbls plain yogurt

1 tsp cumin, nigella, or coriander seeds, lightly crushed (optional)

Wash rice in warm water, swishing it with your hands, five times if using imported basmati, or once if using American rice.

In a 5-quart pot,* bring water to boil over high heat. Add the salt, cardamom and rose water. Sprinkle the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly over high heat 6-10 minutes, stirring gently to loosen any grains that might stick to the bottom. Rice should feel soft, but not cooked through, if you bite into a grain.  Drain the rice in a strainer and rinse with cold water.

Make the tah dig: In a mixing bowl whisk together ½ cup of oil, ¼ cup water, a little of the saffron water, the yogurt, two or three spatulas of the rice, and the optional seeds.  Spread this mixture over the bottom of the pot, packing it down with your hands to make an even layer.

Using one spatula full at a time, gently place the rice on top of the tah dig layer, gradually shaping the rice into a pyramid or cone. Cover and cook rice 10 minutes over medium heat to form the crust.

Mix the remaining ¼ cup oil with ½ cup water and pour over the rice pyramid. Drizzle the rest of the saffron water over the top.  Wrap the lid with a clean dish towel and cover firmly to prevent steam from escaping.  Cook for 70 minutes more, over low heat, preferably with a heat diffuser.

Remove the pot from the heat.  Allow to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering it.  Unmold the rice onto a platter.

 *Almost every Persian cookbook author recommends a non-stick pot for this. It’s one of the few times I use that type of cookware, and suggest you do the same until developing a feel for tah dig making.  Afterwards you can experiment with uncoated cookware.

Unstated in most recipes is that Persian cooks actually pre-soak rice before even washing it. The rice is mixed with heavily salted, cold water, and set aside for six or more hours---even overnight.  It’s said that American rice need only be soaked three hours to achieve the same purpose.  Frankly, I haven’t made any rice that’s been pre-soaked, so can’t say if it actually makes a difference or not.

Because any rice dish dependent on a tah dig uses the same fundamental approach, I’m not going to repeat the instructions each time.  If the phrase “wash, prep, and drain the rice” appears, it means washing and par-boiling it as above.

As you read Persian rice recipes you’ll get a feeling of deja vous. Because so many of them use similar techniques they start sounding the same.  What varies is the flavors imparted by whatever protein is chosen, and the various fruits, vegetables, and seasonings used. Note that proteins are almost interchangeable. Recipe after recipe will say, “X amount of chicken, lamb, beef, or veal.” So, you pays your money and takes your choice.

You’ll also realize that rice is not usually a side dish. It is the dish, just as paella and jambalaya are rice dishes that are actually the meal. Persian rices just take this idea further.

Even when more plain Jane rice is prepared, the intent is, usually, to serve it covered with a khoresh or other stew-like dish. 

That said, here are a few more Persian rice dishes. I’ve chosen these to show the diversity of ingredients and flavorings, to showcase different techniques, or a combination of the two.

RESHTEHK POLOW

Rice with Toasted Noodles and Dates with Bread Crust

Here we have a dish that highlights the Persian love of both wheat and rice by combining them. If you can’t find toasted noodles, break Angel Hair or similar pasta into 3-inch lengths and toast it in a dry skilled until golden.

 For the meat:

3 tbls oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 ½ lbs boned leg or lamb, or chicken thighs, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 tsp sea salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp advieh (Persian spice mix)

2 tbls lime juice

¼ tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbls rose water

For the rice:

2 cups basmati rice

½ lb toasted Persian noodles cut in 3” lengths

½ cup oil, butter or ghee

2 onions, thinly sliced

1 cup pitted dates, halved

1 cup raisins or currants

Zest of 3 oranges

1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 4 tbls orange-blossom water

2 tsp advieh

For tah dig and bread:

Lavash, cut to fit bottom of cooking pot.

Prepare the meat: Heat the oil in a medium pot, and brown the onions and lamb or chicken. Season with salt, pepper, Cover and simmer 1 ½ hours over low heat until meat is tender. Add the saffron-rose water, cover, and keep warm until ready to serve over the rice.

Wash, prep and drain the rice, adding noodles to the boiling water.

Heat ¼ cup oil in a wide skillet over medium heat and brown the onions. Add the dates, raisins, orange zest, some of the saffron-orange blossom water, and advieh. Stir fry 20 seconds and set aside.

To make the crust: In a mixing bowl, whisk together ¼ cup oil, ½ cup water, and a drop or saffron orange blossom water. Spread this mixture evenly in the pot. Place a layer of lavash bread on top.

Put two spatulas full of the rice and noodle mixture in the pot. Add a spatula of the raisin, orange zest, date mixture. Add a spatula of the meat mixture. Repeat this procedure, forming the layers into the shape of a pyramid.

Cover and cook 10 minutes over medium heat. Mix the remaining oil, ¼ cup water, and saffron orange blossom water, and pour over the rice and noodle pyramid. Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean dishcloth. Cook 50 minutes over low heat.

Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes on a damp surface. Unmold rice onto a platter.

SHIRZAI POLOW YE QALEBI

(Oven-Baked Rice)

In this interesting variation, a mélange of meat, fruit, and veggies is sandwiched between two layers of rice; almost like a giant sandwich.  The result is spectacular, both to look at and to eat. Note the addition of both eggs and yogurt for the double tah dig.                

For the meat:

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or leg of lamb cut in 3-inch cubes

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 tsp sea salt

½ tsp pepper

½ tsp turmeric

2 tbls lime juice

For the rice:

3 cups basmati rice

2 lbs eggplant, Asian purple preferred

1 cup oil

2 large onions, thinly sliced

1 cup dried barberries

3 tbls sugar

2 tsp toasted cumin seeds

Zest of 2 oranges

1 tsp saffron dissolved in ¼ cup orange blossom water

½ cup butter or ghee at room temperature

3 egg yolks

2 cups plain yogurt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Put the chicken, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, turmeric and lime juice in a medium saucepan. Do not add water if using chicken. For lamb, add 1 cup water. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes over low heat (1 ½ hours for lamb). Uncover, raise heat to medium, and cook until all the water has been absorbed.                          

Wash, prep, and drain the rice.

Peel and cut eggplant into 3-inch by ½-inch thick slices. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a wide skillet over medium heat and brown the eggplant slices. Remove eggplant and set aside.  In the same skillet, brown the onions.  In a separate small skillet, put 2 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons sugar, the cumin, orange zest, a tablespoon, of the saffron-orange blossom water, and the barberries. Stir fry 4 minutes over medium heat. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, yogurt, remaining saffron-orange blossom water, ¼ cup oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper and the rice and fold together.

Preheat oven to 375F. Brush ½ cup butter evenly over the base and sides of the dish.

Spread half the rice mixture evenly in the dish. Arrange meat pieces on top. Spread the barberry mixture over the meat. Arrange the eggplants and onions on top. Cover with remaining rice and pack down using a spatula. Sprinkle 1 tsp cinnamon on top. Cover with a layer of oiled parchment paper and a layer of foil and press down evenly with your hands. Seal tightly and punch several holes on top so steam can escape.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 ½-2 hours or until the crust is golden brown.  Remove dish from oven and allow to cool, covered, for 15 minutes on a damp surface. Uncover, loosen the rice around the edges with the point of a knife, and place a serving platter on top of the dish. Invert the dish with a jolt. Let rest for a moment, then life the dish off the rice. Serve hot.

Note: Makes an incredible amount. Cutting recipe by at least one quarter, or even halving it, makes sense for most meals.

  

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If you’re getting tired or rice, you can just skip over this installment. I wanted to include just a few more examples, to highlight how diverse the Persian handling of rice can be.

MAYGU POLOW  

(Rice with Shrimp and Fresh Herbs)


As might be expected with any seafood, this is a rice dish from the Persian Gulf area.  Note that white fish filets can be substituted for the shrimp, if desired.

     Here, again, I would consider halving the recipe, to make a more reasonable amount.

3 cups basmati rice

8 garlic cloves, sliced

3 cups cilantro, chopped

1 cup dill, chopped

2 cups chopped spring onions

3 tbls dried or ½ cup fresh fenugreek

2 tsp sea salt

½ tsp black pepper

2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tsp turmeric

2 tbls ground cumin

1 tbls ground coriander

1 tbls golpar

1 cup fried onions

1 cup currants

1 cup oil, melted butter, or ghee

For the shrimp:

3 tbls oil, butter, or ghee

1 lb raw shrimp, butterflied, or 1 lb. white fish filets in 4-inch lengths

1 tsp lime powder or lime zest

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp coriander

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp sea salt

1 tbls cilantro, chopped

Prep the rice.

In a mixing bowl, toss together the garlic, the herbs, salt, pepper, pepper flakes, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, coriander, golpar, fried onions, and currants.  Set aside.

If a tah dig is desired (and why wouldn’t it be?) whisk together ½ cup oil, ¼ cup water, a few drops of saffron water, and two or three spatulas of the rice. Spread this mixture over the bottom of the pot. Then mound alternating layers of rice and the herb and spice mixture to form a pyramid.

Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium high heat.

Mix the remaining ½ cup oil with ½ cup water and pour over the rice. Wrap the pot lid with a dishcloth and cover firmly so steam doesn’t escape.  Cook another 50 minutes over low heat.

Remove from heat and let rest five minutes on a damp surface.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wide skillet until very hot.  Dust the shrimp with the mixture of lime powder, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, salt and cilantro. Sear the shrimp for one minute on each side or until the shrimp change color, then remove from heat.

Uncover pot and gently taking one spatula of rice at a time, mound it on a serving dish using alternating layers of rice and shrimp, without disturbing the crust in the pot.  Finally detach the crust from the bottom of the pot and serve on the side.

JAVAHER POLOW

(Jeweled Rice)

Jeweled Rice is the undisputed queen of all Persian dishes.  Often served at weddings, the various ingredients represent gold, rubies, emeralds, and pearls.

     Frankly, jeweled rice is a pain to make, as there is a lot of time-consuming prep work. But, for a party, you could do a lot worse.

     Note that there is no protein with this dish. If you want to add some, chicken makes a good pairing.

3 cups basmati rice

1 cup dried barberries (dried sour cherries or dried cranberries can sub)

1 cup oil, butter, or ghee

½ cup sliced raw almonds

¼ cup sliced raw pistachios

½ cup golden raisins

1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in ¼ cup orange blossom water

1 cup plus 2 tbls sugar

2-3 large oranges, to make 1 cup slivered peel

2-3 large carrots, to make 2 cups strips

A 4-inch piece cinnamon stick

2 tsp cardamom powder

1 tbls orange blossom water

To prep orange peel: Using a vegetable peeler, remove thick layers of peel from the oranges, including some of the white pith. With a sharp knife, cut those peels into strips.  Bring a saucepan of water to boil, drop in the strips, and cook for one minute. Drain and rinse with cold water.  This removes any bitterness from the orange peel strips.

To prep carrots: Peel the carrots. Divide into 3-inch long sections. Cut into thin planks, then cut the planks into thin strips.

To roast nuts: Preheat oven to 350F. Spread nuts on a baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned; 8 minutes for almonds, 5 minutes for pistachios. For dishes like this, I prefer peeled almonds. To do that, bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Add the almonds. Blanch for 1-2 minutes. Cool under running water.  With a sharp squeeze between thumb and index finger, the nutmeat will pop right out of the skin.

If using barberries, remove any stems. Put barberries in a colander, and sit it in a large bowl of cold water. Let sit for 20 minutes, remove colander from bowl, and give barberries a final rinse until cold water.

Hey! I warned you about the prep work!

Wash and drain the rice. Set aside.

Heat one tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and pistachios and stir-fry 20 seconds. Add the raisins, give everything a stir, transfer to a bowl and set aside.  In the same skillet, put a tablespoon of oil, 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons sugar, and the barberries. Stir-fry about four minutes over medium heat.  Set aside.

Heat two tablespoons oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and orange peel. Stir-fry two minutes. Add one cup sugar, a drop of saffron-orange blossom water, the cinnamon stick and the cardamom. Stir-fry one minute. Add one cup water, bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat 7-10 minutes until lightly caramelized. Drain, reserving the syrup. Set aside.

Put 10 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt in a large, non-stick pot and bring to a boil. Sprinkle the rice into the pot, add a tablespoon of orange blossom water. Boil 6-10 minutes. Drain into a fine-mesh colander, rinse with cold water.

When making Jeweled Rice for large affairs, such as weddings, Persians usually forego the tah dig. If you want one, follow the usually directions, using oil, water, saffron-orange blossom water, and rice.  Personally, I think it’s worth the extra effort.

Using one spatula full at a time, transfer the rice to the pot, gradually shaping it into a pyramid. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Swirl ½ cup water, the remaining oil, and the syrup reserved from the carrot mixture over the rice. Wrap the lid with a dish towel and cover firmly. Cook 70 minutes longer, over low heat.

Remove pot from heat and let rest, covered, on a damp surface for 3-5 minutes. Without disturbing the bottom crust, take one spatula full at a time of the rice and place it on a serving dish in alternating layers with the carrot mixture, barberries, and the almond/pistachio/raisin mixture, gradually mounding it in the shape of a cone.

Detach the tah dig from the bottom of the pot, and use it to garnish the Jeweled Rice.

Finally, let’s look at the other great grain of Persia; bulgur.  Although rice centric for several hundred years, Persians still consume a fair amount of bulgar. Whether an homage to their past, or just because it’s tasty, bulgar plays an important role in Persian cuisine. Perhaps not as much as it does in Turkey---which has never forgotten its mountain roots, but still, an unusually heavy amount is eaten.

In many cases, bulgur is prepared like rice, as in

DAMI E BALGHUR BA MAASH

(Steamed Bulgar with Mung Beans & Dill)

Note the word “dami,” which is the same as dami style rice; that is, it is steamed with herbs and/or vegetables. In this case, beans are cooked with the grain, and a large amount of fresh herbs is used as a garnish.

     Similar recipes replace the mung beans with small dried yellow fava beans, or even split peas.

½ cup oil, butter, or ghee

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 serrano or similar chilies, seeded and chopped, or ½ tsp red pepper flakes

2 cups coarse bulgar

½ tsp black pepper

2 tsp ground cumin

4-5 cups broth or water

Juice of one lime

2 large onions, thinly sliced

1 inch gingerroot, grated

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp turmeric

1 cup mung beans

1 large tomato, peeled & diced

For garnish:  4 cups chopped dill, or parsley, cilantro, or basil

2 tbls oil, butter, or ghee

Cook the bulgar:  In a wide skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until very hot. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Add the ginger, chili, bulgar, salt, pepper, turmeric and cumin, and stir-fry 2 minutes until the bulgar lightly browns. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cook the beans: In a large, non-stick pot, combine the mung beans and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover, and cook over medium heat for 20-30 minutes, or until beans are almost tender.

Note: Mung beans, like lentils, do not require overnight soaking. If you use split peas or dried favas, however, that step is necessary. Even with pre-soaking, they are likely to require longer cooking times than mung beans.

Add the bulgar mixture to the pot. Add the tomato and lime juice, stir gently, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 20-25 minutes, or until all the broth has been absorbed. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Just before serving, add the fresh herbs and oil, and fluff with a fork.

 



 

 

 

 

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Yes, the Jewelled Rice and Prawns with Rice, are extraordinarily amazing classics steeped in history dishes of Iran / Persian Gastronomy.

Thank you for posting these two masterpieces.  They truly are spectacular.

Have a lovely Summer Brook. Big smileBig smile


  
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They truly are spectacular.

Sure are, Margi, particularly the Jeweled Rice.  Not only is it delicious, it's drop-dead gorgeous as well. And, when you look at the ingredients, it truly reflects the Persian culinary experience.  
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Ok, I’m sure that, unless you’re Persian, you’ve had your fill of rice. So, let’s move on.

Soup is an integral part of Persian cuisine.  As noted above, soup plays such an important role in  Persian cuisine that the Farsi word for cook---aashpar---translates as “soupmaker.”

To be sure, Persian cooks and housewives make soup like everybody else, using whatever happens to be available. That said, however, there are basic soups that would be recognized anywhere in the country.  One source claims there are at least 20 of these, let’s call them seminal, soups.

I have no idea if that figure is correct or not. But, frankly, I wouldn’t doubt it for a minute.  Persians love their soups almost as much as they do rice. 

Persian soup recipes are easy to recognize, as they all include some variation of the Farsi word “ash,” variously spelled ash, ashe, osh, or even esh. Other popular soups, adapted from parts of the old empire, may not. Which is one way of tracking the direction of travel.

This love of soup harkens back to ancient times, when a simple pot of braised meat—called an abgoosht---served as two “courses.”  The liquid was poured off, and this broth eaten first. Then the meat, in the form of a stew or ragout was eaten as a separate dish. Later on, we’ll explore the abgoosht evolution. But for now, just remember, the soup came first.

The following few are included merely to show the diversity of flavors and textures found in Persian soups.  

These first two are presented to show variations on the theme of “national” soups. That is, although differing in ingredient types and amounts, a Persian in one part of the country would recognize the regional version of another.

ESHKENEH

(Onion Soup)

I never met an onion soup I didn’t like. And this is no exception. Note the use of the potatoes. Although the recipe doesn’t specify, it’s designed for six servings. So, I suspect the intention is that a half potato goes into each portion. Leastways, that’s how I served it.

½ cup oil, butter, or ghee

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp turmeric

2 tbls dried fenugreek leaves

1 cup dried sour cherries (or 2 tbls pomegranate molasses)

3 russet potatoes, peeled and halved lengthwise

3 eggs, lightly beaten

4 onions, thinly sliced

½ tsp black pepper

2 tbls flour

8 cups water

1 tbls grape molasses

Drained yogurt and bread for serving.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Sauté the onions until golden brown. Add the salt, pepper, turmeric, flour, and fenugreek. Sauté for one minute.  Add the water, grape molasses, cherries, and potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 45-50 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Slowly add the eggs, while stirring, and continue stirring for a few minutes.  Alternatively, add whole eggs, one at a time, and let them poach in the soup.

Serve garnished with drained yogurt and bread on the side.

ESHKANEH

(Onion Soup #2)

Note both the differences, and similarities, in this soup with the same name.

5 med onions

1/3 cup oil, butter, or ghee

1/3 cup flour

½ tsp turmeric

½ cup finely chopped walnuts, or 2 cups chopped spinach or 2 cups diced potatoes

5 cups water

½ cup lime juice

Scant ½ cup brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Nano Dok spicing mix (see below)

2-6 eggs

Halve onions and slice thinly. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a heavy soup pot, add about ½ cup of the onions, and fry over medium-high heat until brown and crisp. Remove and set aside for garnish.

Melt balance of the oil over medium heat. Add the remaining onions and fry, gently, until transparent. Stir in the flour, and cook until flour turns golden. Add the walnuts, spinach, or potatoes, and the turmeric, and stir 2 minutes. Add the water and cook until thickened, stirring occasionally. Cover and simmer 20 minutes

Add lime juice, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer another 15 minutes. Prepare Nano Dok and add to soup.

Beat 2 eggs lightly and pour slowly into soup, stirring gently, until eggs set in shreds. Alternatively, break eggs one and a time into soup and simmer gently until eggs are set.

Serve in bowls. If using whole eggs, add one to each bowl, then fill with soup.

Garnish with reserved crispy onions.

NANO DOK

(Spicing Mix)

1-3 tbls ghee

1 tsp turmeric

1 ½ tsp dried mint

Heat ghee in a small pan, stir in turmeric, and cook for a few seconds until turmeric colors a golden brown.

Crush mint, add to pan, stir, and remove from heat immediately. Residual heat of the pan will bring out the flavor of the mint.

Control amount of ghee based on amount used to make the soup. The greater the amount used in the soup, the less should be used in the Nano Dok.

ASH E ANAR

Pomegranate Soup

Pomegranate soup is another of those iconic dishes found in numerous variations but all recognizable as having the same roots.  This one has the added bonus of including small meatballs.

3 large onions, 2 rough diced and 1 grated

4 plump garlic cloves, crushed

Scant ½ cup yellow split peas

8 ½ cups water

1 heaping tsp sea salt

½ tsp black pepper     

1 tsp turmeric

Large bunch parsley, chopped.

3 sm bunches chives, roughly chopped

Sm bunch mint, roughly chopped

1 lb ground lamb, beef, or veal

Scanty ½ cup basmati rice

1 2/3 cups pomegranate juice

3 tbls pomegranate molasses

Generous ½ cup superfine sugar

Olive oil

Preheat a large soup pot over low-medium heat and drizzle in some oil. Add the diced onions and caramelize them. As they start to turn golden, add the garlic and brown gently. Put in the split peas, pour the water over them, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover the pan, and let simmer 30 minutes.

Add the salt and pepper, turmeric, and herbs, and cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Make the meatballs:  Combine the meat with the grated onion, season generously with salt and pepper. Roll the mixture into little meatballs. Add them to the soup pot, along with the uncooked basmati rice, cover, and simmer 30 minutes.

Add the pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses and sugar, stir the mixture well, half cover the pot, and simmer another 30 minutes.

If desired, garnish with caramelized onion slivers and dried mint. 

DUSH BAREH

(Azerbaijani-Style Dumpling Soup)

This is an amazing soup that demonstrates how culinary influences were a two-way road in the days of the empire.

     There’s no telling for sure, but it’s likely the use of dumplings in this manner came out of Russia, or it’s neighbors, such as Georgia, and moved into the mountain nations from there.

For the dough:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 eggs

2 tbls oil mixed with 2 tbls cold water

For the broth:

6 cups chicken broth or water

2 large tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or one (14.5 oz) can chopped tomatoes

2 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

¼ tsp smoked paprika

¼ tsp saffron dissolved in 2 tbls rose water

1 tsp sugar

¼ tsp dried thyme

or the filling:

1 tbls oil, butter, or ghee

½ lb ground lamb or chicken

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp turmeric

2 tsp advieh (Persian spice mix)

1 tsp dried oregano or thyme

For garnish:

½ cup chopped cilantro or chives

1 tbls lime juice or ½ tsp lime powder

1/3 cup drained yogurt

Make the dough:  Put the flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and  pulse to combine. In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs, oil, and water, and gradually add to the flour mixture. Pulse until you have a dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge at least 30 minutes

Make the broth: Combine all the ingredients in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Make the filling:  Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and knead, by hand, for 1 minute. Set aside.

Assemble the dumplings: Line a sheet pane with parchment paper.  Knead the dough on a cool, floured surface, until soft and pliable, and roll it out very thin. Cut the dough into 3-inch circles. Fill each circle with 2 teaspoons of the filling. Moisten the edges with water, fold each into a crescent shape, seal edges with your fingers, and crimp with a fork. Place them side by side on the sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying, and keep cool until ready to cook.

Carefully transfer dumplings to the simmering broth. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour, stirring once or twice to keep dumplings from sticking.

Just before serving, garnish with the cilantro and lime juice, and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with drained yogurt.

                                                                                                                                            

 

 

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