To help us learn more about Persian (a.k.a. Iranian) food, we turned to culinary authority Najmieh Batmanglij. In addition to insight on Persian culinary traditions, she provided us with recipes from her book New Food of Life.

What to buy: When purchasing saffron, choose threads rather than powder, which is too often adulterated with turmeric.

  • Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients (19)

For the chicken:

  • 1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons zest of orange
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Cornish hens, about 4 pounds, each cut into 10 pieces, or 4 pounds of chicken drumettes, or 3 pounds boneless chicken cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces (chicken drumettes are cheaper)
  • 5 medium tomatoes, halved
  • 6 flat, swordlike skewers

For the baste:

  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

  • 2 12-ounce packages of lavash bread
  • 2 limes, cut in half
  • Parsley sprigs


For the chicken:

  1. In a large bowl, combine half the saffron water and the lime juice, olive oil, onions, garlic, orange zest, yogurt, salt, and pepper. Beat well with a fork. Add the pieces of Cornish hen or chicken and toss well with marinade. Cover and marinate for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Turn the chicken twice during this period.
  2. Start a bed of charcoal 30 minutes before you want to cook and let it burn until the coals glow evenly. (You can use a hair dryer to speed up the process.) Otherwise, preheat the oven broiler.
  3. Skewer the tomatoes.
  4. Spear wings, breasts, and legs onto different skewers (they require different cooking times).

For the baste:

  1. Add the juice of 1 lime and the remaining saffron water to the melted butter. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix well and set aside.
  2. Paint the tomato and chicken with the basting mixture. Grill the chicken and tomatoes 8 to 15 minutes, until done. Turn frequently and baste occasionally. The chicken is done when the juice that runs out is yellow rather than pink.

To serve:

  1. Spread a whole lavash bread on a serving platter. Paint the chicken with the baste mixture. Remove the grilled chicken from skewers and arrange the pieces on the bread. Garnish with lime juice and sprigs of parsley. Cover the platter with more bread.
  2. Serve immediately with fresh herbs, torshi (Persian pickles), and french fries. Nush-e Jan!

Note: You may broil the chicken pieces in a broiler pan for 10 minutes on each side. During the cooking the door of the broiler should be shut. In this way the broiled chicken will be tender. There is no need to spear chicken pieces onto skewers.

Variation: For quail and partridge, cut into pieces and marinate for 2 hours in milk. Rinse and substitute for chicken.

Goose or Duck Kabab (Ghaz kabab)—Goose or duck meat must first be cooked for one hour with 2 onions, 1/2 tablespoon parsley, 2 tablespoons vinegar, and 4 cups water. As in the recipe for Chicken Kabab before grilling.

© 2007 From New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij by permission of Mage Publishers

Beverage pairing: Bergerie de l’Hortus Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup Rosé de Saignée, France. There’s nothing like a bright, crisp rosé from the south of France to bring together the charred goodness of grilled chicken with the sweetness of tomatoes and spice. The wine is simple and fresh, and will let the complexities of the dish shine through.