Eid Mobarak! Last Friday, Persians all over the world celebrated the Persian New Year, and the first day of spring. Nowruz has its root in ancient Persia. It is a holy day for Zoroastrians, and a major secular holiday for Iranians of all faiths.
This week, in honor of the Persian New Year, I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Ravagh. This Persian restaurant is wildly popular among Persians and non-Persians in New York, with three locations in Manhattan alone, and others in Long Island. Their restaurant in mid-town will stay packed until 12 am with families munching on kebobs, stews, and buttery, fluffy Persian rice. I have yet to try something on the menu that is not delicious. It is the first restaurant that I think of when I am in the mood for a warm, comforting, generous meal.
A well-known dish at Ravagh that is often considered Iran’s “national dish” is Ghormeh Sabzi, a stew of herbs, beans, and beef. The herbs are bitter, set off by tangy lemon juice, and the meat, stewed for a long time with the herbs, is tender and seasoned with turmeric, a spice essential to Persian cuisine. Many will admit that the stew does not look very appetizing, but it is so full of flavor, and so comforting, that no one really pays any attention to the way it looks.
Normally, Ravagh serves this stew with white Persian rice, but add a couple of bucks to substitute it for Zereshk Polo, saffron rice with sweet, tangy barberries. Rice in Persian cuisine is an art. It is washed eight times in water before being cooked to get rid of most of the starch, giving it a fluffy, air-like texture. After the water is fully absorbed, the rice left at the bottom of the pan is cooked a little longer in butter and saffron so that it becomes crunchy, almost scorched. In Farsi, this is called “tahdig,” and is considered a delicacy all over Iran. Variations of it are made with potatoes, bread, and even Spaghetti! I didn’t order the plate of crunchy goodness this time, because a stew with a whole plate of Zereshk Polo was a lot, but normally, tahdig is served with a stew of your choice as a “side-dish.” Because portions at this restaurant are so generous, though, one tahdig and a small soup will make for a heavy dinner.
Arguably the most important part of going to a Persian restaurant is the kebob. During the number of times I’ve been there, I’ve had the barg kebob, sirloin beef, marinated and grilled to perfection, koobideh kebob, a grilled skewer of ground beef, and jujeh kebob, succulent Cornish hens marinated in lemon and saffron. All of their kebobs come with lots of rice, and you will be struggling to finish he last pieces of meat and grains of rice left on your plate.
That is why I strongly recommend that you go to Ravagh in a group of three or four, order a stew, a plate of kebob, and tahdig to share so you get to taste everything without overeating. If you’ve never had Persian food, I hope that I’ve been able to entice you to make a trip to one of the three Ravagh locations in Manhattan and try it. Ravagh, for me, has been one of the most exciting culinary experiences in New York, and I hope that a visit to this restaurant will do the same for you!