So Autumn has arrived, at least the calendar says so. Though it’s still quite warm here, its flavors have already surrounded us: Crunchy green big apples that are slightly sour. these are absolutely my favorite type of apples. Pears and pumpkins and mandarines have already shown up in the markets. The air smells like Autumn despite the heat. It smells like going back to school.
In Iran we go back to school exactly on the first day of Autumn, on the day of September equinox to be precise. We’re a very seasonal nation. Our whole calendar is based upon seasons. Our new year starts on March 21st with the beginning of Spring. That would be Norouz, the most important Persian holiday. So naturally, our childhood memories and nostalgia can easily be brought back when simply the nature goes through its normal changes. The flavors and smells we remember are the ones the nature provided us with at the times of our feasts.
Iranians have anciently celebrated the beginning and the end of seasons for thousands of years. Most of these feasts are tightly related to agriculture since its very existence depends on the changes of nature.
In the beginning of Autumn we (used to) celebrate Mehregan. to be honest, I must say that unfortunately I have never celebrated Mehregan in my family and I have never seen it being celebrated by other people. It’s just a name that I’ve heard. I know it was one of the most important Persian feasts, (some say as important as Norouz or even more) with mythological and religious roots that go back to thousands of years ago. If you are as interested as I am about ancient mythology, feasts and traditions I am sure you will find a lot of interesting facts about what this festivity was about and for example how it was related to Mithraism.
Once more, I am being honest with you, I would’ve never thought about Mehregan as an occasion to write a recipe. I would’ve thought about the old boring pumpkin here, pumpkin there. (I happen to be a fanatic about pumpkins, butternut squash, kabochas, you name it.) But luckily, –and to my pleasant surprise– I came to know about a beautiful community of Persian food bloggers. It’s been an immense joy to know these people and learn about their beautiful work.
They’ve had the wonderful idea of creating a round-up, kind of cyber celebration of Mehregan in which each of us writes an Autumn Persian-inspired recipe. You can check the whole list of other recipes at the bottom of this post.
I have chosen to share with you the recipe of a Persian lentils risotto inspired by a classic Persian dish called Adas-Polo; meaning rice with lentils. (I like all things fusion if you haven’t noticed!) It’s naturally gluten free and this version is not only vegetarian but can also became vegan with a tiny twist.
A good Persian rice is everything that a good risotto shouldn’t be and vice versa. A good Polò (Persian rice) is a basmati type rice (or similar kinds) with a wonderful perfume that is supposed to have long, beautiful grains, each neatly separated from one another. They shouldn’t be broken, and they should not be stickily. All after being delicately double cooked. That’s why we wash the rice a couple of times before cooking it. We don’t want any starch. If all this sounds too confusing you can watch a video I made last year –long before Lab Noon existed– in which I explain this process better.
You must imagine for people being grown with this rice what a shock it would be to confront a thick, creamy risotto made with champagne and cheese. It takes a while to get used to it, to understand and get to love it.
This Persian lentils risotto is quite simple. The aroma and the color might feel exotic but the tangy union of rice and lentils, brought together by the strong flavor of goat cheese, feels as homy as a cosy dining table at an evening in October. As sweet as the raisins you find every now and then in this hearty risotto for Autumn. Continue reading