The bride looked amazing, dressed in an extremely pale pink dress, buttoned down the front and with arms and shoulders covered. Of course, the dress was full length, as modesty is expected in Iran.
I was so happy that Aveley had invited me to her wedding, even though I had not seen her for some years, we had kept in touch. The name ‘Aveley’ means ‘pretty as a bird’, and she certainly was!
Flying into the country I was not sure what to expect, even though Aveley had told me the basic rules and how a wedding ceremony and feast would play out.
Persian weddings (and feasts) can go on for several days, with both pre- and post-nuptial celebrations. You can eat until you burst and every day was a different spread of flavoursome foods. Just when you think it is all over, more and more dishes and brought out to the beautifully laid and decorated tables.
The food – OMG!
I had dabbled in what I thought was ‘Persian food’, but what I ate in four days was far beyond any culinary dreams. I shared a house with Aveley and two other girls, and whilst she was an amazing cook, she was more than happy to sit down with some nibbles and watch a movie. My real taste for Persian food came during this time and I am so glad she shared it with me.
Persian cooking is all about balance, flavours, texture (often raw with cooked and hot with cold!) taste and a mixture of herbs and spices that make even the simplest of rice dishes has the same opulence as a Michelin star meal. As poor students, we made good use of rice and flatbreads, which Aveley cooked to perfection, as per her mother’s rules. Crispy rice dishes, such as ‘tahdig’ would often accompany some cheap and cheerful, spiced grilled chicken – but it was what she did with it that made all the difference.
For some reason, I hated aubergines with a vengeance (unattractive, mushy and not pleasant were my thoughts), but that all changed when Aveley made ‘bademjoon’. To call it a stew shows no reverence, even though that is exactly what it is – but with a difference. Tomatoes, aubergine, lemon and grapes never tasted so good. I was converted.
Another dish she would often make was ‘kuku sabzi’ – a sort of frittata so full of herbs and spices, but the centre of it included blueberries! Sounds a little weird, but as we had a farm next door to our house, eggs, herbs and fruit were in plentiful supply – I guess the farmer took pity on the number of impoverished students who had stayed in that accommodation over the years!
The Wedding Feast
Now we are talking! I am not even sure I can do this happy event justice, to be honest. But I will do my best here. Every available female (apart from the bride) took part in making this amazing feast at Aveley’s beautiful home, just outside Tehran. There must have been around twenty women of all ages! The males of the species though, conveniently disappeared!
The ‘Sofreh Aghd’ is the celebration on the actual day of the ceremony. Tables are bedecked with glorious floral arrangements and symbolic items, including a large mirror reflecting the union of the couple. Very romantic!
Persian wedding feasts are all about sharing. I had never seen such a variation of dips and crudites in my life, along with crunchy pickled vegetables and wedges of Persian bread. Everything was so colourful – green (spicy avocado dip and creamy spinach dip), hummus, smoky aubergine and a vibrant beetroot dip with feta cheese and walnuts – yum!
Following this a multitude, or should I say rainbow, of salads appeared. Rice dishes, bulghur wheat dishes (fattoush), herby cucumber, pomegranate salad, roasted aubergine salad with quinoa – I could go on forever!
I guess the highlight though were the hot dishes – several types of tagines and a choice of chicken, lamb or vegetarian. Kebabs or should I say ‘kabobs’ of sumac-spiced chicken and lamb with paprika and mint. Two whole barbecued goats as well!
By this time, I was slipping under the table and my dress was getting a little tight! However, I just had to have space for dessert! There were a lot of fresh fruit platters and cheese, but the aroma coming from the rosewater and vanilla panna cottas was impossible to refuse. I am sure they do not call them panna cottas, but that is what they seemed to be!
Unfortunately, I could not manage the wedding cake, but Aveley’s mother had some pieces cut to have with coffee the next morning. I cannot resist pistachios!