February 25th, 2011 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (9)
From the day 2500 years ago when ancient Greece awoke to find a strange army pouring across its borders, Iran has always been, for the Western world, the enigma to the East. Time after time, Roman legions tried to invade their lands, and the Persian armies routinely defeated them. Persians as much as Arabs contributed to the flowering of art and science — of mathematics, medicine, poetry, philosophy, astronomy and literature — in the medieval Muslim world. And, unlike the Arabs, they had great painters too. Behzad, for instance, whose tiny paintings, as vibrant as Matisse and as carefully structured as Japanese ukiyo-e prints, were painted around 1500.
I mention Behzad because his name slipped my mind last night. I was eating at Iran’s culinary outpost in Tulsa, Shish-Kabob’s Restaurant, and I asked the charming couple who run the place if they could think of a famous Persian painter from the 1500s whose name begins with B. Behzad, they both said at once. They have Iran’s history and culture down pat.
And the cooking too… though, sadly, only a few of the dishes on the menu are Persian. Most come from farther west, from the Levant or from Iran’s arch-rival in Behzad’s time, Turkey. One of those imports is Baba Ganoush ($4).
It’s pureed eggplant, and it has a rich, smoky flavor. They did a fine job, and we happily ate it with pita bread as we waited for our main courses. With each entree you get a side, and these came first.
Hummus and tabouli, along with the pita bread that came with the eggplant dip. The hummus was a bit bland, but Cathe, a big tabouli fan, was thrilled by the quality of the tabouli here.
Finally the entrees came. Here’s mine.
Ghormeh Sabzi ($9). This delightful and piquant dish of spinach, fenugreek leaves, beef and herbs has been called the “national dish of Iran”. The owner assured me that she cooks the best Ghormeh Sabzi around. I’ve never tried the dish before but I have no reason to doubt her. It has a tart, citric, spinachy taste. It reminded me of north Indian palak paneer. Like all entrees it came with an exceptionally good rice. Much like Indian Basmati.
And then out came what I think is the best dish of all, Lamb Shank ($11), and my camera died. The battery ran out. So you’ll just have to do what people did back in classic Persian days: imagine it. Imagine a long bowl with high sides, and in that bowl is a juicy, tender lamb shank looking like a huge turkey drumstick. Around it is a bright red lake. That lake is a rich, meaty sauce with long-simmered tomatoes and onions and redolent of strange spices. It tasted as good as it looked.
Not surprisingly given the restaurant’s name, there are a lot of kabobs on the menu. We got a chicken kabob ($9), which I didn’t taste, basically grilled chicken cubes. My guess is that the beef varieties, such as chelo kabob and shish kabob, are better. We ended with a small piece of Baklava, cooked by the owner’s friend, and it was a sweet conclusion. Come back one Wednesday, the owner told us. That’s when she cooks special Persian dishes not on the menu. I think I will.
11605 E 31 St (just east of Garnett)
Mon through Sat 11 AM to 8 PM
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.