may be a native of Alabama, but I have no tolerance for hot weather. I’m garmâyi (heat sensitive), as we say in Persian. So my main source of joy during these scorching summer days when temperatures reach as high as 110ºF (at the very least it’s a dry heat) is fruit. Nothing cools me off or makes my taste buds come alive quite like the fruit in Iran which packs so much flavor that it has truly spoiled me. The vegan in me is most thrilled in the summer when produce stands are a rainbow of abundant fruit varieties. So I thought I’d write about some delicious fruit you can try here at different seasons (and of course it just wouldn’t be My Persian Corner without a few Persian idioms to go along with them).
When I spent my summers in Iran growing up, my favorite fruit by far was âlbâloo (sour cherries). We didn’t have them in the US, so it seemed super exotic to me. But to be perfectly honest with you, seeing it at produce markets my first summer in Tehran was a strange sight. I never knew people actually bought it. I always figured everyone had a tree in their backyard like my relatives did. Back then, my cousins and I would take a basket and salt shaker, pick a bunch off the tree (I loved picking the âlbâloo that were in pairs because then I’d wear them on my ears like earrings), wash them, and top them off with salt and eat to our heart’s content (or until we got stomachaches).
Nothing beats fresh âlbâloo, but in case you aren’t around in the summer, you can still get a taste of it from dried âlbâloo, lavâshak (fruit leather), morabâ (jam- preferably homemade. The store-bought kind is all sugar and syrup with about 3 âlbâloo in it), âb âlbâloo (juice), sharbat âlbâloo (a drink made with the jam syrup diluted with water), or chai âlbâloo (tea- this was a specialty of my uncle’s, and it was simply the best). If you don’t mind sweet dishes, you may enjoy âlbâloo polo (rice with âlbâloo and chicken). It’s actually quite a lovely looking dish as the yellow saffron, crimson âlbâloo, and green pistachio slivers color the white rice beautifully. But while I have lots of love for this tart fruit, âlbâloo polo and I have never had a good relationship.
Sightings of châghâle bâdum signal the arrival of spring. These fresh, baby spring almonds (ok, maybe not a fruit per se, but they’re eaten like one) are still wrapped in their soft, fuzzy green shell. How do you eat them?
Step 1: Dip the châghâle in salt
Step 2: Crunch
Step 3: Repeat
Chaghale badum-spring almonds
Goje sabz (greengage) makes its appearance around the same time as châghâle bâdum in the spring and is yet another fruit eaten with salt. A few years ago in my Turkish class, I was excited to find out that these crunchy, sour plums are big in Turkey as well. Erik is actually one of the few Turkish words I still remember from that class.
When I lived in Bologna, Italy way back when, there was a gelateria named Gianni that made gelato to die for. I was there no less than once a day, ready and willing to stand in the line that circled around the block. A couple of years ago, I came across a gelato shop here in Tehran that was delightfully on par with Gianni. As I scanned the selection, I noticed it had some of my favorites: lemon, banana, coffee, pistachio…and then one flavor grabbed my attention: goje sabz. Leave it to Iranians to make goje sabz into gelato, I thought. I sampled it but am sorry to report that it does not make a good gelato.
Goje sabz (greengage) and toot siyah (black mulberries)
Azgil goes by the English name loquat (or so a Google search tells me). This juicy, pear-like fruit can be found on route to the north in the summers. In fact, crossing through Gilan province on my road trip to Ardabil, we passed numerous vendors selling azgil along the way (although there, they were called golâbi jangali- jungle pears).
The first time my family found a pomegranate in the US was cause for celebration. After my dad laboriously seeded them, I’d take a Tupperware full to school only to have my classmates ask, “What is that?” or “How do you eat it?” or “Do you eat the white part in the middle, too?”
These days, people are more familiar with the pomegranate, but you haven’t really had one until you’ve had one in Iran. And the best come from Saveh. After eating them here, I found the pomegranates in the US to look nice but totally lack flavor. Eat the ruby seeds plain or try them Iranian style, sprinkled with salt and golpar (Persian hogweed). If seeding feels like too much effort, try it âblamboo: squeeze the pomegranate with your thumbs on all sides for a couple of minutes so that the seeds pop inside. Then (carefully so it doesn’t squirt out) tear a small hole in the rind and squeeze it directly into your mouth so that you’re just drinking the juice. When you’re done, toss it.
You can also find âb anâr (juice), lavâshak anâr (fruit leather), dried seeds or powder form, and it’s, of course, used in various Persian dishes. Some ice cream joints around town even offer majoon anâr which is a bowl of everything pomegranate: ice cream, paste, fruit leather, fresh kernels, and anything else they can think of. Whew! Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
Toot (mulberries) arrive in late spring/early summer to the delight of all Iranians. When I finally saw toot in the Tajrish Bazaar this year, I came to a screeching halt and asked for a kilo. But the vendor ignored me.
“Âghâ (sir)!” I protested. “I said one kilo!”
“I’ll give you three instead,” he said casually as he continued to fill the bucket. “Trust me, you’ll eat them.”
I hate to admit that he was right. I came home to enjoy a huge bowl of toot for dinner.
(Dried mulberries are also popular here. In fact, Iranians often drink their tea with dried mulberries instead of sugar cubes.)
Limoo shirin (sweet lemons) are another fruit that I don’t remember seeing abundantly in the US (although I imagine some markets have them, especially in California). You can try them in the fall or winter. Once you peel a limoo shirin, you have to eat it quickly otherwise it becomes bitter. Like pomegranates, it’s another favorite fruit to eat âblamboo style.
Khormâloo (persimmon) is a combination of khormâ (date) and âloo (plum), which kind of makes sense because it’s plum-like with the consistency of a date. A really ripe one that doesn’t suck your mouth dry (because they tend to do that) hits the spot in the fall/winter.
I normally don’t consider melons to be fruit. In the US when restaurants offer “fruit” with breakfast and it comes back with 1 grape, 2 pineapple chunks, and 6 melon chunks, I feel like they’re cheating. Come on! Give me berries or peaches or nectarines. But melons!? Give me a break!
Iran is the only place I will buy and eat melons. And there are so many varieties, the most famous of which is arguably kharbozeh (which seems like a composite of khar [donkey] and boz [goat]). It’s shaped like an [American] football (only longer) and is rather crunchy. (When my relatives wanted to get a handle on American sports, they’d ask, “Baseball is the game where you hit the ball with a stick, and football is the one with a ball shaped like a kharbozeh, right?”) Mashhad is famous for its kharbozeh. We even have a related Persian idiom: