You’ve probably heard a lot about Iran in these past few weeks, and you’ll likely hear more as Trump and his goons do their little dance with the Iranian government and their goons.
In these difficult times, it’s important that we non-goons—American and Iranian alike—keep each other in our thoughts and remember, as Charlie Chaplin put it, "We want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery."
What better way to do that than through their kickass food? To that end, here’s a list of spots where you can grab Iranian grub in the Twin Cities.
As the son of a Persian immigrant, I’ve been going to Caspian Bistro regularly since I was but a sweet baby boy. I’m admittedly biased, but I firmly believe that if you go once, you’ll be hooked. My personal favorite is the Chelo Kabob Koobideh—the national dish of Iran. It’s ground lamb and beef mixed together with onion and some super secret Iranian spices that make KFC’s Original Recipe taste like dog food—and not the fancy kind my dog eats, either. Caspian throws two skewers of meat next to some saffroned Basmati and you load it up with sumac (not the poison kind). Welcome to koobideh town, baby!
Other musts in my book are the Mast O Khiyar (essentially tzatziki with some added fixin’s), the Chelo Koobideh (two skewers of chicken breast instead of lamb/beef), and the Tahdig—scorched rice. Trust me, it’s better that it sounds. I call ’em “crunchies.” Caspian Bistro, 2418 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis
What’s not to love about Holy Land? They’ve got a wonderful restaurant experience, a huge menu, and—oh yeah—an effing hummus factory. Although owner Wajdi Wadi originally hails from Kuwait, it’s clear the Holy Land family appreciates Iranian fare. Why’s that? They make a few of the best Persian meals you’ll have in the States. Go for the Persian Combo—one skewer of lamb/beef and one of chicken. I’m a Caspian homer for life, but I have to admit that Holy Land’s meat game is out of control. Holy Land Deli, 2513 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
Olive & Lamb
Olive & Lamb doesn’t explicitly call itself an Iranian restaurant, and even labels its Chelo Kabob Koobideh as simply “Beef & Lamb Kabob.” There are Greek items on the menu, too, but if there’s sumac on the table, I’m calling it an Iranian restaurant.
What’s cool about Olive & Lamb is you can build your own bowls, but with better quality than at a fast food chain. Given the extra-Persian influence, I can mix my Iranian meat with some delicious Greek sauces for a blissful culinary experience that’s pretty sexual when you think about it. Olive & Lamb, 2424 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis
If you’ve ever walked past U.S. Bank Plaza’s Atlas Grill during a work day, you might be surprised to know it’s an Iranian joint. It definitely looks a bit more highbrow than Caspian or Olive & Lamb, and the Caesar salad and sautéed walleye don’t scream Persian cuisine. And yet, they’ve got koobideh and another super popular dish, Ghormeh Sabzi. It's an herb stew with braised beef so warm, tender, and delicious it’ll be your new go-to when the temperature drops below zero. Atlas Grill, 200 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis
The best part about Iranian food, besides the flavors, is its simplicity. If a dummy like me can pull off Persian cooking, so can you! So here’s my recipe for killer chelo kabob koobideh at home.
- 1 1/4 lb ground beef
- 3/4 lb ground lamb
- 2 yellow onions
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp garlic salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp lime juice
- 1/4 cup butter (or olive oil)
- 1 tsp sumac
- 1 tsp turmeric
- A smidgen of baking soda
- one egg
- two garlic cloves (add more if you’re nasty)
- Basmati rice
- A couple saffron threads
You don’t need the sumac, turmeric, or saffron if you don’t have it—but you’ll lose a little Persian magic.
- Turn on a Queen song. Freddie Mercury was Parsi, a descendant of Persians who moved to India to avoid Muslim persecution. Plus, Queen is just good cooking music.
- Put your meat in a big bowl, you freak. Now wash your hands.
- Mince your garlic cloves and chop up that onion ’til it’s fine as hell.
- Throw both in the meat bowl along with the salt, sumac, pepper, etc. Save the butter, though.
- Crack the egg in there.
- Knead everything for the entirety of "Bohemian Rhapsody" or longer if it isn’t sticking together yet.
Now, this is where I get a little wacky, my friends. Chances are you’re not grilling in January in Minnesota, and you might not have kabob skewers handy. So to the oven we go.
- Preheat the broiler.
- Form the meat into kabobs with your hands. Melt the butter and baste each side of the meat with a brush. Put the kabobs on a broiling pan.
- Start making rice. If you don’t know how to make rice... read the bag.
- Put meat in the broiler. Broil each side for 5-8 minutes depending on how terrible your oven is. Internal meat temperature should hit 145°F.
- Grind a couple pinches of saffron in a mortar. Add a tablespoon of hot water and mix. Let it sit. When the rice is done, mix in the saffron and some butter.
- Take out the kabobs and put everything on a plate. Sprinkle sumac on the rice and meat. Use a fork to put the food into your face and then move your mouth up and down to chew. Swallow the food and enjoy. I repeat: Welcome to koobideh town.
A note on spelling: Since Farsi and Arabic don't use the Roman alphabet, a dish’s spelling varies depending on the establishment; for example, Caspian, Atlas, and Holy Land each spell “Chelo Kabob Koobideh” differently, though it appears uniformly above for consistency.