Like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Persian cuisine also believes in the concept of duality where foods can be broadly classified as “hot” (“garmi”) or “cold” (“sardi”). Specifically speaking however, there is a third category – neutral.
This concept of duality extends beyond food, for instance, humans too could also be broadly classified as “hot” (aggressive) or “cold” (laid-back) natured.
This Persian culinary philosophy has its roots in Unani medicine.
With these principles in mind, Persian cuisine seeks to balance the two opposites to create a harmonious whole, for instance by balancing “hot” and “cold” foods and by making dietary adjustments based on whether a person is “hot” or “cold” natured. A “hot” natured person for instance may increase intake of “cold” foods and a “cold” natured person may increase intake of “hot” foods. Seasonal changes also dictate a change in foods to counter “hot” or “cold” imbalances precipitated by the change in season. So “hot” foods are usually served on the Persian food table during “cold” seasons such as winter, and “cold” foods usually appear during “hot” seasons such as summer.
The terms “hot” and “cold” here do not refer to spiciness or temperature of the food but rather the effects the food has on the human body.
“Hot” foods tend to increase internal body heat and metabolism. “Cold” foods on the other hand are the opposite, helping to neutralize internal body heat. During hot summer months when internal body heat tends to build, “cold” foods such as pomegranate help tone down this internal heat buildup, and thereby avert potential illness or bodily change such as the eruption of a rash for instance.
Within these two broad classifications, there are varying levels of “hot” and “cold” – some foods are “hotter” or “colder” than others. And for some foods, the classification of “hot” or “cold” is not unanimously agreed on.
Nuts (such as walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts,)
Most spices (such as ginger, saffron, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, fenugreek, caraway, cumin, vanilla and nutmeg)
Some herbs (such as dill, basil, parsely, tarragon, thyme)
Some pulses (such as chickpeas, red beans, soybeans)
Most meats (such as liver, lamb, camel, chicken)
Some seafood (such as shrimp, lobsters)
Some fresh fruits (such as mangoes, bananas, peaches, oranges)
Most dried fruit (such as raisins, figs)
Some fresh vegetables (such as scallions, radish, bell peppers, leeks broccoli, carrrots, celery, eggplants, potatoes,
Most dried vegetables
Some oils (such as sesame oil
Most dairy (including yogurt)
Most fresh fruit (such as watermelons, pomegranates, strawberries, pears, apricots)
Some vegetables (cucumbers, lettuce, spinach)
Some herbs (such as coriander)
Some seafood (such as fish)
Generally, Persian cuisine aims to seek balance where “hot” and “cold” ingredients are married to create a “neutral” dish. Most traditional Persian dishes are balanced.
For instance, “khoresh fesenjan” خورش فسنجون,
a popular meat stew with pomegranates and walnuts is a classic Persian dish where “hot” ingredients (walnuts) are combined with “cold” ingredients (pomegranates) to create a neutral, balanced and harmonious dish.
Kebabs, which are “hot” are usually served with a dip of yogurt which is “cold” resulting in a balanced meal.