After completing her PhD, working in London and traveling, Simi Rezai returned to Bath, looking for something to do. When a close friend’s children received a Celiac diagnosis, she asked Rezai to teach her Persian cooking, as the dishes are “seasonal, nutritious, and mainly rice based.”
“We had a lot of fun, the children loved the food and I decided to give cooking school a go,” said Rezai. “It all evolved very organically.” Now, Rezai’s been a food judge, hosts regular Persian Feast classes, does food tours of Iran, writes recipes and has led demos at food festivals.
And even though she researched entrepreneurship during her PhD, she never thought of herself as becoming a business owner. But food is something Rezai has always loved and considers herself to be “a bit of a glutton.” Rezai, who was born in Iran but grew up in Wales and lived in Canada and London, enjoys food no matter where she happens to be. “Some of the fondest memories I have were around the sofreh(table cloth) whether in Iran, Wales, Canada or the UK,” says Rezai.
It’s a good time to teach Persian food as it gains more popularity and people become more aware of the fragrant, herbaceous cuisine. With chefs like Samin Nosrat writing about essential Persian recipes The New York Times and cookbook author Naz Deravian of “Bottom of the Pot” entering the mainstream, it seems as if Persian cuisine is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
Rezai, of course, teaches her students how to make a crispy tahdig, the luscious saffron-laced rice with a toasted, brown bottom. It’s something she says no Iranian cooking class would be complete without. She also shares family recipes, including an Azerbaijan dish called kookoo sabzi, “made with lots of herbs, nuts and berries and can be enjoyed hot, warm or cold.”
“It is quintessentially Persian, using herbs as an ingredient, easy, nutritious, beautiful, great for sharing and of course most importantly delicious,” says Rezai.
At the same time, she started cooking, Rezai also started gardening. She eats and cooks seasonally and believes that “it is essential for a good life to have connection with the soil.” When she teaches, she also makes sure to impart lessons upon her students on the value of understanding where food comes from.
“I put the food I teach in the context of the culture, customs, stories and terroir as it helps to learn about the history of the place, people and ingredients in a dish. It is now how I learn about places when I travel,” says Rezai.
To use up her fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables she grows throughout the year, Rezai has turned to pickles and preserves, an age-old trick to enjoy the bounties of the earth year-round. What she decides to pickle will depend on how much her garden yields, be it beets, herbs, berries or whatever else grows in surplus. She was even featured in recipe for her mother’s pickles, which are sour, vinegary and garlicky with lots of herbs.
One of her personal favorite preserves is an elderflower cordial, which she says comes from the Persian love of sharbat. Sharbat is a refreshing, traditional drink flavored with lemon, rose water or sour cherry to guests on their arrival instead of chai. It’s accompanied by melons, cakes, nuts and dried fruit. Her elderflower cordial is inspired by that, a tradition that Americans might equate to serving an ice-cold glass of lemonade to visiting guests. At the root of both gestures is love for both food and the people who are joining you.
“When we sit to share food, it is human and pleasurable,” says Rezai.
So, what you can learn about Persian cooking is not just the rich flavors, but that it is rooted in appreciating the people around the table. Rezai will gladly teach you that in her Persian cooking school in Bath.
For more on Simi Rezai, visit her website and follow her on social media @SimisKitchen