Don’t know much about Persian food? Get ready to have your world rocked by Aliya Ferguson, whose Persian feast and cooking class in Cape Town will make you fall head over heels in love with the cuisine’s addictively aromatic, utterly unique flavours, bountiful portions and fascinating back stories.
If it weren’t for her friends hassling her, Aliya says she probably never would have started hosting Persian cooking experiences at her home.“ The genesis of it all was having friends loving the flavours of the dishes I made at dinner parties, and wanting to learn to recreate it themselves,” she says.
Raised in England by an Irani-Iraqi father and Danish mother, Aliya says that cooking and gathering around delicious food has always been a part of her daily life. She credits her Irani grandmother for passing down generations’ worth of indispensable cooking knowledge to her – skills she loves sharing with people on her blog and, now, in her home.
“Persian food has a completely unique flavour profile – there’s a constant play between sweet and sour,” she explains. “There are no refined ingredients; only loads of fresh produce and very distinct flavours. Dried limes, which add a very unusual but delicious bitter-sour flavour to stews; barberries, which just give you these bursts of sweet-sourness in your mouth; saffron, which Persian cuisine utilises in quite unexpected ways; the ubiquitous rose and orange blossom water… Oh, and we use herbs like vegetables, often adding heaps of fresh greens to stews.”
Aliya is the first to admit that the menus for her cooking experiences are quite ambitious (“They’re a bit like cooking marathons!”), but then again, that’s the whole appeal of Persian cuisine: the epic feast at the end. Once you’ve arrived at her inner-city home and enjoyed a glass of bubbly with your cooking comrades, she’ll set you to work with sous cheffing duties around her large kitchen table, while she gets on with the business of cooking in the open-plan kitchen.
The whole evening is like an interactive storytelling experience, where you’ll learn about the history and origins of the ingredients used in Persian cooking by tasting all of the components as you go.
The menus inevitably vary, but you can expect to make a traditional Persian ‘Chellow’ (pilaf), which Aliya describes as “a mountain of beautiful saffron-soaked rice with crispy onions, barberries, toasted nuts”, an impressive chicken dish (the low-and-slow chicken, walnut, turmeric and pomegranate stew is to die for), some sides like a crunchy shirazi salad and yoghurt-dressed beetroot, and to clinch it all, two desserts (better hold thumbs the rose and walnut baklava and saffron-orange blossom ice cream is on the menu).
For those that enjoy a tipple, wines from Arendsig will be poured – including a particularly delicious Shiraz, which Aliya will explain, has its origins in Iran. We think you might need to wear your stretchy pants to this one, folks…
- Storytelling and learning about the special and exotic ingredients of Persian cuisine.
- Learn to make the most exotic, yet simple, fragrant desserts.
- Get a recipe book to accompany the experience, along with details of the suppliers you can buy the ingredients from.
- Beautiful wine from Arendsig estate in the Robertson Valley.
- Learn to make and enjoy the unique flavours of Persia.
- Welcome drink
- Cookery book to accompany course
- Cooking lesson
- Dinner party with wine from Arendsig
- Water and cordial
Photography: Jomeri Mouton