How to Eat Well in a Persian Restaurant

Chicken Kebabs and RiceIf you have never had the pleasure to enjoy a meal in an Iranian or Persian restaurant, you should add it to your bucket list and  make a plan to go without delay. If you’ve experienced this cuisine, you’ll never forget the wonderful flavors and fragrances that permeate this delectable food. Persian food includes a wide variety of vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, rice dishes and combinations of herbs and spices that are unique to this cuisine, including cinnamon, sumac, saffron, and cumin.  Many of the foods are grilled, making it a healthy  choice for most. Like other Middle Eastern countries, the food of Persia has been influenced by its’ neighbors and conquered regions at various stages throughout its’ history. Thus there has been shared culinary influences to and from Turkish, Mesopotamian, Levantine, Greek and Central Asian cuisines, with smaller touches from Russian cuisine. Persians love their rice, so you will also see a vareity of rice dishes available to accompany the main course. The rice with sweet and sour cherries ( Abdalo Polo) is a MUST. You shoould definitely not miss this fabulous dish!

Dishes You Will Likely See On A Persian Menu

Appetizers
Kashk-Bademjan: Cooked eggplant in homeade tomato sauce topped with yogurt
Mirza Ghasemi: Mashed grilled eggplant with tomato, garlic & egg
Dolmeh: Grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs
Humus: Crushed chickpeas, tahini paste & seasoning
Babaganoosh: Baked eggplant with tahini paste, garlic & seasoning
Sambuseh: Crispy fried dumplings stuffed with chickpeas & herbs; served with spicy chutney
Stuffed Pepper: Green pepper stuffed with ground lamb, rice & herbs, slowly simmering with light tomato sauce
Salad Olovieh: Chicken & potato salad with eggs, green peas & carrots

Kebobs
Vegetarian Kebob: An assortment of grilled vegetables served with humus                                      Fish Kebob: Usually salmo,n char-grilled with spices                                                                              Chicken Shish Kebob: cubes of marinated boneless chicken;char-grilled                                             Jujeh Kebob: Pieces of bone in Cornish hen in lemon saffron marinade; char-grilled
Koobideh Kebob: Skewers of chopped beef; char-grilled
Beef Shish Kebob: Cubes of Angus beef lightly marinated & char-grilled
Lamb Shish Kebob: Cubes of marinated boneless baby lamb; char-grilled

Accompaniments
Mast Khiar: Homemade yogurt mixed with cucumbers& mint
Mast Esfenaj: Homemade yogurt mixed with sautéed spinach & garlic
Panir Sabzi: Fresh basil, tarragon, mint, radish, scallions & feta cheese
Torshi: A traditional Persian mix of chopped pickled vegetables                                            Mediterranean Chopped Salad: Usually includes chopped tomato, cucumber, green pepper, parsley, lemon and olive oil.

Tips for Eating  Well in a Persian Restaurant

It’s easy to make good choices in a Persian restaurant as the entrees all tend to be grilled.

  1. Portions tend to be large, so sharing is ideal. The platters of rice tend to be quite big, so it’s wise to order just one plate or rice for two to four people.
  2. A good way to start the meal is with a plate of the various dips. This will provide you a taste of many flavors, all to be enjoyed with the delicious pita bread.
  3. For dessert, share one serving of baklava or ask for fresh fruit.
  4. Try mint tea to accompany your meal as a healthy alternative to soda or alcohol.

Tips For Various Health Issues

If you are trying to lose weight: Opt for grilled vegetable, fish or chicken kebab. Ask for extra vegetables in place of the rice. Or share one plate of rice with the table. As all portions are usually large, consider sharing your main course if you are also having an appetizer.

If you have heart disease or high cholesterol: Choose the vegetable or fish kebab as these are the lowest in saturated fat. If they have salmon, that’s an excellent choice.  For an appetizer, the humus, babaganoosh or salad would all be ideal. The yogurt is made from whole milk, so it will be high in saturated fat. Share with the table if you would like to try it.

If you are vegetarian or vegan: Choose the vegetable kebab as your main dish. There are many side dishes that are vegetarian and/or vegan. If you are vegan, try the humus or babaganoosh. Most salads are also vegan. You can always ask for the cheese to be deleted. For vegetarians, there are many yogurt dips to also partake. These pair well with the delicious pita bread on the table.

If you have prediabetes or diabetes: All of the kebabs are good choices. To lower the glycemic index of the meal, ask for vegetables in place of the rice. When it comes to dessert, if you desire something sweet, ask for fresh fruit. Mint tea is a great way to end the meal. It also promotes healthy digestion.

Favorite Persian Restaurants in NYC

Just in case you’re planning a trip to NYC in the near future, here are our fave picks. Enjoy!

Revagh

Persepolis

Colbeh

Lisa Stollman, MA, RDN, CDE, CDN was recently honored as the 2015 Outstanding Dietitian of the Year by the New York Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She loves traveling the world and experiencing new foods and cultures, and meeting interesting people. Lisa is the author of the ebook The Trim Traveler: How to Eat Healthy and Stay Fit While Traveling Abroad (Nirvana Press 2014) and The Teen Eating Manifesto: The Ten Essential Steps to Losing Weight, Looking Great and Getting Healthy (Nirvana Press 2012). Lisa maintains a nutrition practice in NYC and Huntington, Long Island where she specializes in weight management, diabetes and travel nutrition. Lisa is also the CEO of Eat Well Restaurant Nutrition where she collaborates with chefs to get healthy dishes on the menu. For more info on Lisa, visit here.

How to Eat Well in a Greek Restaurant

Greek_SaladWhether eating at a taverna in Santorini or enjoying a delicious Greek meal in your locale, this healthy plant-laden Mediterranean cuisine is a pleasure you must experience for yourself. Heavy on foods grown from the earth: lucious red tomatoes, freshly picked and pungent oregano and thyme, shiny and firm purple eggplants and fragrant olive oil. Salty, tangy Feta cheese sliced atop bowls of Greek salad. This is the food of Gods. This is Greek food. Visit a Greek restaurant and the variety of dishes offered is mind-boggling. Greeks love to cook and it shows! There are so many fabulous dishes to try, but if you aren’t familiar with traditional Greek food, you may be unsure of what to request. Whether you just want a traditional dish, such as Spanikopita, or have special dietary needs, such as vegetarian, diabetes, or high cholesterol, you can find something healthy and quite tasty . So let’s visit a Greek menu and give you some ideas for your next visit to either Greece or your local Greek restaurant. Opa!

Overview of Traditional Greek Menu Fare

Greek cuisine includes a wide variety of vegetable dishes, grilled fish and meats. The Greek diet makes wide use of olive oil, lemon juice, vegetables and herbs, grains and bread (they love pita bread!), wine, fish, and various meats, including lamb, poultry, rabbit and pork. Also important are olives, cheese, eggplant, zucchini, artichokes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and yogurt.  Some dishes use phyllo pastry. Greeks also love their lemon potatoes and rice. Greek desserts are characterized by the wide use of nuts and honey. If you choose wisely, it’s quite easy to have both a delicious and healthy meal.

Heart-Healthy Meals:  Grilled Octopus, Grilled Fish, Grilled Vegetables, Garides with Feta cheese (large grilled shrimp cooked en casserole with Feta), Greek Salad, Horiatiki Salad, Horta (Dandelion greens sauté with olive oil and garlic).  If you have a history of heart disease, go easy on the red meat and cheeses. Enjoy more vegetable and grilled fish meals.

Diabetes-Friendly Meals: Dishes rich in vegetables and seafood should be at the top of this list. Greek salad, Vegetable Mousakka, grilled Octupus and fish. Poultry and lean meats. Pay attention to portions of rice and potatoes. Limit to I cup of starchy vegetable or grain per meal. If you want dessert, share with the table and have just a couple bites. Go for a walk after your meal to help lower you blood glucose.

Vegan and Vegetarian Fare:  Gigante beans (vegan) known as Butter beans in the States, Spanikopita—traditional spinach and Feta pie baked in phyllo dough (vegetarian–contains butter and Feta cheese), Lentil soup, Meze Platter (vegetarian–includes tzaziki (yogurt and cucumber). To make it vegan, request extra hummus in place of the yogurt. Vegetarian Mousakka is a delicious vegetarian dish consisting of vegetables cooked en casserole topped with a Bechamel sauce.

Five Tips for Eating Well in a Greek Restaurant

  1. Avoid fried foods, such as fried calamari and fried fish. Choose grilled or broiled fish and meats.
  2. Start the meal with a Meze platter ( a tasting plate of various dips, usually including, but not limited to, hummous, babaganoush, taramasolata (caviar with yogurt dip) and tzatziki (cucumber with garlic and yogurt), or a Greek salad (romaine lettuce with tomatoes, cucumber, grape leaves, olives and Feta cheese) or Horiatiki salad (a Greek salad sans lettuce).  A Meze platter can also be a meal for one person or have it along with a Greek salad for a party of two.
  3. If you are vegetarian or vegan, the protein- and fiber-packed Gigante beans (traditionally cooked in a rich tomto sauce) can serve as a dinner meal, paired with a Greek salad (sans the cheese if vegan) or a vegetable side.
  4. Baklava, a delicious pastry of phyllo dough, nuts, and honey is a mainstay of many Greek restaurants. It’s delicious, but quite rich. So order just one for the table.
  5. Portions can be large. Ask for a take-away box and bring half the meal home. Makes for an easy lunch or dinner the next day.

Lisa Stollman, MA, RDN, CDE, CDN was recently honored as the 2015 Outstanding Dietitian of the Year by the New York Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She loves traveling the world and experiencing new foods and cultures, and meeting interesting people. Lisa is the author of the ebook The Trim Traveler: How to Eat Healthy and Stay Fit While Traveling Abroad (Nirvana Press 2014) and The Teen Eating Manifesto: The Ten Essential Steps to Losing Weight, Looking Great and Getting Healthy (Nirvana Press 2012). Lisa maintains a nutrition practice in NYC and Huntington, Long Island where she specializes in weight management, diabetes and travel nutrition. Lisa is also the CEO of Eat Well Restaurant Nutrition where she collaborates with chefs to get healthy dishes on the menu. For more info on Lisa, visit here.