Sangak - © fridaymagazine.com

Expedition To Iran III: A Rich And Varied Bread Basket

We’ve caught a glimpse, over the past few days, of the wide scope of Iranian cuisine including a whole cookbook full of desserts. Today, it’s time to look at their equally broad spectrum of traditional breads – some of which you may want to add to your own family’s menu!

Sangak - © fridaymagazine.comNaan-e Sangak: Often made by commercial bakeries in huge oblong sheets
which can be torn or cut up to feed a whole family.
In this case,
a very large family… It’s the national bread of Iran!

It seems only fitting that a culture such as Iran’s have an extensive and varied ‘bread basket’ to go along with its amazing national menu of mains, sides and deserts. Today, we’ll look at the whys and wherefores of the more popular Iranian breads, and find out what they’re traditionally eaten with.

Almost infinite variety…

Sciencedirect.com offers this compelling description of the Iranian bread tradition:

“Due to the wide varieties of products and different favorites of people, several categorizations of bread types may be used throughout the country. Iranian breads may be categorized in different ways: […] (1) by the type of flour: wheat-based, barley-based, rice-based, etc.; (2) by size and volume: flat, raised, and semiraised; (3) by method of cooking: hot stone-baked, tandoori, oven-baked, steam-baked, etc.; (4) by the type of ingredients added to wheat flour-water-yeast dough: sesame bread, potato bread, etc.; (5) by texture: doughy, soft, crispy, brittle, and dry; and (6) by whether or not the bread contains sugar: sweet and non-sweet. Also, the Iranian breads can be classified into two major types according to the geographical distribution (observed spread range) and popularity of breads throughout the country.”

The paper, by Vahid MohammadpourKarizaki, enumerates some 20 breads which are enjoyed throughout Iran, plus more than 30 others that are traditionally consumed in specific regions of the country. We’ll take a closer look at the most popular Iranian breads…

On our menu today:

Naan-e barbari: It looks like Indian Naan Bread, and that’s no coincidence. It’s a wheat flour-based leavened bread originally brought to Tehran by travellers from the east.

Barbari 2 - © kingarthurflour.com

It’s trademark golden brown finish is the result of a special flour-based glaze which imparts a thin, crispy crust to the light, fluffy loaf. It’s usually topped with a sprinkle of Poppy or Sesame Seeds.

Naan-e sheermal: Made with maida flour (finely-milled, bran-free, bleached wheat flour), Sheermal is an leavened flatbread composed of flour, yeast, milk and saffron, which gives it its signature golden colour. It’s slightly sweet with a strong essence of saffron. It’s usually eaten with kebabs or stews.

Naan-e taftoon: This familiar-looking flatbread may have come from the west, where Pita Bread is a longstanding tradition. Its recipe calls for wheat flour, milk, eggs and yogurt. Like Pita, it’s unleavened and is historically cooked on the walls of a Tandoori oven. Also like Pita, it’s commonly eaten as a wrap with Kebabs and other foods. In fact, it’s probably the most common bread in Iran, and is eaten with everything.

Naan-e sangak: This is another leavened bread, made from whole wheat flour, light and airy on the inside with a delicate, very light-golden crust. It’s usually made in triangular or rectangular form but can also made in long strip-like loaves which can be torn or cut up to feed a whole family. Sangak refers to ‘little stones’, which were traditionally used to cover the floor of the domed clay oven in which the bread was baked. The national bread of Iran, Naan-e sangak was once a staple food of the Iranian armies.

Lavash: Used to make ‘longmeh’, a roll-shaped dish served at breakfast and supper, Lavash is a simple flatbread for which the dough is rolled out very thin on a floured surface and trimmed square. It’s not baked, but rather cooked on a hot, dry pan (try a large cast iron frying pan)., turned once to give both sides a light golden brown finish.

…And let’s not forget these popular dessert breads:

Naan-e Khormaei: This sweet, leavened bread stuffed with dates is actually pretty easy to make: Wheat flour, yogurt, sugar, baking powder, butter, rosewater, and water are combined into a dough is wrapped around pitted dates (I prefer making up a batch of the filling my favourite aunt used in Date squares, adding some cardamon, saffron, and ground sesame and/or poppy seeds) and baked for about half an hour.

Naan-e Khormaei - © termeketravel com

A simple egg yolk glaze is brushed over the top of the ‘loaf’ to impart a dark brown, crispy crust. Khormaei is a favourite at special occasions.

Naan-e Khamei: I marvel at the simplicity of this Iranian version of the Cream Puff! In fact, I will be using it for all my cream-filled puff-type deserts from now on! No fussing with beaten eggs or special piping techniques… Just combine flour, water, butter, an egg, a few drops of vanilla, and salt in a bowl and mix them well. Then drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet (for Cream Puffs) or pipe/form into oblong shapes for éclairs. Or any other shape you fancy, provided it’s not too broad or thick! All they’ll need is about 20 minutes in the oven. Let them cool before piping them full of whipped cream, pastry cream, chocolate cream, fruit jelly or whatever you want.

…And that’s our very simplified look at the main types of Iranian breads. You could spend weeks – months! – exploring the entire Iranian bread universe. Remember, none of these breads is hard to make and, in spite of traditional methods of baking (tandoori or clay-dome ovens, for example) called for in some cases. You can bake them successfully using whatever kind of oven you have! All the ingredients are freely available at Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores near you.

As I said earlier, I hope you will delve into Iranian breads and incorporate them into your own family’s traditions. This is what culinary expeditions are all about!

~ Maggie J.

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