Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sohan (سوهان) or Iranian Saffron Brittle @ Persian Network

There was an Iranian girl in my class at primary school.  She was loud and cheeky, and I didn't try very hard to get to know her, but I admired the flowing lines of the Arabic script on her plastic stencil ruler.  I didn't understand how she could tell the characters apart, because they looked nearly the same to me.  I also discovered that her language was called Farsi, not Iranian, and you write it from right to left.  That was the extent of my knowledge of her world.

And so it was that when I came across Persian Network, one of the many interesting shops on Dominion Road, I wondered why it was painted in the Italian colours of green, white, and red.  As you might have guessed, it wasn't becaused someone had confused Iranian with Italian.  When the tri-color stripes run horizontally rather than vertically, that is in fact the Iranian flag.

This shop isn't crammed full, but there is a good range of things for sale, from sweets, breads and spices, to rugs, trinkets and utensils.  As you can tell from their website, they are not dumbing things down for tourists like me.  Although there is an English label for most things, you need to use your powers of deduction to work out that the reddish powder labelled "dried nuts and fruits" is in fact sumac, and the box of confectionery made of sugar, egg whites, rose water and pistachios holds Persian nougat, or gaz (گز).

I decided to purchase a beautiful tin box containing what looked like crunchy biscuits, which the Iranian owner warned me would be very sweet.  This dessert, called sohan (سوهان) is essentially a brittle toffee made of wheat sprouts, saffron, flour, sugar, pistachios, butter, cardamom, egg yolks, and rose water.  Not unexpectedly sweet, but quite oily or syrupy.  Somehow, it manages to be crumbly and leave a chewy lump stuck to your teeth at the same time, an enjoyable mix of flavours and textures.

Sohan in a detailed and embossed tin.
From what I can see, I have purchased sohan qom (سوهان قم), which is primarily produced in the city of Qom and is a common souvenir from the place.  It is quite different from sohan asali (سوهان عسلي), a honey-based toffee usually with slivers of almond, which is a harder and shinier candy, often eaten for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year.  A variant of the honey-almond toffee is sohan konjedi (سوهان کنجدی), which instead has sesame seeds set in the honey and saffron translucent brittle.

Does anyone have a recipe for this delicious sweet, or shirini (شیرینی) which I have bought? The closest one I could find on the web is in this video from a TV cooking show, which makes use of honey and corn syrup in addition to sugar, but no egg yolks.  It also uses whole wheat flour instead of wheat sprouts, if indeed that was the correct translation.  According to this video of sohan qom production, the brittle shouldn't stick to your teeth either.

Whatever the secret, this is why I love living in Auckland, having the opportunity to taste exotic flavours from around the world without needing to leave the country.  I am looking forward to tomorrow too, not because it will be April Fools' Day, or because Daylight Saving will be over (yay for an extra hour's sleep), but because the Auckland International Cultural Festival will be on (bring on the Ethiopean, Croatian and Burmese food!).

Store Details

Persian Network
1/718 Dominion Road, Mount Eden, Auckland
(09) 623 0070

Persian Network is on the corner of Balmoral Road and Kensington Avenue.

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