Walk the streets of downtown Tehran at dawn, before the speeding, horn-blaring yellow taxis takeover the city, and you’ll find certain kitchens already hard at work. Within the cramped spaces, men—and a few women—are busy slicing tomatoes, washing herbs, and mixing spices, beads of sweat slowly gathering on their foreheads. Despite the heat, they drink cups of burning hot black tea as they work. Neatly aligned on the fiery oven tops in front of them are dozens of small green pots. In a few hours the food within the pots will be ready to serve, and soon hungry diners will arrive looking for a decent cup of tea, conversation, and dizi, one of Iran’s most beloved dishes.
Dizi is a lamb and bean stew cooked in clay pots and left overnight in the oven. Its full name is aabgoosht dizi—literally, “meat stew in a clay pot.” By the standards of Iranian cuisine, which is known for its laboriousness, dizi is relatively simple: chickpeas, white beans, onion, lamb (the neck is preferred), and lamb fat. Potatoes, tomatoes, and spices are added at the end. Eaten with flatbread, it has a warm, soft texture, with the buttery, moist taste of lamb complementing the more neutral beans. Cinnamon and lime powder give the dish a sweet yet tangy finish. Dizi is cooked in green-glazed clay pots from Meybod, a desert city renowned for its clay and pottery workshops. (In northeast Iran stone pots are used, but most dizi lovers insist it tastes better when cooked in clay pots.)