I had been wanting to meet Najaf Daryabandari ever since a London friend had told me about the fascinating lunch he’d had with him in Tehran. Najaf is a distinguished academic who has translated many classics and also written a two-volume tome on Iranian cuisine. My friend had lost his contact details but fortunately Nasrine, my Iranian friend knew him and it wasn’t hard to set up a meeting with him except that by the time I got to Tehran, Najaf was in the middle stages of dementia. He was still able to explain about his book and Iranian cuisine but his mind would wander every few minutes and he would fall silent for quite some time that by the end of my visit, I knew there was no chance I could cook with him. Still, I loved meeting him and his charming son Sohrab and like all Iranians, their hospitality was delightful. Amongst the many things they offered us with tea were these amazing cardamom-flavoured hard candy called abnabat. Nabat means sugar and ab water and the name literally means sugar water. They can also be made with saffron which must be very luxurious or other flavourings. And of course, I immediately rushed to Tavoz to buy a bag which lasted a very short time. You can buy them online and I am sure you can also find them in London, perhaps even at Persepolis in Peckham, or other Persian shops!
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, mainly because it takes about 150 croci to produce 1 gram of saffron. Each flower has 3 red stigmas (or stamens) that are attached to the plant by yellow styles. Normally, when you buy Spanish or Moroccan saffron you see some of the yellow styles mixed in with the saffron but not in Iran where they are kept separate, and even sold separately. I bought some of the cheaper yellow styles because I was intrigued, and they smelled almost as strong as the stamens. However, when I used some, I found that they had hardly any flavour. Also, they barely coloured my milk pudding. Not sure what I will do with my remaining stash. Perhaps mix it with the pure saffron? I guess it is not such a good idea!