09 January 2011

Iranian Herb Stew for the New Year


The longer I stay away from this space, the harder it seems to return. Not because I've stopped cooking or because I've stopped writing, but because I've stopped doing this thing called blogging, which turns out to be a whole different animal altogether. But I must return, just like I have to keep cooking, because there's always a new recipe to try, because people are hungry, because I like what this space, this blog, brings to my life.

It probably didn't help that our fridge broke in December, with horrible rattling sounds and leaking water. And what should have been an easy fix, because we rent from an absentee landlord, became a nearly twenty-day saga of fridge-less-ness. One can only live off their favorite local pizza place for so long, but thankfully it was fixed just in time to host our annual Christmas party (latkes with caviar, mini pulled pork sandwiches, stuffed grape leaves).


In better news, I received a tagine for Christmas (!!!!!), and can't wait to delve into more Moroccan recipes in the future, and I also received a macaron cookbook which I can't wait to try out.

Probably the best thing we've discovered in the last month are the kifflie cookies Paul made many batches of this holiday. But it seems rather cruel to offer a cookie recipe in January. Instead, we've made ghormeh sabzi, a delicious Iranian stew made of all the green things you can think of. And green things are virtuous, aren't they?

I was introduced to this dish many years ago by Iranian friends of mine, who always swore by it's deliciousness, and though I'd eaten their version I'd never tried it myself. I was surprised to find that other than a lot of chopping, this stew of complex flavors was relatively easy to make. You chop up all the green things you can get your hands on, lots of spinach, but also leeks, parsley, cilantro, dill, and scallions. You cook it with lamb and kidney beans (probably the best use of red kidney beans I've ever come across), for hours until it becomes not unlike a dark green sludge. It's not the prettiest thing, but it's delicious. And if you're feeling too virtuous, you can top your whole bowl with a traditional sizzling of melted clarified butter.


The recipe does call for one special ingredient: dried limes (also called omani limes, or noumi basra). The dried lime is such an essential flavor in this stew that I would say you really can't make the dish without it. It just won't taste right. But you can get dried limes from most Middle Eastern groceries, or order them online (whole is best, but the powdered form is also acceptable).

Here's to a good start to 2011, and many more recipes to come.


Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian Herb Stew)
Adapted from my friends and a recipe clipped from the Boston Globe long ago. I've heard you can make this using frozen spinach, but I've never tried it myself.

1/2 pound fresh spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh dill, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed and coarsely chopped
4 leeks, thinly sliced
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound beef or lamb stew meat, cut into cubes
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Generous pinch crushed red pepper or Aleppo pepper
1 dried lime or 1 tablespoon dried lime powder (available at Middle Eastern markets)
4 cups water
1 can (15 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

1. In a large flameproof casserole, combine the spinach, dill, parsley, cilantro, leeks, and scallions. Cook, stirring constantly, over high heat until the excess water evaporates. (There is no oil added at this point.)
2. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until the vegetables start to brown. Remove the pot from the heat. With a rubber spatula, remove the mixture from the pan and transfer to a bowl.
3. Wipe out the pan. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and when it is hot, add the meat, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until it starts to brown. Add the onions, turmeric, and red pepper. Continue cooking, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until softened.
4. With a knife, poke a hole in the dried lime and add them or the powdered lemon to the pot. Add 3 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Let the mixture bubble gently, partially covered, for 15 minutes.
6. Add the spinach mixture, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook, partially covered, for 1 hour. Add the remaining cup of water if the pan seems dry. Stir in the beans and continue cooking for 30 to 60 minutes or until the meat is tender when pierced with a skewer (total cooking time is 1 1/2 to 2 hours). Remove the dried lime from the pot.
7. Taste the mixture for seasoning. Add more salt, red pepper, or the lemon juice, if you like.


Ramsey said...

Oh, Mercedes, I'm glad to see you're back. I've been checking the new year postings of the other ME cuisine bloggers, the Syrian, the Australian, and the Texan. Anyway, you made me nostalgic for the days when there was an Iranian restaurant on 18th street, where the Peruvian place is now.

Anonymous said...

If only my lovely heavy pots weren't in another country, this looks like something I would love!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for not leaving here. I enjoy your recipes. It definately opens up a wide range of flavors that I that I like very much.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous lurker here: Please don't stop blogging! You have refreshingly different recipes and I look forward to reading (and trying!) them!

gingerrose said...

After reading this recipe, I immediately decided that I am making this tomorrow. :-) I'll probably do a write-up of it on my food blog at some point, and you'll definitely be mentioned!

Nadine said...

thank you fr this wonderful recipe! I recently bought a bag of dried lime not knowing what to do with them..they just looked like an ingredient that I want to experiment with. Please know that although I dont make comments on every blog you write, but I read them all and I enjoy them all too. thank you for hanging in here...

Anonymous said...

Another anonymous lurker here,
I enjoy your posts, even if there's a wait between them. Please keep them coming.

Also, is there a middle eastern market in the DC area that you would recommend?

Nadine said...

I made persian eggplant stew using the dried lime...delicious..my husband loved it too, we had it for 3 nights in a row and no complaints.

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

I love this! How incredibly fresh and reviving.

Blogging is an odd beast, isn't it? I could talk about it for days. I can't believe how long it took me to get back to it. I'm going slower and trying not to burn out this time.

I missed your site though : )