Monday, October 24, 2011

Ghormeh Sabzi is not pretty

Now that its autumn it's nice to have hearty stews in our cooking repertory to keep bones warm. During a dark and chilly winter I once spent in Oslo, Norway, I discovered just such a stew.

Yet my discovery was not some tradition of Norwegian cusine - it was Persian, or Iranian. This story shows how global we've become. [The Man I Love] went to the University of Oslo for a semester to teach African music. Our son - then three years old - and I went with.  We lived in university housing. Six suites shared a common kitchen. Our kitchen mates were Ghanaian, Bangladeshi, American, Danish and Iranian.

One day Ramin offered to cook us a famous Iranian stew he called Ghormeh sabzi, to be served over white rice. It was alarmingly dark and sludgy-looking, a deep olive green and fibrous-looking. Within were dark red kidney beans and lamb stew meat cooked down until it was tender and shredded. The dish had a funky,  vegetal taste, with a hint of sourness. It was rich, deep, and delicious!

I asked him to teach me to make it. Iranian ingredients were easy to find in the immigrant markets of Oslo - but not so easy to find when I returned to Seattle, so for years I had an unrequited longing for Ghormeh sabzi.

Welcome to Los Angeles! Or "Teherangeles," as it's sometimes called, because LA is home to some 800,000 Iranian immigrants and Iranian-Americans. Now I can have Ghormeh sabzi anytime I crave it.

As you might expect of a dish made by a male student in a college dorm kitchen, it's also pretty easy.

Ghormeh sabzi

1 pound beef or lamb stew meat - or a combination, cut into 1" cubes
1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
1 - 2 big bunch of green onions (scallions)
1 big bunch of parsley
1 big bunch of fresh cilantro
1 - 2 cups finely chopped spinach
1 handful of fenugreek leaves, or shanbalileh, chopped *
Salt and pepper
1 tsp or to taste turmeric
1-2 Persian dried lime, or limoo-amani *
1 can cooked red kidney beans or dried red kidney beans
Lemon juice
Cooking oil

*available in Persian and Indian groceries, online, and also sometimes at natural food stores. Or you can just forget it.

Heat the cooking oil in a heavy pan, and saute the chopped onions till golden. Add the turmeric and fry a minute or so, then add the stew meat and brown it on all sides.

Then add the chopped greens and herbs to the pan, or you can fry them in oil in a separate pan, and add them to the meat once they're cooked down. Cook the greens until they brown a little, a bit beyond just wilting them.

Once they're cooked down, add 2 cups of water, season with salt and pepper and lemon juice, and bring to a simmer and cover. If you're using dried beans, put them in now, but hold off on the lemon juice (acid prevents dried beans from cooking soft).

After about an hour and a half add the dried limes and the lemon juice, if you haven't already added it. The dried limes may float, so try to keep them down in the liquid so they soak. If you're using canned beans, this is when you add them.

Cook another 30 minutes or so. If it's too watery, leave the lid ajar so some of the liquid can steam away.

It's all about the greens and herbs, so you should use whatever combination you like. I've never used fenugreek, because I don't know where to easily find it. I understand you can buy it frozen, like chopped spinach, in Indian markets. Some Iranian cooks use dill and also add cinnamon along with the turmeric. I think any fresh green might work - beet greens or mustard greens or kale - although I hope I'm not horrifying any Iranian cooks to suggest these.

The only tricky thing is where to find the dried limes, which lend a unique puckery taste to the stew. Here in LA there are scores of Persian markets, but they can be purchased online or in some natural food stores. If you can't find them or don't like them, don't worry about it - the stew is good even without it.

Serve the stew on steamed white rice. It's good to use basmati rice, which is long-grained and fragrant.

If you'd like to explore Persian cuisine, I found a good website that walks you through the recipes easily, HERE.

But if you're in LA - you can explore Persian cuisine at the many Persian restaurants in town. My lunchtime Ghormeh sabzi in the photos was bought in a food court at a Santa Monica mall - which just shows how popular Persian cuisine is in the LA area.

No, Ghormeh sabzi is not pretty. But it's darned good.


Mrs. G. said...

We had lamb stew last night for dinner and I am really looking foward to trying this one. The lime/cilantro call to me!

materfamilias said...

Oh, this is a must try! I think we should be able to source most of the ingredients altho' I wonder about the dried lime. Worth looking for, though, I'm looking forward to the rich fragrance this must impart on a wintry day. Thanks!

smalltownme said...

Mmmm. I think I can almost smell it.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to try this. It sounds fantastic!

Glennis said...

Here's a link to an online Persian grocery:

I'll add the hyperlink the the post.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Here's a youtuber...