Now is the best time to stop by the Middle Eastern markets, because many of them carry fresh blooming branches from fruit trees and lovely flowers. Bakeries are busy making old fashioned cookies, pastries and candies. Unlike my East Coast cousins, we have hundreds of grocers in Los Angeles. As much as I enjoy running up and down the aisles with my shopping cart, this year I am going to avoid the crazy crowds and for the very first time, do most of my shopping online, because I finally can. Founded in 2013 and based in metro Atlanta, Persian Basket is the most comprehensive online storefront for Middle Eastern ingredients. This is great news especially for my friends and family who live on the East Coast. The shop’s bestseller is their very own Pure Grade 1 Iranian Saffron, which is regarded to be the the best in the world. They take great pride and care in shipping grocery products, including preserves and jams, rose water and orange blossom water, carefully wrapped in bubblewrap blankets and shipped with care. Finding good quality raw pistachios, pine nuts and Persian saffron is no longer a worry for me. Now, everything you need to get ready for Norouz is at your fingertips (except for Mr. Goldfish, of course).
Another habit I have adopted is starting any savory dish by mincing the garlic. I take 2-3 cloves of garlic and give them a good bashing with the flat of my cooking knife. Then I mince and smoosh the garlic against the cutting board. Finally, I collect the minced garlic in a little bowl where it must rest at least 10 minute. This is sufficient time for the precious allicin compound to develop. As Dad explains, allicin is crucial to the heart-healthy, anti-cancer, antibacterial qualities of garlic that would otherwise be destroyed by the heat of the cooking process. So, while my garlic rests in that little bowl, I move on to the rest of the ingredients.
Cleaning and trimming the fresh herbs is the most time-consuming step to preparing Ghormeh Sabzi. Most Middle-Eastern markets offer the herbs in a dried mix or frozen, but they are often the best combination of herbs, nor cleaned very well. No one will deny the taste and nutritional value of fresh herbs. Mom’s choice is always parsley, scallion and fenugreek. Called shambalileh in Farsi, fenugreek is prized in the West for its health benefits for nursing mothers. In the East, it is known for its distinct herby flavour, crucial to the bouquet of this stew. Reserve a bit of extra time to make this dish. You will soon lose yourself in the process and enjoy every minute of it. Lucky for me, Little Miss Daisy is still more than happy to hop onto my lap and help me with the herbs. I savor this time with her so much that I am actually sad when we run out of greens.
Mom’s Persian Herb Stew (Ghormeh Sabzi)
Note: The meat can easily be omitted for a vegetarian version without compromise protein or flavour.
I suggest you wash and trim the herbs the night before so you have less to do the next day. Pulsing the herbs in a food processor also saves time.
2 lbs pasture-raised beef
3 cloves garlic
2 medium onions
1/2 cup olive oil
2 bunches fresh parsley
2 bunches fresh Persian chive (or green scallion tops)
1/3 cup dried fenugreek (trust me)
6 black limes, seeds removed (limoo omani)
1 level Tb turmeric powder
1 heaping Tb Arabic 7-spice (advieh)
3 14oz cans beans (red kidney, cannellini or black-eyed peas)
salt + pepper to taste
2 lemons, juiced
1 cup water
2 Tb butter
1 Tb pomegranate molasses (Mom’s secret ingredient)
Fill a big bowl or a clean kitchen sink with cold water. Immerse herbs into the water several times so that the dirt settles to the bottom. Rinse and drain the excess water from the herbs in batches using a colander. Set them onto clean tea towels to dry a bit.
Snap the tough lower stems and yellowy leaves off of the herbs. Working in batches, pulse a couple handfuls of herbs in a food processor.
Trim and cube meat. Collect in a big pot and fill with just enough water to cover the meat.
Put the lid on and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, occasionally skimming the
froth that forms over the top of the water.
Remove the meat and strain the broth.
The broth is lovely for cooking the rice or as a base for a soup.
Peel, crush and mince the garlic. Set aside and allow it to rest at least 10 minutes. (Now you know why.)
Set a heavy-bottomed pot onto medium heat and drizzle a bit of olive oil.
Peel and chop onions, add to the pot and fry until golden brown, ~10 minutes.
This step takes patience and is key to the success of the dish.
Add the rest of the olive oil and the herbs to the pan.
Add the garlic.
Sautee the herbs, stirring often to prevent burning, another 10 minutes.
Drain and rinse the kidney beans. Add to the pot.
Add turmeric, 7-spice, salt and pepper.
Crush the black limes and toss into the pot.
Add lemon juice, water and a bit of butter.
Stire everything gently and put the lid on.
Lower the heat and allow the stew to simmer, ~20 minutes.
When the oil settles around the edges of the pot, the stew is ready.
Serve with fluffy saffron-infused basmati rice and a fresh salad.
Remember to order all those hard-to-find specialty ingredients from Persian Basket.
See what my Persian foodie friends are cooking up for the Norouz celebrations of Spring 2015!
Please note that I was not compensated for this post. Persian Basket sent me a gift basket of Middle Eastern products. All content and opinions are my own.