I seem to spend a lot of time thinking about Isfahan these days. So I started searching online and paging through cookbooks for inspiration to see what intriguing and tasty dish I could come up with to share.
This is a simple Isfahani stew that once again has familiar elements such as lamb, chickpeas (in this case in the form of flour), tomatoes, and spices, that are combined in a unique and surprising manner to create an extraordinary flavor profile and texture.
More about Isfahan:
Isfahan is a city in central Iran, known for its classical Persian architecture, traditions, gastronomy, and unique accent. In the center of the city is the huge Naqsh-e Jahan Square which houses the 17th-century Shah Mosque, whose dome and minarets are covered with mosaic tiles and calligraphy. Naghsh-e Jahan Square is one of the largest city squares in the world and has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Isfahan is Iran’s 3rd largest city with a population of nearly 2 million and is home to numerous mosques with eye-catching minarets, 16th-century bridges, bustling bazaars, churches and cathedrals, museums, and tombs. A must-see for every Iranian and visitor to Iran!
I visited Isfahan only once, long ago. I must have been about 10 years of age, so my first-hand memories are a bit on the fuzzy side. I do remember the grandness of the town square and the beautiful and vibrant colors of blue, green, turquoise, and red, all surrounding a vast reflecting pool with fountains. My most vivid recollection is the narrow stair climb up the minarets, much like the climb up Notre Dame Cathedral’s towers, for those who know Paris.
These days Isfahan, still so far away, is in my daily life. I serve as a culinary director board member of a brilliant organization called Seattle-Isfahan Sister City Advocacy (SISCA), whose primary purpose is to normalize the human relationships between these two great cities. In our effort to narrow the gap and bring more awareness of Persian culture, every year we host two events in Seattle: one featuring Persian food (food diplomacy that we call Chefs Without Borders), and another celebrating the traditions and rituals of the Persian New Year.
I am SISCA’s food guy!
Khoresht-e Nokhodchie ba Bar-reh
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes, or 14 oz canned diced tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cups water
- 1 sprig fresh mint, for garnish
- 1/2 cup chickpea flour
- 1 pound ground lamb, or beef
- 1 medium onion, grated
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger, powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- In a large dutch oven, saute the onions with olive oil on medium heat for about 10 minutes or until lightly golden.
- Add salt, pepper, turmeric, mint and bay leaves and saute for 2 additional minutes.
- Add tomatoes, tomato paste and water. Cover and bring to a gentle boil before reducing the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs with the exception of the oil. Gently knead to mix and combine the spices into the meatballs. Meatballs should not be dry and crumbly. If so, add 1-2 tablespoons of water to adjust the texture.
- In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and begin sauteing the meatballs, rotating them a few times.
- Saute the meatballs for 10 minutes to bring out the flavor and color. Meatballs should become colorful, aromatic and visibly sauteed (but not fully cooked).
- Add the sauteed meatballs to the sauce, cover, and cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
- Garnish the stew with fresh mint and serve over steamed basmati rice.