This is Ghormeh Sabzi, by many accounts Iran’s national dish!
Yes, there are Fesenjoon, Khoresht-e Bademjan, and Zereshk Polo, and a myriad of other stews and rice dishes, not to mention a long list of Kebabs. But there is something so very special about Ghormeh Sabzi.
To learn about this dish is to learn some of the very specific nuances of Persian culture, tradition, and cuisine.
This dish is an internal contradiction, much like Iran herself. The ancient Persian Empire vs. modern-day Iran; pre-revolution vs. post-revolution; traditional dishes vs. fast food.
Flavor vs. nutrition
As you may know, herbs are abundant and cherished in Iran. They are far more than finishing touches: they are integrated into dishes in large quantities, much as western cuisines often treat vegetables. This recipe uses about 5-6 cups of chopped fresh herbs that are jam-packed with nutrients and healthy green goodness. Except the herbs are then sautéed in oil and cooked for nearly half an hour until they neither look brilliantly green nor carry a nutritional punch. Rather, they are transformed into a deeply aromatic, dark green, and slightly sweetened version of their former fresh selves. This is where nutrients are sacrificed for the sake of flavor. So when I make this dish at home, I tend to sauté the herbs a little less to preserve some of the nutrients, knowing that I am sacrificing some of the texture and flavor. Alternatively, when I am serving this dish to guests (majlesi style in Farsi), my focus is on the presentation, texture, and flavor and not so much on the nutrition.
Patience vs. immediate gratification
There is no rushing through this process either. Skip this stage, and you will have a runny and watery stew which will have your guests whispering to each other in disbelief: “did you see how runny the Khoresht was?” Or – worse yet – they will pray for your soul, as you have failed and clearly exhibit no knowledge of how to cook this stew properly. Want to speed up this process? You will fail. Rush this and cook at a higher temperature so that you don’t have to stir the herbs for half an hour, and you will burn the herbs and bring unwanted bitterness to your dish.
Sweet vs. sour vs. even more sour
Ask an Iranian what their favorite flavor is and they will proudly say, sour! This stew showcases the use of the brilliant Limu Omani. These Persian dried limes offer a signature tangy flavor with an exquisite aroma paired with a hint of bitter and umami. The stew is then topped off with more freshly squeezed lemons to add that extra element of sour. Though no sugar is added to this dish, the gentle sautéeing of the herbs brings out their natural sweetness to satisfy the sweet taste buds on your palate.
Sour, sweet, salt, bitter, umami: all are represented in this dish, and that is why this is such a special and flavorful Persian stew.
Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi
- 2/3 cup dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight
- 4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, powder
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1 1/2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 3 cups water, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt, adjust as needed
- 4 Limu Omani (Persian dried limes), poked several times with a paring knife
- 2-4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
- 2 cups fresh parsley, finely chopped (about 4 bunches)
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped (about 2 bunches)
- 1 cup scallions or leeks, finely chopped (about 14 scallion stems or 1 small leek)
- 1/4 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fenugreek leaves, dried
- In a medium sized pot, bring the kidney beans and water to a boil and remove any foam that may rise to the surface.
- Reduce heat, cover and cook for 1 hour or until the beans are fully cooked and soft.
- Rinse and set aside.
- In a large pot, saute the onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.
- Add garlic, turmeric and ground pepper, and saute for an additional 2 minutes.
- Add the beef to the pan and toss to coat the beef with the spices and onion. Saute over medium heat for 2 minutes.
- Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.
- While the beef and beans are cooking, prepare the herbs by first washing and then lightly drying them between two layers of clean towels. Remove the tougher ends of the stems, about 2 inches from the bottom, and discard.
- Place the herbs one at a time in a food processor and pulse until a fine chop has been achieved. Collect, measure and place in a separate bowl.
- In a large frying pan saute the chopped herbs for 5 minutes in 6 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently .
- Reduce the heat to medium-low as you continue to stir the herbs for another 15 minutes. This is the most intricate part of this dish. The herbs need to begin to dry out while slowly getting cooked and developing a darker color and aroma. Take care not to burn the herbs.
- Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Once the beef has been cooking for 45 minutes, add 1 additional cup of water, the cooked and rinsed beans, the herbs, salt, Limu Omani and lemon juice. Stir.
- Bring the stew back to a simmer before lowering the flame and continuing to cook over low heat, covered, for 45 additional minutes.
- Adjust the stew by adding a small amount of water if needed. Keep in mind that this stew should be moist but not watery.
- Taste and adjust the stew for seasoning. Add more salt or lemon juice as needed.
- Turn the heat off and allow the stew to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve the stew with Persian saffron steamed basmati rice, a side of yogurt, or pickled eggplants.