What I love most about this stew is that it showcases the easier side of Persian cuisine. Many of our Khoresh (stews) use multiple ingredients and take a long while to cook, but Khoresh Aloo Esfenaj has a simpler ingredient list and is easy to prepare for a weeknight meal.
The most unique item in this dish is Aloo Zard, Persian golden plums. These are not only bright and beautiful in color, but more importantly, they are much more dynamic and flavorful than many plum varieties which tend to be just sweet. Aloo-Zard is both tart and sweet, and simply more flavorful.
A few words on Persian stews, which require certain skills which are not always explained in many recipe books.
Let’s start with the concept of Ja-oftaadan. This is the idea that the stew needs to sit off the heat for a while after it has finished cooking, allowing the oil to collect on the top of the stew. This highlights the richness of the dish, showcasing the pride of the chef for their Dast Pokht. Dast Pokht (“the hand that cooks” in Farsi) references the skills and knowledge of the cook.
Persian stews generally don’t follow the simple approach of adding all the ingredients at the same time and cooking them together. It is rather a delicate balance of techniques and the sequence of ingredients. Persian dishes tend to prioritize presentation and flavor, and I have to admit that’s sometimes even at the expense of nutrition.
Persian stews are never runny or watery, a rule that is familiar to every Iranian but yet not always easily achievable!
I have taught Persian cooking classes in Seattle for nearly 20 years. As I look back at my own recipes from long ago, I see the error in my techniques and a reminder of my own lack of experience. Often my Khoresh was runny and not properly Ja-oftadeh (set). These days I try to convey all the techniques that I’ve learned (my Dast Pokht) in my recipes.
Also, to make Persian food more accessible, I often suggested substitutes for the less available traditional and authentic Persian ingredients. In 2020, I am a little less inclined to promote too many substitutions unless of course, they are absolutely necessary. Persian ingredients and markets are now much more accessible and available than ever before. Check out my resource page for recommendations.
Final word: though you can make this dish with regular plums, or any other dried fruit for that matter, the true flavor for this dish comes from Aloo-Zard.
Khoresh Aloo Esfenaj
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 6 tablespoons ghee or olive oil, divided
- 1 lb lamb, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1 1/2 cups water, adjust as needed
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1 cup Aloo Zard, Persian golden plums
- 4 tablespoons Ab Ghooreh (unripe sour grape juice), or lemon juice, adjust to your taste
- 4 bunches spinach, roughly chopped
- In a large frying pan, heat 4 tablespoons of ghee and saute the onions on medium heat for about 10 minutes before adding the lamb and turmeric. Continue to saute for another 5 minutes. The lamb and onions should have turned a beautiful golden color and become aromatic.
- Add water, cover and cook for 60 minutes on low heat or until the meat is fully cooked and tender.
- In the meantime, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee and saute the spinach over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until the spinach has fully wilted and most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Once the meat has been cooked, add the salt, pepper, Aloo Zard and Ab Ghooreh and increase the temperature a bit so to remove most (but not all) of the remaining liquid. This is a dry(er) stew and should not be watery.
- Add the previously sauteed spinach to the meat mixture, lower the flame, cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Serve the Khoresh with Persian steamed basmati rice with a side of yogurt.