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.
You thought only your grandmother made the best meatloaf? Well, who knew, Persians make meatloaf too and they are not shy about stuffing lots of flavors into them. The main component that remains consistent is the signature Persian flavor profile; a touch of sweet that is balanced with sour and the refreshing company of fresh herbs.
Disclaimer: my grandmother did not make us meatloaves!
What looks like a soup or a stew, but is neither? It is Aash!
Aash is a slow-cooked Persian dish that combines a variety of beans, grains, sometimes noodles, herbs, spices and meat. Its texture most resembles a thick soup.
Aash is quite versatile and has many variations. It can be a comfort food, but it can also be served “majlesie style” – meaning the kind of meal you’d serve at a fancy dinner party. It can be the main course, or be served in small quantities as part of a family-style spread. Aash has its roots in traditional Iranian holidays such as Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
Name a culture, and you will quickly realize how many dishes start with some member of the onion family. Onions and all of their relatives are cherished and celebrated in Iranian culture. The onion family includes red, white and yellow onions, green onions, garlic, leeks, garlic chives and shallots. And in Iran, you also have Museer, which is an Iranian variety of shallot that most closely resembles elephant garlic, as well as Tarreh, which is a cross between American leeks and green onions. In the US these ingredients are available dried at Persian markets.
This dish takes me way back to my childhood growing up in Tehran. I remember loving this dish for its flavor and simplicity, which clearly appealed to my teenage palate. A simple meatball dish with fried potatoes over steamed rice – how can you go wrong with that?
Khoresht-e Gheymeh is a well-recognized and popular dish to Iranians: a comforting meat-and-potato stew that has all the familiar flavors of Persian cuisine.
The stew is flavored with the Persian spice mixture called Advieh, containing warming spices such as cinnamon and cardamom, earthy cumin and coriander, and a gentle kiss of ground rose petals. But what truly puts a Persian stamp on this dish is the use of Persian dried limes, Limoo Omani.
Persian dried limes have a strong sour, citrus flavor and a deep, earthy fermented profile. This unique profile is the result of the preservation process, in which the limes are left out in the sun for a long period to dry out. The end result is simply just short of magic, with complex and rich multi-dimensional notes of sour and bitter accompanied by an intoxicating aroma.
I love nothing more than to give a bag of dried Persian limes to someone who has never experienced them, and then sit back and watch the look on their faces as they experience the unique scent. Limoo Omani is another treasured gift of Iran to the culinary world!
Colorful spices and dried limes: that is how Iranians do meat and potato stew! I usually serve this stew with a side of salad Shirazi or cucumber and mint yogurt.
Ask an Iranian what their favorite rice dish is, and they’ll likely say it’s Lubia Polo. They’ll then proceed to tell you how they make their version and why it’s the best! Though quite simple in composition, this dish has such richness because of the way the ingredients are cooked and the integration of lots of umami flavors such as tomato paste, turmeric, and cinnamon!
Kebabs are a quintessentially Iranian (and Middle Eastern) dish that’s widely available at Persian restaurants in Iran and abroad. It also takes center stage at dinner tables in Persian homes. Iranians have both a tendency and a capacity to elevate their dishes according to the availability of specific regional ingredients, and kebabs are no exception. This dish has its origin in the Caspian Sea region of Iran, where the climate lends itself to growing a wide range of produce, fruits, herbs, and of course rice.
What makes this dish delightfully flavorful is the use of various fresh herbs and pomegranate juice or paste, allowing the meat to marinate and tenderize over an extended period of time. Sour and aromatic elements create a magical signature combination in Persian cuisine, and this dish highlights and showcases this perfect harmony.
Traditionally, this dish uses a very specific fresh herb that grows in the Gilan and Mazandaran provinces of Iran and is called chochaagh. However, chochaagh is not widely known in the rest of the world and is only available locally. So when preparing this dish, I rely on all the other aromatic herbs that are easily available to create the flavor profile that best matches the original dish from the Caspian Sea.
Celery, oh celery! Let’s face it, celery probably isn’t the kind of vegetable that makes you jump up and down with excitement. So bear with me as I try to convince you that this dish is not your average celery stick dipped in ranch sauce, like an edible spoon. Celery has a unique flavor that seems like it’s always best paired with something else: ranch dressing, nut butter, hummus, or various dips. To make matters worse, celery seems to be an obligatory ingredient in those ever-so-popular smoothies, perhaps to compensate for the sugar content in your “healthy” smoothie!
Not only did I not like celery growing up, I never really enjoyed it much as an adult – until I went to cooking school! There we learned how to treat this vegetable properly and make it shine on its own or be a complementary ingredient in a dish. Add it to salads for a beautiful crunch, or cook it and transform it into a cream soup.
This Persian stew is a very popular dish and remarkably flavorful with very few ingredients. Celery is sauteed on its own to enhance its flavor, then combined with herbs, beef and broth to bring magic to this dish!