I seem to be on a roll of doing back-to-back northern Iranian dishes! All over Iran, many stews feature fresh herbs in the place of other vegetables to accompany either animal or plant-based proteins. While each stew has its own unique combinations and ratios, they all have one thing in common: Iranians’ celebration and love of herbs.
What makes this dish characteristically northern is the addition of a sour element. For this stew, the most traditional ingredient is Seville oranges (Ab Narenj in Farsi). Alternatively, you may use unripe sour grape juice (Ab Ghooreh in Farsi) or lime juice to create that signature tart flavor.
Anar Bij is a hearty and flavor-packed dish from Gilan province in the Caspian Sea region of Iran. Delicate meatballs are gently cooked in a creamy walnut sauce that is then flavored with fresh herbs and pomegranate molasses. Tart flavors, aromatics, and a hint of sweetness combine to make this dish another poster child of Persian cuisine!
If you are familiar with Persian cuisine you will notice similarities between this dish and the highly popular Fesenjoon, a stew of chicken cooked in walnut and pomegranate sauce. Two things set this dish apart, however: the chicken is replaced by meatballs, and fresh herbs create an added depth of flavor.
For me, there is something so special about this dish as it marks the beginning of Autumn by celebrating the season’s bounty.
Every year I find myself eagerly looking forward to the arrival of Fall and its seasonal produce: from an amazing variety of squashes including the sweet and tender butternut squash, to fruit like persimmons, quince, and pomegranate, and above all the extraordinarily flavorful Persian golden plums, known as Aloo Zard. These plums are golden in color and have a unique tart flavor which wins the hearts of all Iranians.
While everything about this dish appears striking and eye-catching, it is a relatively easy and simple Persian stew. This Khoresh is consumed primarily in the summer season when fresh peaches are abundant in Iran.
The chicken first simmers slowly in a saffron broth, along with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a touch of sweetness. Then, fresh but not overly ripe peaches are lightly caramelized with a touch of oil and placed on top of the chicken for the last few minutes of cooking. Each cook choreographs the dance of sour and sweet flavors to suit their family’s taste preferences.
While the peaches are the focal point of this stew, a fair amount of good quality saffron makes this dish shine and come to life!
With the arrival of spring, Iranians hit their local markets and eagerly look forward to finding unripe sour plums (Gojeh Sabz), unripe almonds (Chaghaleh Badom), and unripe sour grapes (Ghooreh). I find Iranians’ love of sour and unripe fruits to be incredibly unique and endearing.
Gojeh Sabz, Persian green unripe plums, are a seasonal delicacy loved by Iranians and showcased in many different forms in our cuisine. Harvested before they’re fully mature, they deliver a crispy crunch and a refreshing range of flavors.
Khoresh Rivas is yet another Persian stew that celebrates the abundance of fresh herbs and Iranians’ never ending love affair with sour flavors. In the rest of the world rhubarb’s sourness is almost always moderated with sugar or strawberries, but Iranians use rhubarb in savory dishes precisely because of its sour flavor.
Khoresh Seeb is a highly adaptable stew whose stars are the firm and tart apples (Seeb in Farsi) that are gently sauteed in butter or ghee and then placed on top of the stew as it finishes cooking.
The base of this dish is made with beef and yellow split peas, patiently cooked in a turmeric and tomato sauce which by itself is often called Gheymeh. Gheymeh is not only served alongside fried or roasted potatoes, but is also used as a decorative topping on various dishes such as Aash.
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.
Bij Bij is not only a fun name for a dish, it is also a staple for Caspian Sea folks. People from Iran’s Mazandaran Province call this dish “Vavishka” (clearly a name that originated in Russia), but in Tehran those who know of it call it Bij Bij. It is a comfort dish, made with ground meat, caramelized onions and spices, all cooked in a rich tomato sauce, and with eggs poached right in the middle. An all-round simple and flavorful dish that can be prepared in about an hour, with very little effort.