spinach and dry plum stew (khoresh-e-aloo esfenaj) to welcome the new season

let’s make stew: sweet & sour braised beef with spinach and dry plums

{ خورش اسفناج و آلو }

aloo esfenaj stew

for some reason i had spinach stew on my mind when i woke up this morning. this is worrisome on many levels. to be thinking of food (not of the breakfast category) first thing in the morning can be a little dangerous, particularly when you are (almost constantly) trying (notice i said t-r-y-i-n-g) to restrict and control your intake of said food (while dreaming of the elusive delicious kind that is not only good for you but completely calorie free). beyond that, i have never been a fan of spinach stew (aka khoreshe-e-aloo esfenaj), or even tasted it. the idea of it has always appealed to me, but i strictly avoided it as a kid (not exactly the perfect meal choice for a picky eater), and never really came across it much as i grew up and developed a (much needed) more advanced and sophisticated palate. i  have loved dry plums ever since i sneaked them out of my grandmother’s pantry as a kid and slowly savored their naturally sweet and sour flavor while they soaked in a corner of my mouth. nowadays, i like to soak them in a bowl of water and watch them soften and plump up to their original size. i think the bag of aloo that’s been sitting on my pantry shelf may have had a little something to do with my early morning inspiration. either way,  i’m so glad i’ve officially added this delicious stew to my favorite recipes list. not having ever cooked aloo esfenaj before, i decided to use the general method for making most persian stews, which begins by braising  your meat of choice (in this case chunks of grass fed organic stew beef) with onions and turmeric. once your meat (this will work really well with lamb or veal shanks) is nicely braised the remainder of the dish comes together surprisingly easily. i can’t believe i’ve been missing out on khoreshe-e-aloo esfenaj all these years! depending on where you live, you may have a hard time finding the dry plums which are sold in most middle eastern grocery stores. If you have to substitute, i’m pretty sure prunes (omit the sugar in this case) will work just as well.


braised beef (and aloo esfenaj) for 6-8:

braised beef with turmeric

  • 1 to 1.5 pounds lean organic (grass fed) stew beef (or lamb or veal shanks)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach (frozen can be used-2 pounds-defrost and drain excess water)
  • 15-20 dry plums (aloo bokhara) or prunes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbs raw cane sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup avocado (or olive) oil
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tbs fresh lime juice

cooking spinach

  1. in a dutch oven (or deep skillet) brown 1 onion with your meat of choice in about  3 tbs oil. add turmeric, and salt & pepper to taste. pour 1.5-2 cups water over the browned meat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour (30 minutes more for shanks) until meat is tender.
  2. in a skillet, brown the remaining onion in oil until golden brown (piaz dagh), then and add the spinach (roughly chopped) with a touch of sea salt and stir fry carefully until spinach has reduced and all the liquid is absorbed.
  3. add fried spinach and onions to the beef in the dutch oven (and prunes if using) and allow stew to simmer covered for about 45 minutes. add dry plums, sugar, and lime juice. taste and adjust seasoning. cover and simmer for another 40 minutes to an hour.
  4. serve with saffron steamed rice (leave out the spices except for saffron).

persian esfenaj aloo stew

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