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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baghali polow: steamed basmati rice with dill and fava beans served with saffron braised veal

last year my special someone chose steak and fries (with entrecote wannabe sauce) for his birthday dinner. that was a good dinner, and we were all happyhappy afterwards. boy did the year go by in a flash! he just had another birthday, and this time, he chose baghali polow { باقلا پلو } for his special dinner, served with saffron braised veal shanks as a must, no less! i called the butcher right away, and they actually had some beautiful fresh ones available-oh joy! baghali polow is the perfect (special) meal for the spring and early summer months when the ingredients are abundantly available. i’ve already shared a {brown rice} “mock” baghali polow recipe, but this time we’re making the traditional version-the one my grandma used to cook for us often with so much love and care. there’s nothing like the smell of chopped fresh dill (combined with the garlicky warm aroma of slowly cooking veal) traveling through the house with the promise of a most delicious meal to follow. every time i chop herbs for my persian dishes i literally see my grandma’s (mammaan) hands in my mind’s eye as she held a huge bunch of clean herbs together tightly and slicechopslicechopsliced away at the ends with a sharp knife and an unbelievable combination of intensity and grace. she would often caution: “pull you fingers in like this so that you won’t cut yourself by mistake…” i’m reminded of a funny story: years ago i was buying  mounds of herbs (we’re talking bunches and bunches of parsley and mint) for a persian celery stew (khoresh-e-karafs)  (for a dinner party) and the woman at the check out asked me if i  had a bunny i was feeding!! i told her i has several :-) you will need plenty of fresh dill weed for this dish-some people use dry dill and insist that it works just as well (it does NOT)! if you have the patience and time necessary to double peel (see here for how) the broad (fava) beans, fresh is always best, if not, the frozen ones are a good substitute. get ready to be surrounded by the heavenly aroma this dish creates as it braises (veal shanks) and steams (rice) away! Continue reading
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khoresh-e-gheimeh: meat & potatoes, persian style!

somehow i doubt this delicious traditional persian stew (khoresh-e-gheimeh) is what comes to mind when you think of meat and potatoes for lunch or dinner-but trust me, there is a reason its an all time favorite with most people who’ve been lucky to enjoy it regularly their whole lives. it is at once a simple, yet complex dish that combines ingredients as basic as meat and potatoes with omani lemons (black lime), tomato sauce, saffron, and yellow split peas. the stew (minus the potatoes, which are fried just before serving-yes, as in french fry style) simmers slowly for a good looong time to create a combination of rich flavors and textures that satisfy beyond expectation. have i convinced you to give it a try? all you need is the right ingredients, some (cooking prep & time) patience, and a very good appetite. as with all persian stews, khoreshe-e-gheimeh is served with steamed basmati rice (chelow)-oh, yes! just a few more starchy carb calories-ok, admittedly this is by no means a light meal—probably better served for sunday lunch than dinner.
for 4-6 servings:
  • 1 pound organic grass fed beef (stew beef), cut in to small chunks (1/2 inch-bite size)
  • 4-5 dry persian (omani) lemons, pierced (crack them against each other)
  • 1/3 cup dry yellow split peas
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup good tomato sauce (or 1-2 tbs tomato paste, diluted in water)
  • 2-3 ripe roma tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 tsp ground saffron, dissolved in 2 tbs hot water
  • 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp turmeric
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 5-6 tbs vegetable oil (i use olive or grape seed oil)
  • 2-3 large potatoes, cut into small cubes, or thin slivers
  • 1 cup of oil for frying the potatoes
1. in a dutch oven or heavy non stick pot brown the beef cubes and 1/2 of the sliced onions with sea salt, pepper, and turmeric in 2-3 tbs oil. when the beef is browned, add the dry limes, cinnamon, and about 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups water. bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for an hour.
2. while the beef cooks, cook the split peas in about 2 1/2 cups lightly salted water for about 30-35 minutes. drain and set aside. fry 1/2 of the onions in oil (piaz dagh-see method), set aside.
start cooking (steaming) your rice about now (see recipe (leave out spices)).
3. add the tomato sauce, tomato slices (over the top), saffron water, and fried onions (piaz dagh), then cover lightly and cook for another 30-45 minutes (low simmer). at about half time, add the cooked split peas and combine well. taste the beef and make sure it is tender. adjust seasoning.

4. when the stew is ready, start frying the potatoes in hot oil, then remove from the oil and drain on paper towels, set aside.
5. just before serving the stew, scatter the warm fried potatoes over the top and serve with hot steamed rice and tah-deeg (crispy bottom). consider serving with a salad shirazi on the side. dig in….you will surely feel full and  happy happy!
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