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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persian green bean stew: khoresh-e-loobia

i love summer: long days and warm  nights, beautiful golden sunsets, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, the warmth of the sun, swimming in the ocean (this, more recently), visiting (with) friends from near and far, endless sand (everywhere), the smell of sunscreen, outdoor barbecues, grilled food, family time, the occasional scoop of ice cream, carefree kids, and leisurely road trips. as much as i try to hold on to it, labor day still rolls around every year and signals the end of my favorite season. i was feeling that slight heavy feeling on labor day afternoon-the one that used to hit you as a kid on sunday nights when you had to sit down and do homework or when the holidays (or summer for that matter) were over. in order to make us feel better, i decided to make some comfort food-which for me usually involves steamed basmati rice with saffron braised chicken (or persian morgh polow). this time, though, i had bought a lot of fresh organic green beans, and decided to make a persian green bean stew, or khoresh-e-loobia. as i cut the beans in threes and sliced them down the middle (quite a bit of work, but rather relaxing once you get into it), i realized i knew how to do this because i’d watched it being done so often as a child (when i’d snip off the ends of the beans for the adults who did the cutting). this meal took a good amount of time and attention to prepare (which is exactly what i needed to lift off the heaviness), but it provided the much needed comfort to our last night of summer.
ingredients for 6-8 servings:
  • 1.5 pounds grass fed organic beef (stew) 
  • 2-3 tbs turmeric
  • 4 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, cut in 2 or three sections, then sliced in half
  • 3 ripe roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbs tomato paste diluted in 1/2 cup water
  • 1 heaping tsp ground saffron (or a 8-10 strands seeped in a few drops of warm water)
  • sea salt and ground pepper to taste
  • juice of 1 large lime (or more if not using sour grapes)
  • 2-3 tbs sour grapes (optional)

1. before processing the green beans, start braising the beef: add 1 tbs oil to a small dutch oven or heavy pot, then brown the beef with 1/2 of the onion and 1 heaping tbs turmeric, sea salt, and pepper. when the beef is browned add about 1/2 cup of water and allow the beef to simmer (partially covered) on medium/low heat  for at least one hour until very tender. keep an eye on the beef to add water if necessary.

2. add a touch of saffron just before removing from the heat. the onions should be almost melted, and there should be good tasty broth surrounding the tender beef. taste and adjust for salt.

3. add 2-3 tbs vegetable oil and 1 tbs turmeric to a dutch oven or large deep skillet with the green beans and fry on medium heat (stirring every 2-3 minutes) until tender, about 10-15 minutes.

4. once the beans are ready, add the beef and juices to the skillet (or dutch oven), add salt and pepper to taste, lime juice, tomato paste, quartered roma tomatoes, the saffron, and  piaz dagh (1/2 of the sliced onion, fried to a golden brown see how to make PIAZ DAGH), and the sour grapes if you have them. allow the stew to simmer for an hour (or up to 1.5 hours) on med/low heat. taste for salt & lime juice, and adjust to your taste. serve with steamed basmati rice (recipe) or cooked brown rice.

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by popular demand: khoresh bademjan (persian eggplant stew)

{this one requires quite a bit of time and attention, but it’s well worth it}! i’m sitting here with a big splint on my right forefinger (looking awfully funny typing) thinking of how quickly you can hurt yourself if you’re not careful…i cut my hand yesterday with my (beautiful) japanese knife while washing it-but no hard feelings, i still love it-just be careful with those sharp knives! good news is i had already prepared this post pre cut finger which can’t cook (we’ll be having take out tonight)— let me start by saying that khoresh bademjan is an all time favorite of mine-it’s one of those basic (but oh so good) dishes that are served in iran (mostly at big family lunches) almost weekly in many households. it’s the ultimate-as in super satisfying, beyond delicious, and filling….each and every time. i couldn’t eat eggplants when i was a kid-they made my mouth feel funny, so i had avoided one of my favorite dishes until the age of about twelve, when i (thankfully) discovered it in the late afternoon of a ladies luncheon at our house. my sister and i got home form school tired and famished and found the remains of the feast waiting for us at room temperature-that’s when kb (khoresh bademjan) and i bonded for life. you can make this dish with braised veal (or lamb) shanks, with good (grass fed) stew  beef, with chicken, or without meat as a vegetarian dish. it’s your choice. the meat is cooked separately before it’s combined with the the rest of the components, so if you want to prepare it as a vegetarian dish, just leave it out. when i make this dish, i make extra portions-the leftovers might just be better tasting than the original.

you will need:

  • 1.5 to 2 pounds grass fed organic beef (or veal) for stewing, cubed
  • 2 onions (1 for cooking meat, 1 for the fried onion (piaz dagh)
  • 10-12 eggplants
  • 2-3 tsp turmeric (for beef, and for fried onions)
  • sea salt & pepper (to taste)
  • 3 ripe roma (or other) tomatoes
  • 1 cup (preferably not canned) stewed or strained tomatoes (get them in a jar, or parmalat brand)
  • 1 tsp ground saffron (or a few strands seeped in hot water)
  • 1/4 cup sour grapes (frozen at middle eastern stores) and/or juice of 2 limes
  • about 5-7 tbsp olive, safflower, or grape seed oil
for the (braised) meat:

1.if you are adding beef, lamb, or chicken, start braising it first because you’ll need a good 1.5 hours to cook it properly. look at my braised chicken recipe here and use the same method for braising: fry the thinly sliced onions (with 1 tbsp oil) until slightly golden and softened, add meat, turmeric, salt and pepper, then sear (or brown on all sides) for about 5-8 minutes on high, reduce heat, add very little (1/4 cup) water, and braise (lid on) on med/low for  one and a half hours at least. the meat will need to have a good amount of good thickened juices left after it has cooked for use in the stew, so add water little by little if you have to-if you keep the temperature steady and the lid on it should be fine.


{continued below}

fried onions, or “piaz dagh”:
for persian stews you need fried onions or “piaz dagh”:
2. we often make the fried onions ahead of time in bulk and freeze for use any time we need it. you make “piaz dagh” which translates to hot onion (you can find it in the frozen section of the middle eastern stores in california if you don’t want your whole house to smell like onions!) by frying the thinly sliced onions (often with a touch of turmeric) in several tbsp of hot vegetable oil until golden brown and translucent. remove from oil with a slotted spoon, let the extra oil drain, and set aside on paper towel.
3. you will need to fry the eggplants (i buy italian eggplants that are on the smaller side, fry them whole and peeled with their end caps left on). peel the eggplants, salt them, and let them sweat (and drain) for 1/2 to 1 hour. slowly (on medium heat ) fry them on all sides-i will leave the amount of oil up to you, but typically you need a good amount-lately i’ve been using much less oil and getting away with it, but it’s not as good. ideally, your eggplants should look like the fried ones above.
4. once you have all your components ready you can start putting the stew together. in a deep baking dish, start with a portion of the stewed tomatoes at the bottom, then add your cooked meat (with all the good juices), some fried onions (scattered evenly), a squeeze of lime juice, a touch of your saffron (diluted in a tsp or two of hot water), a touch of salt, then surround the beef with the fried eggplants. add more of the stewed tomatoes, fried onions, the saffron, and another squeeze of lemon juice (about 1 lime total if you have sour grapes-otherwise 2). slice your tomatoes in halves or quarters and add them to the top (skin on top) along with a scattering of sour grapes.
5. i cook mostly by instinct, and i’m trying to share my process with you. you are now ready to bake-or keep it (refrigerated) for baking later (even the next day). cover with foil (or lid) and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour. serve with white steamed basmati rice. see my recipe for persian steamed rice -follow the recipe, leaving out all the spices except the saffron. enjoy. we did…
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