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Blog Posted in avatar   Jonathan Farrell's Blog

Exotic Persian stew is not that difficult to make and is wonderful for Sunday dinner

By Jonathan Farrell
Posted Jul 9, 2012 in Food
Well, okay it is not exactly, Sabzi. this reporter's culinary adventures have not advanced that far, yet I must say for a first attempt, I think I did okay. What I think I did create is a Persian style lamb stew. It has the basic bitter lime and then sweet flavor. The stewed lamb turned out delicious, tender and flavorful.
For the most part, the reason why I was initially hesitant was the spices and the speciality ingredients like the bitter lime. But when I realized that because of the growing popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine and other ethnic foods, spices and other items are becoming more readily available at many grocery stores. Example, there is a entire line of fine teas that have many of the flavors required for dishes like Sabzi (Persian lamb stew). And that can be found in the supermarket.
Saffron, and such well, there are so many curry blends and spice brands out there, that obtaining those ingredients are not too difficult. Yet, some brands and varieties can be pricey, so shop around. And speaking of prices, lamb itself, especially the choice cuts can be expensive.
The recipe I found on line which I followed rather loosely required lamb shoulder. Yet there are other forms of the recipe on the web. what I used was pieces of leg of lamb, already cut and packaged. I asked the butcher at Marina Meats market on Chestnut Street here in San Francisco to slice the lamb into cubes for stew. He said he would be happy to do that. Total was over $20.00. Yet, the lamb had no bones and was lean. And, as I said, it turned out delicious.
If you are on a budget, you can purchase different pieces of lamb, some are on the bone, like lamb chops. And, I think it would work. For I remember my grandma making a lamb stew with lamb shanks. Yet her version was very simple, nothing like Sabzi at all. Only parsley and a bit of garlic.
One of the attractions that makes Middle Eastern, Indian and even Thai food so alluring is the use of aromatic and rich spices. Even dull vegetables like broccoli and spinach take on a new dimension, they become something unique. Once I discovered this new style of food, going back to grandma's way of making lamb stew is impossible. My taste buds and culinary palate has expanded and is hungry for more.
While I did not have all the ingredients I needed and wanted for a more authentic Sabzi. I had just enough to make a stew that is close to the Persian Style. Mostly, I think the basic understanding is to find the balance between the bitter lime and the sweet. Yet not too sweet and not too bitter, of course.
Use of fresh plums and apricots over the dried variety I think does make a difference. Still, I think I got the general idea.
Next time, I will find the actual dried bitter lime that is required for Sabzi. Oh and dried prunes too. And, since I like olives, I will use some kalamata olives. Since stew is so basic, I think it is easy to add little extras here and there and also to improvise. Here is the basic recipe out line that I followed.
First get some really good lamb. Gently fry or grill it to seal in the flavors. Then place it in a large pot with a lid, like a dutch oven. Make sure you add olive oil on the bottom of the pan to keep the ingredients from sticking to the bottom.
Add chicken broth (this too is easy to find in most grocery stores) and then fruit and vegetables. The recipe I found on the web called for squash, (butternut), (some recipes ask to include eggplant too), onions, garlic, etc. Oh and don't forget the pomegranate. At least one pomegranate. Those are also not difficult to find. Produce markets like Marina Supermarket have pomegranates.
I like to add at least one apple, pealed and sliced. Apples and pomegranates are special to Persian cuisine. Oh and add some greens like spinach, cilantro, parsley. Add spices and herbs according to your taste. Once all in the pot, let simmer for at least 45 minutes to an hour.
Check and stir frequently. This stew I think can be placed in a slow-cooker or crock pot, if you want more freedom from the stove.
Once cooked, serve over rice with crushed roasted almonds, fresh chopped cilantro and or parsley. I like to add just a bit of crumbled feta cheese. The recipe I saw also said that serving the stew with tabouleh and hummus is good. Persian friends also told me that adding a bit of tabouleh and hummus on the side is customary.
I will at some point try to make the full sabzi. Yet as I said, I think for now this is a good start. Will this replace my trips to my local Persian restaurants? No! They do Persian food much better than I ever will. Yet, for a home made effort, I think it turned out okay.

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