2.10.2015

My first lesson in Persian cooking

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People who know me would definitely not describe me as someone who cooks. I'm capable (probably...), but I just don't do it. Which is why it's fascinating that my last several posts have somehow involved food. But I digress...

After many, many years, the time finally arrived when I decided I should probably learn how to make some of my favorite foods. Most, if not all, of my favorite foods are Persian, which automatically means they are not quick or particularly straightforward. But my mom (who is not my Persian parent, as it turns out), recently started making several of my favorite foods in her Crock Pot, and they're still delicious! Since I now have a Crock Pot of my own, I figured I might as well learn how to make these foods myself. 

Lesson one was a dish called Ghormeh Sabzi. Wikipedia calls it the Iranian National Dish. I don't know about all that, but it was my first favorite food so I decided I should learn it first. My mom and I went grocery shopping together where I proceeded to follow her around with a pen and paper as she put the ingredients in the cart.

UPDATE: If you'd like to try another Persian dish, check out my post on Khoresht Karafs (celery stew)

For the stew, the ingredients included:
  • parsley
  • green onions
  • baby spinach
  • limes (lemons would work too)
  • meat
  • red beans (kidney beans are technically the correct bean, but we like to live on the edge)
Side note: The next day, I called my mother to tell her that while my stew was good, it wasn't as good as hers. She immediately responded with "Well, I include a couple other ingredients that I didn't tell you about.." Awesome. Thanks, mom. :/  For your reference, those ingredients are dried lemons and beef stock. Turns out, they're kind of important. 

Anyway, after grocery shopping we went to my apartment for the lesson. I took tons of pictures and overly detailed notes while doing (most of) the steps. #multitasking



First we had to clean and chop the greens. Then we needed to grind them up in a food processor. Lucky for me, I got a food processor for my birthday a few weeks ago! Next we cooked the greens down a bit on the stove with a little bit of oil. While that was happening, we had the beans soaking in water. 

We set the greens aside and moved on to the meat. We rinsed the meat and cut off some excess fat. We happened to buy pre-cubed meat because, weirdly, it was a leaner cut and less expensive. But, if we hadn't done that, we would've cubed it before browning it.

Once the meat was browned on both sides, we layered everything in the Crock Pot. Beans first, then meat, then greens. And then LOTS of water. (And beef stock and dried lemons, if my mom hadn't held out on me). This cooked for 8 hours on low. My mom and I started the lesson on a Friday evening, so it ended up cooking overnight. I kept waking up to food smells and I had some weird dreams. It's fine. I'm fine. 

So, once that was set up and cooking, we moved on to the rice. We accidentally bought the wrong type of rice at the store, but it turned out fine. Still, I recommend using basmati rice if you can.



First, we rinsed the rice in cold water several times, until the cloudiness of the water decreased almost entirely. Then we let the rice soak in cold water for about 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on it to make sure the grains aren't getting too long while it soaks.

Then we put the rice in a pot, added water, and brought it to a boil. Once boiling, we turned the heat down so it would continue to cook but not vigorously. Once the rice grains were soft on the outside but still hard on the inside (about 10 minutes), we drained the rice in a colander, ran cold water over it to cool it down, and let it drain completely.

Next, we melted roughly a quarter stick of butter in the bottom of a large pot (and added some oil too). The butter needs to spread across the whole bottom of the pot because that's how you get tahdig (crispy, delicious rice). 

Then we added the rice to the pot and made sure to level it out so it wasn't in a weird mountain shape. (We skipped the saffron because I didn't have any. That's the stuff that makes the rice yellow.) We folded a towel over the top of the pot, put the lid on, and let it cook for about 20-30 minutes. To test when it's finished, wet your finger and touch the side of the pot quickly. If it sizzles, it's done. 

I'll be honest, I have no idea why the towel is necessary and I didn't think to ask. I've seen my parents cook rice all my life using a towel so it doesn't seem weird to me. I imagine it's important though, so don't skip it. 

When it's done, you can either flip the pot onto a platter so the tahdig comes out in one piece, or scoop it out and break the tahdig as you go. I didn't have a platter, so I scooped and broke. It all tastes the same in the end, right?



The next morning, when the Ghormeh Sabzi was finished, I added the juice of 2 limes (use 3 if they aren't very juicy), and I proceeded to have some stew and rice for breakfast. 


I'm not sure when my next lesson will be yet, but I think it'll involve some eggplant. Stay tuned for that later on.

2 comments:

  1. THIS IS AMAZING! I have questions. 1) Are the beans dry or canned? 2) did you add any water to the rice or is it just rice and butter? 3) What's the ratio of greens to beans to beef? Is it 1:1:1 or is there more of one than the other?

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    1. Thanks! Excellent questions -- I know I didn't really include a real recipe with quantities, so it makes it challenging. It's because every time I asked my mom for quantities, she would say, "oh..you know...." and never really finish that sentence. :|

      But to attempt to answer your questions:
      1. Dry beans

      2. You've made me realize I skipped a step in my instructions above! I'll correct that. So, after you rinse/soak the rice, put it in a pot with water and bring it to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat down so it's not vigorously boiling but it's still cooking. Let it cook for about 10 minutes, or until the center of the rice grains are still hard but the outside is soft (partially cooked). You can test it by biting into a grain or smushing it between your fingers and seeing the center is still hard. At this point, drain the rice in a colander and run cold water over it to stop it from continuing to cook. Let it drain completely. Then melt the butter in the bottom of the dry pot (the same pot is fine, just make sure there's no water left in it), and then add the rice in. Spread it out so it covers the full bottom of the pot, and then let it cook. We left it for 20-30 minutes, but depending on the amount of rice you're cooking it might be more like 40-45 minutes. You can do the sizzle test I mentioned about to see if it's ready.

      3. I'm not sure if there are firm rules for this. Personally, I don't like a lot of meat in this stew but I love the beans, so I would be more generous with the beans and less so with the beef. I think it's really just a matter of what you prefer. In the version above, It was 2 grocery store-sized bunches of parsley, one smaller sized plastic container of baby spinach, and about half of the bundle of green onions (solid measurements, I know). It was a full bag of beans, but the bag was a half-bag that was square, rather than the usual rectangular bag. And we also removed any beans that were broken in half, so that took out a fair amount. And then it was about 1.25lbs of beef. I would still lessen that beef, personally, though.

      Hope that helps! :)

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