I really discovered Persian cuisine when I moved to Los Angeles almost 20 years ago. This is when I had ghormeh sabzi for the first time.
Ghormeh sabzi (ghorme sabzi, qormeh sabzi or قورمهسبزی in Farsi) is the quintessential Iranian recipe. It is a stew prepared with fresh herbs that is considered to be the national dish of Iran. It is also favored in present day Azerbaijan and Iraq.
Ghormeh is the Azeri word for “fried”, while sabzi is the Farsi word for herbs. There you have it!
This tangy, savory and citrusy stew is made with a mixture of sautéed herbs. Ghormeh sabzi ingredients consist mostly of parsley, leeks or scallions, cilantro, as well as dried fenugreek leaves (shanbalileh). This herb mixture is often fried before being cooked with beans, onions, and lamb or beef.
But the main ingredient that gives this meat and herb stew such a unique taste is black lime, also called limu Omani (limoo Amani) or Persian lime. Those dried limes originated in the Persian Gulf, are used as a souring agent to numerous dishes in the Middle Eastern region. They consist in limes that have been dried for weeks under the sun.
Ghormeh sabzi is almost always served with chelow (Persian steamed rice) or over tahdig, this magnificently crunchy rice formed at the bottom of the pot when making chelow.
This ancient recipe is one of those that almost hasn’t changed over the centuries as it was prepared in a very similar fashion by nomads. However, each region makes it slightly differently:
– In Southern Iran, a larger amount of cilantro is used, and tomato paste is often added to the stew.
– In Northern Iran, it is prepared without fenugreek leaves, and rose coco beans are used instead than red kidney beans.
– In the Fars province, around the city of Shiraz, they often add diced potato to the meat and herb stew.
– In Azerbaijan, the herbs are not fried before being stewed, and black eyed peas are used instead of red kidney beans. They also add tomato paste as in Southern Iran.
Beside rice, the most common side dishes served with ghormeh sabzi are doogh (Iranian yoghurt drink) as well as Shirazi salad (diced cucumber and tomato salad).
Like my favorite dish pkaila, this Tunisian meat stew that I was raised on, ghormeh sabzi is probably not the most visually appealing dish, but it makes up its lack of aesthetics with a taste that you have not experienced in any other dishes.
I live in Los Angeles, which hosts the largest Persian population outside of Tehran, giving the nickname of Tehrangeles to my city. I have the chance to have access to Persian markets which carry a number of unique products, such as limu Omani, pomegranate molasses or even sour grapes. Those ingredients are really what gives Persian dishes such unique flavors. I had used pomegranate molasses in another popular stew called fesenjoon, and sour grapes are used in a number of dishes including khoresh bademjan, a deliciously tangy eggplant-based stew.
I like challenges so when I decided to make a Persian feast 2 weeks ago, I invited my Persian friends Dalya and Houman. I had made ghormeh sabzi as well as bademjan. When your Persian guest not only loved your dishes, but also asks you how you prepared it, I think you can safely say this was a success!
So, don’t be shy, try this delicious and unique herb stew, and you will never look at fresh herbs the same way again!
- 2 lb lamb or beef stew meat , cubed
- 1 cup red kidney beans ,soaked overnight
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- 4 bunches parsley
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 4 scallions (green stems only)
- 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek (or 1 bunch fresh fenugreek)
- 4 dried black limes (limoo amani) , or 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- Vegetable oil
Wash the herbs in a large bowl, then dry and chop finely.
In a large skillet, heat 4 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium heat and sauté the fresh herbs for about 15 minutes, while stirring occasionally. Set aside.
In a large pot, sauté the chopped onions in 2 tablespoons of oil for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.
Add the meat, turmeric, salt, pepper to the onions and fry for about 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the soaked dried beans, the fried herbs and the black limes.
Cover with water and bring to a boil on high heat. Then, lower the heat, cover and simmer on low to medium heat for about 2 hours.
Taste and add salt or pepper if needed. Add water and continue to simmer if the meat is not tender enough.
Serve over Persian steamed rice.