I met Mahdis in Malmö a few months ago. She comes from Iran and lives now in Stockholm, Sweden. She has been vegan for three years and eight months and says it is ‘the best thing that happened in her life’. She had first been introduced to veganism by her ex-boyfriend. At the time, she thought it was extreme. She was a meat-lover and wouldn’t let anybody tell her what to do or eat. But the door had been open and two months after they broke up, Mahdis turned vegan and never looked back. It just felt right. She says it is what her body, her mind and her heart were craving for. She tells me that being vegan brought her closer to herself and strengthened her connection to nature.
But if it is common and convenient to cut on animal products in Sweden, going back to Iran as a vegan was another story. Even if more and more Iranians from the new generation are vegetarians, vegans seems to be pretty rare. Mahdis says that things are changing slowly. She sees lot of Iranians trying to reduce their consumption of red meat for health reasons and starting to get inspired by their children’s diet. People start to come up with plant-based variation of their traditional meat-based dishes. And that’s exactly what Mahdis did when she came to our place a chill summer evening to cook a persian dinner.
The dish that Mahdis cooked for us is called Ghormeh Sabzi. It is a very popular Iranian herb stew, traditionally served with rice. The main ingredient is a persian herb mixture cooked with kidney beans, onions, dried lime and mushrooms (used here as an alternative to red meat). Mahdis also prepared a side dish called Shirazi salad and a dessert that we enjoyed with tea and persian apricots later in the evening. It all tasted delicious and as usual i found it very interesting to get to try new flavours and to be intoduced to a different food culture. The way Mahdis cooked rice (scroll down for recipe) was for example totally new to me. It reminded me how much cooking is based on those very simple gestures and rituals. Thank you Mahdis for opening the door to Persian cuisine, i can’t wait to explore that new world and learn about other persons and countries cooking treasures.
Mahdis talked a lot about the way this dish is traditionally cooked in Iran and how it has evolved to suit our busy modern lives. I thought it would be relevant to share those meaningfull details before we move on to the recipe.
1 / BEANS - The recipe calls for canned cooked kidney beans. In Iran, the process of preparing Ghormeh Sabzi starts by cooking beans from scratch. This could take from five to seven hours so it requires to start early in the morning to be able to serve the dish for lunch. I love those stories of another life tempo where it is common to use slow cooking methods to achieve an authenticl and unique taste.
2 / ONIONS - In Iran, onions are usually fried in big batches and store in the fridge to be used in daily cooking. Mahdis find that store-bought fried onions have a very similar taste. You could use a regular yellow onion in the recipe instead.
3 / HERBS - Ghormeh Sabzi herb mixture can be found dried in most oriental food stores. It is made of parsley, leeks or green onions, coriander and dried fenugrec leaves.
4 / DRIED LIME - also called black lime or dried Persian lime can also be found in oriental food stores. They are used whole or ground (it looks like a black powder). Mahdis used the ground version in the recipe. If you’re choose whole dried limes for this recipe, use three of them and make holes with a fork before adding them to the stew to help the flavours combine.
5 / OIL - The original recipe calls for a generous amount of oil. Mahdis like to reduce it and add water and soya sauce to adjust consistency and saltiness. She simply combine one tablespoon of soya sauce with one tablespoon of water and add it to the pot at the beginning of the recipe. Feel free to use more oil or water and salt instead.
6 / RICE - Mahdis told me about another traditional way to cook rice called Tah-dig. For this method, the rice is first boiled with water in a pot and then strained and rinsed. Thin bread or sliced potatoes are added to the bottom on the pot. The rice is then layered with oil and salt and steamed. When the rice is done, the pot is turn upside-down on a plate so the bootm gets on top. It looks like a cake with a crispy layer of rice and potatoes (or bread) on top.
GHORMEH SABZI (PERSIAN STEW)
— SERVES 6
700 G KIDNEY BEANS, COOKED (3 CANS)
400 G MUSHROOMS
2 DL FRIED ONIONS
5 TBSP GHORMEH SABZI DRIED HERB MIX
2 TBSP GROUND DRIED LIME
1/2 TSP BLACK PEPPER
1/2 TSP TURMERIC POWDER
1/4 TSP GROUND CINNAMON
1 VEGETABLE STOCK CUBE
2 TBSP NEUTRAL COOKING OIL
SALT, TO TASTE
1 TBSP BALSAM VINEGAR (OPTIONAL)
1 - Heat up oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add fried onions, turmeric, black pepper and cinnamon. Fry for a few minutes. Add water and soya sauce (see note) or more oil if the bottom of the pan gets dry.
2 - Stir in Ghormeh Sabzi herbs. Add 3 cups of water, cover pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes. This step will allow the dried herbs to rehydrate. They will sink as they get heavier and should turn to a dark green color.
3 - Add vegetable stock cube to the pot and stir well to dissolve. Drain and rinse kidney beans if using caned. Add them to the pot, cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring a few times.
4 - During that time, quickly rinse mushrooms. Use your hands to break the stems off and break mushrooms into quarters. Add to the pot (stems and chunks). Add ground dried lemon and 1/2 cup water. Cover and let cook for 10 minutes.
5 - Taste and adjust salt to your liking. You can also add balsam vinegar to balance sourness if needed. Remove lid and cook 5 more minutes to allow the juice to thicken.
Serve warm with persian rice* and shirazi salad* or any side dish you like !
— SERVES 6
1/2 RED ONIONS
1 TBSP PARSLEY
JUICE OF 2 LEMONS
SALT, BLACK PEPPER
1 - Rinse tomatoes and cucumber. Rinse parsley and dry in a kitchen towel.
Chop red onion, tomatoes, cucumber in small dice. Chop parsley fine.
2 - Add everything to a large mixing bowl together with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Mix well until combined. Cover and let sit in the fridge before serving.
NOTE / It is better to make the salad in advance and let it rest for a while so the flavours can combine.
When the salad is out, the juice left in the bottom on the bowl can be used as a base for your next salad.
— SERVES 6
5 DL PERSIAN OR JASMINE RICE
7,5 DL WATER
1 TSP SEA SALT
2 TSP NEUTRAL OIL
1 - Place rice in a medium pot. Cover with water and stir with your fingers. Strain.
Return to the pot and add water, salt and oil.
2 - Bring to a boil over high heat.
Lower the heat and use a wooden spoon to stir until all water is evaporated.
3 - With the wooden spoon, make several ‘holes’ in the rice to allow it to breathe.
Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.
4 - Remove lid and stir the rice, bringing it from the sides to the middle into a little
mountain shape. Fluff the rice with a fork. Make ‘holes’ again. Cover and let cook
for 15 to 20 minutes. When done, the rice should be fluffy with the grains separated
and not sticky. Remove from heat and let rest five minutes before serving.
BONUS / STUFFED DATES WITH WALNUTS
SESAME SEEDS (OPTIONAL)
1 - Pit dates and stuff each of them with a walnut.
2 - Place them in a deep plate. Poor over a generous amount of tahini
(use the light, liquid kind).
3 - Let sit for a little while. Enjoy with black tea !