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The Persian Fusion

The Persian Fusion

My Authentic and Fusion Persian Recipes. Happy Cooking!

Persian Turmeric Rice with Split Fava Beans (dampokhtak)

Persian Turmeric Rice with Split Fava Beans (dampokhtak)

I wasn’t a big fan of dampkhtak when I was a child probably because it didn’t have meat in it or come with a stew as most other Persian rice dishes do. Grown-ups had it with sharp, vinegary pickles (torshi) which are not a child’s thing. […]

Persian Rosewater & Cardamom Rosette Cookies (nan panjereh)

Persian Rosewater & Cardamom Rosette Cookies (nan panjereh)

There are hundreds of rosette cookie recipes out there so why another one, you may ask. Well, this is a Persian version “traditionally” made with a rosewater-flavoured batter and dusted with cardamom-scented icing sugar. Ask any Iranian and they will swear that nan panjereh (as they are […]

Yellow Lentil Stew With Mushrooms & Courgettes (Vegetarian/vegan Gheymeh)

Yellow Lentil Stew With Mushrooms & Courgettes (Vegetarian/vegan Gheymeh)

Colder days call for comfort food and this vegetarian version of the iconic Persian khoresht-e gheymeh is one of my go-to comfort foods. This vegetarian gheymeh recipe is quite quick to make and perfect for weeknights. My son, though not fully vegetarian, always prefers meatless dishes on ethical grounds. He loves this meatless gheymeh and we enjoy eating it too, a winning solution that keeps everybody happy.

Khoresht-e gheymeh, which was the inspiration for my vegetarian gheymeh, is made with yellow lentils (split peas), small cubes of lamb (or beef) and dried limes with a hint of cinnamon and other spices. It’s often perfumed with saffron and/or a hint of rosewater and is served with fried matchstick potatoes and fluffy Persian rice.

Traditional Iranian restaurants generally stick with a limited menu of different kinds of Kebabs – which are really luxurious and scrumptious – as well as baghali polo (rice with broad beans and dill) served with lamb shanks or chicken, zereshk polo (rice with barberries) served with chicken and tahchin (baked saffron rice with layers of chicken). Occasionally stews, particularly gheymeh and ghormeh sabzi (a very green stew of lamb and herbs with kidney beans and dried limes), find their way on restaurant menus too. At home it’s another story. Gheymeh and other stews are very frequently made and enjoyed. That’s probably why restaurants stay away from them.

Khoresht-e gheymeh was the inspiration for my vegetarian/vegan yellow lentil (split pea) stew. It’s often topped with fried matchstick potatoes and is served with rice.

I’m not a big fan of meat substitutes such as soya meat and Quoron and always use mushrooms (white, brown, portobello or oyster). In this particular dish mushrooms really deliver, especially when they are paired with fried courgette (zucchini) which makes the dish a bit similar to gheymeh bademjoon (gheymeh with fried slices of aubergine without the matchstick potatoes).

What makes the different versions of gheymeh is the spicing which should be quite subtle but enough to impart an aroma that will draw everyone to the kitchen. When dried limes aren’t available I make this stew with lemon juice and a small piece of lemon peel (about 1/4 of the peel of a small lemon).

Frying the courgettes until they are lightly brown gives them a very soft and buttery texture and enhances the flavour of the stew so give them enough time to properly caramelise on both sides.

Serve this stew with fluffy white rice. If you want to make Persian rice you can find a rather quick version in my recipe for Kabab Tabei: Persian Beef Patties in Tomato Sauce with Sumac Rice. Just follow the instructions for making the rice but omit the sumac. The method is exactly the same. The following recipe will serve 4 people with rice.

Ingredients:

  • 4 dried limes (both black and brown varieties are good) or lemon juice and lemon peel (see note below)
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed or other vegetable oil (you can substitute butter for some of the oil if you wish)
  • 2 courgettes, cut into thick half circles
  • 400g button mushrooms (white or brown), thickly sliced
  • 2 medium red onions, finely chopped
  • 1 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick (or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2-3 tbsp tomato purée (depending on concentration of the purée)
  • 200g yellow lentils, washed in a sieve and drained well
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • A handful of baby plum or cherry tomatoes
  • A large pinch of saffron

*** If dried limes aren’t available use lemon juice (to taste) and a piece of lemon peel (1/4 small lemon) in stage 6.

Method:

  1. Put the dried limes in a small jar and fill the jar with hot water then screw on the cap and allow to soak while you are preparing the other ingredients.
  2. Drizzle one tablespoon of oil in a deep lidded non-stick frying pan and cook the courgette on medium heat until both sides are golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan and fry the sliced mushrooms until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Add the remaining oil and fry the chopped onions until golden brown, stirring from time to time so they are evenly coloured. Add the spices and cook for a couple of minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the washed and drained lentils to the pan and stir well to coat them in the oil. Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes then add the tomato puree and cook for a further two minutes. Keep stirring gently so it doesn’t catch.
  5. Cover the lentils with about 3 cm boiling water from the kettle and add the courgettes and mushrooms. Too much water will require longer cooking and the lentils may go mushy. Coating the lentils in oil before adding water will help to keep their shape when completely cooked. You can always add a little more boiling water during cooking if the lentils are not properly cooked yet and the khoresht looks too dry.
  6. Drain the dried limes and cut a circle from the top of each dried lime or make a few slits on the sides with a knife. Add to the pan with the cherry tomatoes and salt. Cover and bring to the boil then turn the heat down and gently simmer the stew for 30-45 minutes or until the lentils are very soft but not mushy. Cooking times hugely depend on the type of yellow lentils you are using. Some yellow lentils cook faster while others like Iranian yellow lentils take much longer to cook.
  7. Prepare the saffron according to the instructions in How To Use Saffron. Add the saffron liquid to the stew when the lentils are cooked to your liking and stir gently. Adjust the seasoning and cook for five minutes. When ready to serve discard the cinnamon stick. Serve the stew with fluffy rice, a chopped tomato and cucumber salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil (salad shirazi) and sliced radishes.

*** You can add a little fresh lemon juice (a tablespoon or two) towards the end if you wish.

*** Homemade matchstick fried potatoes are an optional (and quitevery delicious) addition to this version of gheymeh too if you are not scrupulous about calories!

*** Dried limes are for flavouring the dish. They usually have a few seeds. Some people like to eat them, skin and all. Others will only squeeze them with the back of a fork to draw out the delicious tart juices to mix with rice. Some others consider their job done when the dish is cooked and discard them. Have a little taste and do as you wish. Enjoy!


My Favourite

Persian-Style Jewelled Butternut Squash Rice

Persian-Style Jewelled Butternut Squash Rice

Today I have a lovely jewelled butternut squash and rice recipe for you that can double as turkey or chicken stuffing. The idea for this awesome recipe came from a conversation with my friend last week. She asked for a Persian vegetarian rice recipe with pumpkins she could make for Thanksgiving. I thought I could make up a recipe for her she could serve as a main for her vegetarian guests  that would also double as a delicious stuffing for her turkey for the carnivore. So here we are with this delicious butternut squash recipe!

But wherever I looked I couldn’t find a single pumpkin. Halloween is only a few weeks from now.Where is all the pumpkin? Can’t there be at least a few early ones in the shops? Maybe I just wasn’t lucky. I found a nice butternut squash though and it worked beautifully in my dish.

Butternut squash can be substituted for pumpkins in many dishes.
Butternut squash can be substituted for pumpkins in many dishes.

 

I took the inspiration for my dish from one so popular in Iran’s Caspian Sea region. The beautiful Caspian Sea area has so many culinary delights including a rice dish with squash called kehi pelaw or kadoo polo. This dish usually comes with tiny beef or lamb meatballs, or each serving is topped with a fried egg. Some people make it with raisins too. I like to make mine with spices and serve it with saffron-braised chicken. But this time I wanted it to be vegetarian and to look very festive, too.

My first thought was to use a basmati-wild rice mixture. I love the nutty flavour of wild rice. But I wanted more crunch to contrast with the soft texture of the squash so I mixed in some slivered pistachios and almonds too and threw in a few gorgeous barberries for a little splash of red and tangy flavour as well. The berries really complemented the flavour of the squash and the final result looked really pretty and colourful.

Barberries are gorgeous tiny jewel-like tangy red berries. They go into lots of Persian dishes. I usually order online or buy from Persian or Middle Eastern groceries but if I can’t find any I use chopped cranberries. Will work in most dishes.

Tangy barberries add colour and a lot of flavour to many dishes.
Tangy barberries add colour and a lot of flavour to many dishes.

 

So I cubed the squash and fried it in a little oil in a non-stick coated frying pan until it was lightly caramelised while I was boiling the rice. Pistachio and almond slivers went into the same frying pan at the end with the barberries.

Add the pistachio and almond slivers with the barberries and spices to the lightly caramelised squash and sauté until the berries are shiny.
Add the pistachio and almond slivers with the barberries and spices to the lightly caramelised squash and sauté until the berries are shiny.

 

Pistachio and almond slivers may be a bit hard to find too unless you order online or have a good Persian or Middle Eastern grocery around you.  But don’t give up making this delicious dish if that’s not the case! Your rice will be just as delicious and beautiful if you use almond flakes and chopped pistachios or even substitute lightly toasted pine nuts for both.

This dish can come with a bonus too. If you keep the rice on low heat for longer than twenty minutes you’ll get a very tasty crust in the bottom. It takes some practice to get the heat and time right to have a beautifully golden crust (tahdig in Persian). When done, the rice can be turned onto a plate like a cake to show off its golden crust.

Butternut-squash-rice-recipe
A similar jewelled butternut squash rice with cranberries and flaked almonds.

 

PS: Jewelled squash rice will make a very lovely stuffing for turkey and chicken. You just need to skip the steaming stage. Toss the squash mixture with the rice and fill the cavity of the bird. The rice needs to be a little undercooked (firm bite in the centre after boiling) so it doesn’t get mushy when the bird is cooking. The following will stuff a large chicken. For Turkey double or triple the amounts as required.

 

To serve four people as a main you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 700g), cut into small cubes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or extra virgin rapeseed oil) to sauté the squash, nuts & barberries
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp whole cumin seeds (or 1/2 tsp ground)
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp barberries, rinsed and drained well on kitchen paper
  • 1 tbsp slivered almonds
  • 1 tbsp slivered pistachios
  • 250g basmati and wild rice mix (or 200g plain basmati and 50g wild rice)
  • 1 1/2 litre water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp salt for boiling the rice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or extra virgin rapeseed oil) for the rice
  • A little more pistachio slivers to garnish (or substitute finely chopped parsley)

Method:

  1. Bring the water to the boil in a medium non-stick coated saucepan over medium heat with the salt.
  2. Meanwhile, use 1 tablespoon oil to fry the butternut squash cubes with the oil in a frying pan (preferably non-stick coated too) over medium heat until the cubes are lightly caramelised. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and the spices and sauté until the spices are fragrant (about two minutes). Add the sugar and stir gently to coat the cubes. Remove the squash to a separate dish.
  3. Sauté the nuts and barberries with another tablespoon of oil for a minute or until the barberries puff up a little and look shiny and vibrant. Return the squash to the pan and stir gently to mix the ingredients. Turn off the heat.
  4. Add the rice to the boiling water and cook until soft but with a slight bite in the centre. Drain in a colander or sieve and rinse with lukewarm water.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the pot over medium heat. Cover with one-third of the rice, then cover with 1/3 of the squash mixture. Repeat until all the rice and squash is used up. When the side of the pot is hot to the touch drizzle the rest of the oil and two tablespoons of boiling water on top of the rice. Cover with the lid (wrapped in a clean tea towel) right away to keep the steam in the pot. Steam the rice on very low heat for about twenty minutes or until there is a lot of steam when you lift the lid. Enjoy!

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