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Category: Persian stews (khoresh/khoresht)

An Apple Expert’s Chicken & Apple Stew Recipe (Khoresht-e Sib)

I have a Persian apple and chicken stew recipe for you today that is quite unique because it comes from a man who has dedicated his life to growing not one or a few but literally hundreds of kinds of apples and other fruit trees. He also happens to be an excellent cook.

In October I had the honour to visit Keepers Nursery in Kent, England, where Hamid Habibi, Sima Morshed and their son Karim have probably the largest private collection of apple trees in the world. The sheer variety of apples they grow is truly stunning. I saw apples that weighed nearly a kilo as well as tiny ones in all colours and shades and many others in between. They also grow Persian and other varieties of medlars and quinces. I got to taste some of Hamid’s superb quince jam and spiced pickled pears the first time I visited.

Keepers-nursery
Hamid Habibi, Sima Morshed and their son Karim. Cookies, the family dog, has a taste for tart apples and competed with me in tasting.

Cooking with fruit is a characteristic of the Persian cuisine. We love putting fruits of all sorts in our food to give it the sweet and sour flavour (malas) we so much love. Hamid is Iranian but has lived in Britain for many years. When he told me he does a Persian apple khoresht with chicken I had to beg for his recipe. He agreed to give me his recipe as well as an interview to share with my readers. So let’s meet Hamid first:

Hamid, please tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been growing apples? How many varieties do you think you have in your collection?

My wife Sima and I have been growing apple trees as amateur gardeners for a long time but professionally for about 25 years. Our professional involvement really started as a result of my father-in-law setting up a little orchard in part of our garden for our two sons when they were small. He thought it would be nice for them to grow up with fruit trees like we had as children in Iran. To cut a long story short we ended up buying some land around our house and going into partnership with the nurseryman who planted the little orchard for us. This was over 25 years ago. We now have what is probably the largest private collection of fruit trees in the country which includes about 600 varieties of apple. The nursery has grown and our younger son Karim, now grown up, has also become our partner (and occasionally boss!) in the business. We believe that we have the largest range of fruit trees for sale anywhere.

apples-keepers-nursery
A few of the many varieties of apples from Keepers Nursery

You obviously have a huge supply of many different varieties of apples from the orchard. In what different ways do you use them?

There are lots of ways apples can be used but there is nothing quite like biting into a fresh, crisp and juicy apple straight off the tree. We are lucky to have almost an endless supply from August until about Christmas. We manage to get through quite a few every day: For breakfast, as dessert after lunch or dinner, or just as a snack straight off the tree while we are working in the nursery. We juice some and have our own apple juice throughout the year and some to give to friends as well. One of our favourite cakes is what I call “triple apple cake” because it has a lot more apple in it than cake! We also make apple sauce with cinnamon as a dessert or to have with yogurt or on cereals. We also make dried apple which is a great healthy snack. One of the favourite dishes in our house is a Persian apple stew – khorest-e sib – and we have our own recipe for it.

This red-fleshed tart apple was the best I tasted during my visit.

This red-fleshed tart apple was the best I tasted during my visit. 

Where does your apple khoresht recipe come from? Your family in Iran? 

When we were first married Sima said that her favourite dish when she was a child in Iran was khoresht-e sib. Apparently it was a regular dish in their house. I had never had it. In fact it is not a very common dish. Anyway I came up with my version of khoresht-e sib which while it follows the basic pattern of Persian khorsht recipes, is probably unique to our house.

What’s your favourite variety of apple to cook with? What kind of apples work best in your recipe? Any commonly found UK varieties you can recommend?

I have tried a lot of different apple varieties but one of the best, which happens to be one that is available from supermarkets throughout the year in Pink Lady. The khoresht needs a sweet apple with a firm texture which does not break up easily when cooked. It also needs to be an apple which does not discolour too quickly.

What’s the key spice in your apple khoresht recipe?

The key spice is saffron which gives a golden yellow colour to the apples. But I also use turmeric and cinnamon in the recipe.

I had dinner with Hamid and Sima recently. Hamid had made the apple khoresht for us with rice and a delicious golden tahdig (crust from the bottom of the pot). The khoresht smelled and tasted heavenly. I took some pictures of his khoresht but the lighting was not good and none was usable so I made the khoresht this weekend according to his recipe and the house once again filled with the lovely aroma of saffron, cinnamon and apples. So here is his recipe for 4-6 servings:

 

Ingredients:

  • 750g chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1.5Kg Pink Lady apples
  • 2 onions
  • 5 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 lemons
  • 100ml white cider vinegar
  • 100ml sekanjebin (Elderflower cordial syrup works well as an English alternative)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder or small stick of whole cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron
  • 1 tbsp plain flour 

Method:

  1. Peel and finely chop the onions. Put 3 tablespoons oil in a pan. Add the chopped onions and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add the turmeric and cinnamon and stir in.
  2. Add the skinned chicken thighs to the pan and cook until they are well covered with the spices and sealed. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, season with salt and a little pepper and stir. Add 500ml of boiling water and bring back to boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is well cooked. 
  3. Meanwhile, core and cut the apples into 8-10 segments. An apple segment cutter is ideal for this. Heat 2 tablespoons sunflower oil in a sauté pan. Add the apple segments and sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. Mix the saffron with 2 tablespoons boiling water in a cup. Pour over the apple segments and stir. The apple segments should become golden yellow as they absorb the saffron. Put the apple segments in a bowl. 
  5. Once cooked allow the chicken to cool sufficiently to handle. Gently take the chicken meat off the bone and place the pieces in the sauté pan. Pour the stock left from cooking the chicken into the sauté pan. Arrange the apple segments on top.
  6. Mix the juice from the two lemons, vinegar and sekanjebin (or elderflower syrup) and pour it over the contents of the sauté pan. Simmer gently for about 15-20 minutes checking regularly to ensure that the apple does not overcook. It is important to cook the apple segments to exactly the right amount. They are ready when they are soft and fairly limp but have not yet started to fall apart. Serve with rice and enjoy.

 Reminder from Hamid: “Like most Persian dishes khoresht-e sib benefits from allowing the flavours to blend. We call it ja oftadan. Many are allowed to cook slowly. As this is a dish that cooks relatively fast, I like to leave it to sit for an hour or two and to re-heat it before serving.” 

A note on Sekanjebin: This Persian syrup is very easy to make at home. Put 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Add 2 tbsp white wine vinegar and 2 large sprigs of mint. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and discard the mint when the syrup has cooled. Use as called for in the recipe.

Persian Sweet & Sour Chicken Meatballs with Carrots & Prunes

This Persian sweet and sour chicken meatballs recipe is my quick and easy variation of khoresht-e aloo ba havij (plum & carrot khoresht/khoresh).

I hate to call it a stew but there’s no other word in English to use. In Persian cuisine my sweet and sour chicken meatballs belongs to the category of khoresht (also pronounced as khoresh) like many other so-called stews that we serve with rice. Like curries if you will. Khoreshts can be green, yellow, red or even dark brown.

Khoreshts are made with various kinds of vegetables, herbs, nuts, fruits and pulses. Many include meat, poultry or fish but there are some without. A khoresht is often named after whichever ingredient that is the star of the dish. Possibilities are quite endless.

khoresht-karafs
Lamb and celery in mint and parsley sauce is an example of green, herby khoresht served with rice.

You’ve probably noticed that there’s no mention of chicken in the Persian version of the name of the my khoresht. That’s because in this one carrots and prunes are the shining stars.

Meat usually plays the second fiddle to vegetables, herbs or fruits in a khoresht. Have you seen my Persian Aubergine (Eggplant) Stew with Meatballs & Dried Lime recipe? If you are not a big fan of meat you can make that one with chicken pieces or meatballs like this one. Or use mushrooms if you like and it will still be khoresht bademjoon (aubergine/eggplant khoresht).

khoresht-beh
Lamb meatballs with quinces, prunes and yellow lentils (khoresht-e beh) is another example of khoresht.

Nothing is really set in stone in Persian cooking. We even don’t really measure our ingredients. Most Persian cooks just use their eyes, taste buds and noses and few have measuring cups and spoons in their kitchens!

I learned cooking in the same way. My grandmothers didn’t have measuring cups or scales in their kitchens but very magically they managed to turn out fabulous dishes of same quality every time.

When I’m writing recipes I do use scales and measuring spoons. It takes more time but I want to give you a recipe that works. You can go on to make it your own by adjusting the ingredients to your own taste. It’s the method that really matters.

chicken-meatballs
Frying the meatballs until they are golden makes the sauce richer and the meatballs more delicious.

I often make my sweet and sour chicken with thigh pieces but when I have chicken breasts in the fridge I tend to make chicken meatballs for this khoresht rather than using whole or cut up breasts. All the spices that I add to the meatballs and the onion that goes into it makes the rather bland chicken breast taste so much better and more succulent.

In Iran this dish is usually made with golden aloo bokhara, a special kind of yellow plums that are poached, peeled and sun dried. Aloo bokhara is quite hard to come by here. I find prunes a very good substitute but add a little fresh lemon juice to the sauce. It works quite well.

I did say nothing is set in stone, right? Cut your carrots in any shape you like but do sauté them in a little oil before adding to the pan.
I did say nothing is set in stone, right? Cut your carrots in any shape you like but do sauté them in a little oil before adding to the pan.

Chicken meatballs with carrots and prunes is delicious with rice but you can also serve it on its own, with crusty bread and a nice green salad like my Herby, Garlicky, Lemony Romaine Lettuce Salad and a lovely glass of dry white wine.

Ingredients to serve four:

For the meatballs:

  • 3 medium chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 tbsp butter

For the sauce:

  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced or cut into batons
  • A handful of pitted prunes
  • Pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • sugar to taste

Method:

  1. Put the cubed chicken, onion, salt and spices in a food processor and blitz until everything is chopped up.
  2. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. Wet your hands and shape the chicken mixture into balls larger than walnuts. Add to the pan and fry on medium heat until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add one tablespoon oil to the pan and gently fry the carrots for a few minutes without colouring. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and fry the chopped onions on medium heat until well caramelised. Add the turmeric and cumin and cook briefly. Add the tomato paste and salt and cook for a minute or two.
  5. Return the chicken meatballs and carrots to the pan. Add the prunes and enough boiling water to almost cover the meatballs. Bring to the boil. Add the saffron and lower the heat. Cover the pan and simmer for thirty minutes or until the carrots and prunes are cooked through.
  6. Add lemon juice and a pinch of sugar to taste and adjust the seasoning. During cooking you can always add a little boiling water if the sauce is too thick or cook longer to reduce it. Serve with rice.

Persian Aubergine (Eggplant) Stew with Meatballs & Dried Lime

Last night when I realised the only things I had in the fridge were a few aubergines, a handful of cherry tomatoes and some mince, the first thing that came to my mind was an aubergine stew, a cheat’s version, though. The proper one is made with cubed lamb.

What I made is a quick version of the scrumptious Persian gheymeh bademjoon, one of the variants of a fragrant stew of lamb/beef/chicken with slow-fried aubergine called khoresh bademjoon (aubergine/eggplant stew).

Proper gheymeh bademjoon with small chunks of lamb. Gheymeh means small chunk of meat.
Proper gheymeh bademjoon with small chunks of lamb. Gheymeh means small chunk of meat.

Meat plays the second fiddle to vegetables and herbs in many Persian dishes. Have you ever heard of a kilo of herbs going into a dish for six people? Well, that’s quite normal for a Persian dish. For the same reason the name of this stew remains “aubergine stew” whether it’s lamb, beef (chunks or mince or meatballs) or chicken that it’s cooked with. Aubergine is the king and reigns in this stew, quite rightfully!

Aubergines are often paired with chicken. One of the tastiest ever Persian stews is the one in the picture below. It’s made with aubergines and chicken and is flavoured with unripe sour grapes (ghooreh), saffron and cinnamon. Sour grapes sound a bit daunting but their lemony flavour brings out the best in aubergines and chicken.

Aubergine stew with chicken and green sour grapes preserved in brine (ghooreh).
Aubergine stew with chicken and green sour grapes preserved in brine (ghooreh). This is yet another version of the old khoresh bademjoon. It’s called bademjoon mosama which means aubergine with chicken.

Last year I posted a recipe for one of the other quick variants of khoresh bademjoon with chicken breasts and courgettes. That one (in the picture below) became very popular with my readers. For the recipe look here.

A variant of khoresh bademjoon with courgettes and chicken breasts.
A variant of khoresh bademjoon with courgettes and chicken breasts that I wrote about last year.

I’m very lucky the UK, at least the south, is so cosmopolitan. London has so many Persian and Middle eastern groceries I’m never lacking for ingredients. Every time I visit London to see friends I make sure I stock my pantry for a good while. There aren’t any Persian groceries in our town but luckily there are Asian shops where I can find a lot of the ingredients I need and a large array of vegetables, herbs and spices I can’t normally find in big supermarkets.

Some of the ingredients of gheymeh bademjoon.
Some of the ingredients of gheymeh bademjoon.

Supermarkets in the UK usually stock one type of aubergine, the big slightly rounded one, whereas in Asian shops I often find several different types including the lovely sweet and longish ones in the picture above.

I like to peel the aubergines, only partially. Looks good, I'm not sure if it makes much difference in taste.
I like to partially peel the aubergines. It looks good but I’m not sure if it makes too much difference in taste. A vegetable peeler makes the job very easy. You can keep the skin on if you wish or even peel them all the way.

I like to keep this dish a bit on low-fat side and usually make it with olive oil but if you don’t have my scruples about calories do add a big knob of butter to the sauce and use more oil to fry the aubergine slices. Makes it so much more delicious.

Aubergine stews are almost always served with plain Persian rice and obviously with such accompaniments as sabzi khordan (for a picture and non-recipe look here), torshi (vinegary pickles), yoghurt and perhaps a chopped tomato and cucumber salad (salad shirazi).

To serve four you will need the following ingredients:

  • 200g yellow lentils (split peas)
  • 2-3 dried limes (black or regular)
  • 400g lean beef mince
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp mild curry powder
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 5 tbsp oil (I prefer olive oil)
  • 1tsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 3 medium aubergines
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron

Method:

  1. Wash the limes and put in a small jar, cover with boiling water and put the lid on. Set aside to soak.
  2. Pick over the lentils and rinse. Put in a small saucepan and cover with water. Brings to the boil, then lower the heat and let cook for about fifteen minutes (cooking time depends on the type of lentils. Asian ones which are larger in size cook fast while the smaller Persian ones take a bit longer to cook). Don’t overcook or they’ll get mushy. They must have a bite in the centre.
  3. Put the chopped onions in a deep frying-pan with 2 tbsp oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until lightly golden. Add the turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the spices are fragrant and onions are golden. Add the tomato past and stir. Cook for two minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wipe the pan.
  4. Prepare the saffron according to the instructions in How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices with 1/2 tablespoon water.
  5. Put the mince in a bowl and add the grated onion, 1/2 tsp salt and the black pepper. Use your hands to mix well and shape into about fifteen meatballs.
  6. Lightly brown the meatballs in the same pan with one tablespoon of oil. Return the fried onion to the pan with the dried limes. Add about one cup of boiling water and bring to the boil. Cover and cook on medium low.
  7. Put one tablespoon of oil in a lidded frying pan and arrange half the aubergine slices in it in one layer. Put on medium heat and cook, covered for about five minutes until golden brown on one side. Turn, cover again and cook until the other side is browned too and the slices have softened. Repeat with the rest of the aubergine slices and another tablespoon of oil.
  8. Remove the frying pan with meatballs from the heat. Add the lentils and stir. Arrange the aubergine slices and cherry tomatoes in the pan.
  9. Add a little more boiling water and the saffron liquid and grinds. The water must almost cover the aubergine slices. Return to the heat. Bring to the boil, cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes. The sauce should be almost as thick as thin gravy at the end of cooking so adjust with boiling water if required. Serve with rice. Enjoy!