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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 Jewelled Rice with Lamb (Gheymeh Nesar)

Persian Jewelled Rice with Lamb (Gheymeh Nesar)

It’s amazing how the Persian cuisine has been catching on in the western world in the past few years. There are now tens or maybe even more lovely Persian jewelled rice recipes in English out there. I was surprised though when I checked for the recipe of gheymeh nesar, a gorgeous jewelled rice with tiny succulent pieces of lamb. There were less than a handful in English. So I decided to bring that to you this time, my tested and tried gheymeh nesar recipe.

Like many other Persian dishes making gheymeh nesar sounds quite faffy, I admit, but once you know the basic techniques (especially the technique of cooking of Persian rice) you can make not only this but several other amazing dishes. I think this pretty number is one of the easiest to make for a special occasion if you prepare your “jewels”, your rice and the lamb in advance (even a day or two before) and put everything together just before serving.

Butternut-squash-rice-recipe
My meatless jewelled rice with butternut squash, cranberries and flaked almonds. It’s delicious on its own but also a perfect side for the Christmas turkey or chicken.

Gheymeh nesar is basically plain rice garnished with meat (usually lamb but beef or chicken may also be used) barberries, slivered nuts and most important of all,  very lightly sweetened orange peel that gives the dish its unique flavour. My friends often tell me they can’t find some of these ingredients, like a twitter friend who asked where on earth she could find barberries in the depths of Yorkshire. Luckily there are substitutes so bear with me!

When I can’t find barberries I use chopped unsweetened or lightly sweetened dried cranberries or red currants. Pistachio and almond slivers are also hard to come by sometimes. I use chopped pistachios and almond flakes instead. I like using new ingredients in Persian dishes as long as I can keep the Persian essence of the dish. I’m guilty of speckling my white rice with wild rice (not a Persian ingredient) when I make jewelled rice as in my  Jewelled Butternut Squash Rice  and I must say wild rice works beautifully in Persian rice dishes.

Persian-jewelled-rice-recipe
No need for elaborate garnishing.

Now you don’t have to go to long lengths to garnish you rice too elaborately but beautiful presentation will definitely add to the pleasure of eating and there will be a lot of ahs and ohs. We usually create some sort of pattern with the “jewel” ingredients and some golden-coloured saffron rice but it will be perfectly fine to simply scatter the jewels on top of the rice. It will still look beautiful!

Persian-jewelled-rice-recipe
This jewelled rice with saffron-flavoured rolled chicken breast fillets is perfect to serve on special occasions such as Persian holidays and Christmas.

Qazvin, where this fabulous dish hails from, is one of the most beautiful cities in central Iran. The city served as a capital of the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century and is famous for its sophisticated cuisine and fabulous sweets including gorgeous baklava and a delicious cardamom-scented tea cake (noon-e chayi ghazvin).

If you have Iranian family or friends you’ve probably been wondering how they can manage to cook so many dishes for even a small family get-together. You’ve probably wondered about the wastefulness, too. So much food for only a handful of people? Rest assured, not even a grain of rice ever goes to waste! Leftovers will be reheated and served at other meals and are often even better than the freshly prepared. In true Iranian style the following recipe makes quite a lot, enough to feed six people, but can easily be adapted for a smaller number.

 

Ingredients:

For the lamb chunks (gheymeh):

  • 300g lamb lean lamb leg, shoulder or neck fillet, cut into 3cm cubes
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil or any other vegetable oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 large cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 3/4 tsp salt

For the rice and tahdig:

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 heaping tablespoons table salt
  • 1cm thick slices of baking potatoes (about two medium)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil or any other vegetable oil
  • 20g butter

For the garnish:

  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp of hot water
  • 2 tbsp dried barberries
  • 2 tbsp almond slivers
  • 2 tbsp pistachio slivers
  • 1-2 tbsp rosewater
  • One large orange (or a handful of dried slivered sour orange peel)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 30g butter

Cook the meat:

  1. Heat the oil in a medium pot and lightly brown the lamb chunks and chopped onion on medium heat. Add the spices and cook for a few minutes, stirring often so it doesn’t catch. Spoon the tomato puree over the meat, add the salt and cook for a couple of minutes. Add enough boiling water to cover the meat. Turn down the heat, cover and braise the meat until it’s very soft and almost all of the water has evaporated. This will take about 1 hour depending on the size of the chunks and the cut of meat.

Cook the rice:

  1. Put the rice in a bowl. Fill the bowl with water and gently rub the rice between the palms. Drain. Repeat 2 or 3 times until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with water. There must be about 4 cm of water on top of the rice.  Add the salt and gently stir. Let soak. The longer the rice soaks, the better it will be. So give it at least two hours or even let it soak overnight.
  2. Fill a medium-sized lidded saucepan (preferably non-stick coated) with water and bring to the boil. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Gently stir and cook until the rice grains are al dente (soft with a bite in the centre). Drain in a sieve and rinse with lukewarm water.
  3. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium heat until very hot. Sprinkle some salt on the oil and arrange one layer of sliced potatoes in the bottom of the saucepan. Use a large spoon or skimmer to gently transfer the rice from the sieve to the pot, slightly heaping it in the middle. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pot tightly.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave oven.
  5. Increase the heat and cook the rice for a couple of minutes on high heat or until the side of the pot is very hot to the touch. Lift the lid, pour the butter evenly over the rice and cover with the lid again. Lower the heat as much as you can (using a heat diffuser is helpful) and let the rice steam for approximately 45 minutes. The rice is ready when you see a lot of steam and there is some caramelisation around the bottom (you can see that if you have shaped the rice into a mound).

Prepare the garnishes:

  1. While the rice is steaming scrub the orange well. I scrub the orange with a very fine cheese grater to help remove the bitterness of the peel. Remove the peel in wide strips and remove almost all of the white pith, then shred finely. Cook the peel in plenty of water to remove the bitterness. Drain in a sieve and taste for bitterness. Repeat the boiling if it’s still too bitter and drain again. Rinse with cold water and return the peel to the saucepan. Add the sugar and stir. Only the water clinging to the peel will be enough to dissolve the sugar. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes. (If using dried slivered orange peel soak in cold water until the peel is reconstituted and use as fresh).
  2. Prepare the saffron according to the instructions in How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices. Set aside.
  3. Melt 1/3 of the butter in a small saucepan and cook the almond slivers for a couple of minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Prepare the pistachio slivers in the same way and set aside.
  5. Melt the remaining butter and briefly cook the barberries until they are shiny and puffed up. Be careful not to burn them. Set aside.

Put the dish together when you are ready to serve:

  1. Put a few tablespoons of the rice in a bowl and mix with the prepared saffron.
  2. Put half of the remaining rice on a large plate. Spoon half of the cooked meat on the rice. Cover with the rest of the rice and shape into a mound. Put the potato slices (tahdig) from the bottom of the pot in another plate to serve separately.
  3. Garnish the top of the rice mound with the rest of the meat, saffron rice, slivered almonds, slivered pistachios, sweetened orange peel and barberries. Alternatively, mix the nuts, barberries and orange peel with saffron rice and scatter over the rice. Spoon the rest of the meat on the dish. Serve immediately.

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