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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan and fry the sliced mushrooms until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!