Khoresht-e Ghormeh Sabzi, or herb and meat stew is a fragrant explosion of flavors. Herbs and greens combine with beef (or lamb) and kidney beans. The tartness of whole dried lemons rounds out this exotic dish that is a popular classic all over Iran. Just smelling the combination of greens for this dish, I am bombarded with memories from my childhood. It was pure joy when I would find my parents prepping a batch of the ghormeh sabzi for dinner. The entire house would fill with the almost intoxicating earthiness of the herb combination. My absolute favorite place to be as a kid was at my Uncle Ali and Aunt Barbara’s house. I treasure memories of our yearly trek to Huntsville, Alabama to see them. Aunt Barbara has always excelled at cooking Iranian food, as she was able to learn directly from my Grandmother. Their home had the surprisingly appealing smell of ghormeh sabzi, with an undertone of April Fresh Downy. To this day, when I open a package of dried, premixed herbs for the stew, I think of my Beloved Aunt.
I was in sixth grade the first time I met my Iranian Grandmother. It was during this visit that I experienced ghormeh sabzi made with fresh herbs. My Grandmother was a glorious cook, and she made everything from scratch; including fresh yogurt and pita bread. We never ate so well as we did the weeks she stayed with us (sorry Mom…) Sadly, there was a language barrier between us and we were never really able to connect. She only made three trips out of Iran in her entire life. She was a very traditional woman, and found life in the United States a little too fast paced and overwhelming. She was a very small woman, but she scolded my Dad like he was a child when he got too mouthy. It was a glorious sight to behold for the kid of a man that loves to micromanage! The older I get, the more attuned to my Iranian heritage I feel. Creating these beautiful and traditional foods helps me to feel just a little bit connected to a woman I never really had the chance to know.
The dried mix is much easier to make than fresh, but it comes with its own list of cons. It takes much more time to prepare it than the fresh herbs. You must first soak the dried vegetables, and they take a lot longer to cook. It isn’t always easy to find the premixed dry herbs, and is more expensive. If you have access to a local Middle Eastern market, they almost always will carry them. Many Indian markets also carry them. Generally the bigger the container, the better deal it is. I will include info on making the dried in the directions below.
*If you can’t find fresh fenugreek locally, you can generally pick up a bag of it dried from a local Middle Eastern or Indian market and some Asian markets may also carry it. Check out my previous post on Jujeh for more information on what bulk spices and foods to look for at your local international markets.
Pretty much any cut of roast will do for this dish. You are looking for a nice bright piece of beef, with light marbling. You can also use ‘stew meat’, but it is always a little more expensive. This cut was on sale for $3.99 a pound. The stew meat was $5.29 per pound. I got a bigger cut than I needed and cut off a chunk of it to freeze for another meal.
*****Can be made vegetarian friendly by following all steps, but omitting the beef
1.5 pounds beef – ‘roast’ cut of your choice (or lamb)
3 bunches of fresh parsley – flat or curly leaf is interchangeable
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 small bunch of fresh fenugreek (you can substitute 3 tbsp of dried fenugreek leaves)
1-2 cans of drained and rinsed kidney beans
3 dried Persian lemons or limes (can sub 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice)
1 large onion
1 tsp turmeric powder
Olive oil – or oil of your choice
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the greens well, as they are usually covered in more dirt than you would expect. Once you have them well washed, wrap them in a dish towel and gently pat them dry – or run them through a salad spinner.
You have a couple of options here. You can strip the leaves from the thickest of the stems and rough cut them or you can finely chop the entire thing. The rough cut without stems will give a creamier stew, but it will literally take about an hour to prep. It is personal preference, as both ways will be delicious.
Wash and chop the green onions and leek, most Iranians would only chop the green part, but I go down a little further and add some of the very top section of the green onion and leek. I like the textural differences between solid layered part of the onion and the green tops. This is totally a personal preference. You can either chop the white parts and add them to the onion saute or save them for another recipe. I really enjoy this part of the green onion or leak in meatloaf or on salad.
Chop the onions fairly finely and saute them in 1-2 tbsp of oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes, Once they are a golden color, you can add your trimmed meat. I like to lightly add salt to every step of cooking. My rule of thumb is, once something new hits the pan, add a pinch of salt. I consider a pinch to be a pinching of your thumb and all fingers to grab the salt. This enables you to better control the sprinkling of salt over the surface of the food.
Trim the roast of visible fat; marbling is fine and you don’t need to trim the veining. The trimmed size really does not matter. I tend to trim them into about 1″ chunks, but I have seen them as small as a thumbnail and as large 2″. You may need to add a little more oil to the pan; you want the oil to be enough to keep the food moist and easily moves without sticking. However your goal is NOT to deep fry.
Add the trimmed meat and turmeric to the onions and pinch of salt. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the meat gets a golden color all over. Don’t worry if a few pieces have some red peeking through, it will cook through once the vegetables are added. The turmeric will give everything a yellow hue, so be sure that you are looking for sear marks that are golden, not just the overall color. Turmeric powder stains so handle carefully, and clean up spills quickly.
In a separate pan add a couple tbsp of oil and the greens then saute over medium heat. You would also add the dried fenugreek at this time, if you didn’t have fresh. Keep them moving periodically as they will burn, It takes about 10 minutes to get them good and softened up. Once they are starting to get soft and shrink down throw in your dried lemons. Keep moving the greens around until they look like the photo below; nice and dark green, and very compact.
Just a note about the dried lemons / limes. If I am making this for myself and my husband, I use 5. This is a bit more tart than some people like, especially those new to Iranian food. I use three when I am making for other people unless I know that they like it more tart. My Mom for example prefers it to have a mild tartness. Traditionally, you would just lightly pierce the lemons and throw them into the stew. They would be served intact in the dish. I don’t advise taking a bite of these, as they are super bitter. Pete ate one before we could warn him the first bite he ever had of ghormeh sabzi. He was disgusted and wouldn’t eat it at all for about 5 years. He finally tried it again and loved it. It is now one of his favorites.
Once the greens and lemons have been added to the pan of meat and onions add enough water that everything can move freely. Usually this would be about an inch of water above everything. Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour and half. Check it periodically as the water will cook out of it; stir and add water as needed. Once the lemons start to soften, poke a couple of holes in them with a fork to allow the juice from the stew to seep into them. After about an hour and a half of simmering, it is time to add the kidney beans. I prefer not to add them in at the beginning, as they can get too mushy for my tastes. Once I add the kidney beans, I like to put a lid on the pot and sort of perch it at an angle. This really helps to make the meat tender. Cook for one more hour, again stirring and checking for water level occasionally.
As I mentioned before the lemon would traditionally be left in the stew; you just eat around it. As they are a bit of a hazard for the unprepared, I just squish them to get all the glorious flavor from them then discard the rest. I learned this little trick from Aunt Barbara. It really brings the flavor of the lemons to the a perfect level without the danger of biting into one of them.
There it is – a creamy, dreamy stew full of flavor and vegetables. I made this batch for the following day; just like tomato based dishes it tastes better the next day after the flavors have had a chance to really meld. This would usually be served over fluffy Persian rice topped with a yogurt dip. I am aware that this stew looks a bit like it could have been dipped out of a pond. I always tell people that are new to it to just close their eyes and smell it. The scent alone is usually enough that they are eager to sample it. I have only had one person that didn’t like it. Her husband quipped, “More for me!” He gleefully dumped her plateful onto his own and dug in. I guess it was no great loss for her, but it was a high five moment for him.
Feel free to play with the recipe and make it your own. Everyone has their own methods of making classic dishes, and there really is no wrong way to do it. If you love your results, you did it right. See below for instructions on substituting dried herbs for fresh. If you have trouble finding the dried lemons you can substitute 2 Tbsp of freah lemon juice. This will do in a pinch but I greatly recommend that you add the lemons to your arsenal. They can also usually be found at a local international market.
*** If you are using the dried, premixed ghormeh sabzi, you would use about 3 ounces – roughly 4 cups. The mix is sold under many different brands and sizes, so check the back of the package to get an idea of how much it will make. Pour boiling water over a bowl full of the dried greens. They need to soak for at least 3 hours to really open up their flavor. After soaking, dip out the greens by the handful and squeeze as much of the liquid out as you can. Discard the remaining water. Add a couple of tbsp of oil to a pan over medium heat and saute the greens in 2 batches. This will take about 10 minutes per batch. All the other instructions will be essentially the same as fresh, except you need to double the cook time. You can also use a pressure cooker or crock pot to cook once everything has been sauteed. Be sure to check the dried greens more often, as they use more water.