I’m lucky enough to have an Iranian stepmother-in-law who is a passionate cook. When we meet, we talk about the best noodles for ash reshteh, the joy of fried onions, and where to buy the most delicious Persian walnut cookies in London (Tavazo in Finchley, in case you’re wondering). We’re planning on cooking a feast to celebrate her birthday, which has meant dreaming up the perfect Persian menu. First on the list is this veganised version of the Iranian staple ghormeh sabzi. Although the main ingredients – lime and herbs – make it sound as if it might be a bit wild, when cooked, it’s actually very silky, rich and comforting.
Persian herb, lime and kidney bean stew
You’ll need dried limes to make this (ideally black ones, but white are also fine). They impart a deep, earthy sourness, and are easily available in specialist Middle Eastern food shops and online. You’ll also need a food processor and a pan with a tight-fitting lid for the rice.
Prep 10 min
Cook 1 hr
200g baby leaf spinach
200g fresh parsley
200g fresh coriander
6 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 small leeks (300g), trimmed and finely chopped
1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
2 tsp fine sea salt, plus extra for the rice
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp turmeric, plus extra for the rice
4 dried Iranian limes, pricked with a fork
2 x 400g tins kidney beans in water, drained
2 tbsp lime juice (ie, from about 1½ limes)
330g basmati rice
Remove and discard any woody stalks from the spinach and herbs, then roughly chop the rest, put in a food processor and whizz until super-fine – you might need to do this in batches. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Put the oil in a big pot over a medium heat and, once hot, add the onions and leeks, and cook, stirring often, for 12 minutes, until soft and pearlescent. Add the blitzed herb and spinach mix and crumble in the dried fenugreek, then cook for about 20 minutes, regularly swooshing it all around the pan with a spoon, until the mix comes together in soft clumps and emits a deep, forest-like smell. Stir in the salt and spices, then add the dried limes and kidney beans, and stir to combine. Pour over 750ml water and the lime juice, mix again, then bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and leave to cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the mix is thick and stew-like.
Meanwhile, make the rice. Rinse the basmati under cold water until it runs clear, then put in a medium saucepan with 660ml fresh cold water and a quarter-teaspoon each of salt and turmeric. Stir, then bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat to a whisper and leave to cook for 12 minutes.
Take off the heat and leave to rest, still covered, for another 10 minutes. To serve, spoon the rice into shallow bowls and top with the stew.
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