Plain Persian rice or polo is almost always paired with a type of khoresh, thus forming a formidable entity known as polo-khoresh. Just think of the pair as the Brangelina A-list power couple of Persian cuisine.
There are many different types of khoresh – one more delicious than the next – and according to my mom, they are “one of the easiest things ever to make. ” Easy for you to say, mother! But seriously, it’s true that typically, the hardest part of making a delicious Persian stew is the prep work. I guess khoresh, easygoing and magnanimously forgiving of faults, makes up for Persian rice being such a temperamental … let’s say diva.
A very delicious khoresh, one that I recall being on heavy rotation in our household, chock full of herbs and with that typical Iranian food signature flavor of bright tangy notes plus savory succulence is khoresh ‘eh karafs or celery stew. True to my mother’s word, it is easy to make. Just chop chop chop; sautée; simmer. Basically. Pretty much.
In a stunning display of brevity, I’ll now cut short the banter and point you to the recipe where all is explained. I will only add one other thing: this is worth making. Trust!
- 1 pound stewing meat (lamb, beef, or veal) washed, pat dried, and cut into 1-2 inch cubes
- 2 stalks Celery – cut into 2 – 2 1/2 ” pieces
- 1 cup chopped parsley = 1 small bunch (washed, dried, and finely chopped)
- 1 tablespoon dried mint (or sub 3 sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped)
- 1 medium or large onion (chopped or sliced)
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed or minced
- 4-5 limoo amani aka dried limes (or sub 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice)
- 1/2 lemon, juiced (optional – my mother’s signature touch even when she uses limoo amani)
- a few pinches of turmeric
- a pinch or two of saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
- a pinch of cinnamon (optional – my mother’s signature touch)
- salt and pepper and olive oil
Notes re the celery: a) Pick pale green stalks that are ripe and tender and not too tough, or too dark green in color. b) The tender leaves and very delicate inner stalks of the celery, finely chopped (2-4 tablespoons) will be a wonderful and quite delicious optional addition at the end of step 3 below. (In the Azarbaijan region of Iran, people customarily use the baby celery leaves instead of parsley because it’s milder in flavor.) c) Cut celery either into 1″ pieces, or, 2″ inch pieces which are then cut into matchstick-shaped halves.
Note re limoo amani: Traditionally, this stew does not require limoo amani but it is a delightful optional ingredient. Delightful in that it adds a mild, refined, yet distinct tangy sourness to the khoresh; and once cooked, the limoo itself can be eaten. For the uninitiated, proceed gently when eating the limoo amani as its flesh is quite sour and sometimes even bitter — be sure to cushion it with rice and stew in a given spoonful.
- Rinse the limoo amanis; puncture each thrice with a fork. Set aside for now.
- In a roomy pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil till sizzling hot. Add onions, turn heat to low, and caramelize onions till significantly reduced in size. A minute or so into this, sprinkle with salt, turmeric and pepper. (The caramelization & bulk-reduction of onions if done right can take 8- 10 minutes.)
- Once onions are done, add meat and garlic, stir a few times, then season with a bit more salt and turmeric and pepper, and continue to saute. Once meat is slightly browned (it is no longer pink/red) add 2 cups of tepid water to the pot and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer, covered, for a total of 45 minutes (if using veal) or 1 hour (if using beef or lamb) or until meat has fully cooked. 15 minutes into this, add the herbs and celery as prepared below:
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet till sizzling hot, reduce to medium heat and saute celery, parsley, and fresh mint for 2-3 minutes, adding a tiny pinch of turmeric and salt for color and seasoning. If you are using dried mint instead of fresh mint, saute celery and parsley on their own and add the dried mint at the final minute. If you are using the optional 2-4 tablespoons of chopped up baby-celery-stalks and leaves, saute those at the final minute as well.
- After meat has stewed on its own for 15 minutes, add sauteed herbs, dissolved saffron, the limoo amanis, and one cup of tepid water to the pot. Continue to cook on low heat.
- At some point while stew is simmering, taste and adjust seasoning. If there’s not enough broth, add a cup or more lukewarm water. Don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with a watery stew. If by mistake your stew is too watery, simmer until broth is reduced.
- Once stew has cooked completely (45 minutes to one hour depending on type of meat) do a final tasting and adjust to taste.
- Final step: combine juice of half a lemon and a pinch of cinnamon and mix into the stew. This is optional — but a signature of my mother’s cooking.
Pour khoresh ‘eh Karafs into a roomy bowl and serve hot. Khoresh on rare instances may be served with bread but it is really meant to be served with perfect fluffy Persian rice. Typically, either self-served or dished out by the host/hostess, each person at the table gets at least two ladles of khoresh to pour over their plate of rice and tadig. Second helpings are inevitable and encouraged.
If you don’t want to eat it with rice, guess what? It’ll be delicious with bread and yogurt as well. So no problem.
All types of khoresh, including khoresh ‘eh karafs, will keep for a maximum of 48 hours in the fridge and can be frozen as well.
Make it, and enjoy it, and noosheh jaan!
Note to new readers: The Persian Rice 101 series explains the intricate process of making polo with clear, detailed descriptions, pictures and comprehensive tutorials. For more info check the relevant following posts:
- Persian Rice 101 | An Introduction to Polo & Tadig
- Persian Rice 101 | Tools & Trade Secrets
- Persian Rice 101 | Rake, Wash, Pray
- Persian Rice 101 | How to Make the Perfect Persian Rice