Khoresh is a genre of Persian food that is not merely a staple but also a quintessential pillar of Persian cooking. Widely translated as “stew”, Khoresh is certainly stew-like or stew-ish, but it is more elaborate, deliberate, and dare I say dignified than stew. Let’s put it this way: if Bill Clinton were khoresh, then his brother (Roger Clinton) would be stew! Same family, close relation, many things in common, but… big difference.
There are so very many different types of khoresh that initially Maman and I were flummoxed fixing on which one to choose as Fig & Quince‘s inaugural khoresh post.
Then we recalled that rhubarb is in season and it is so pretty …
… and that despite its antagonistic-sounding name of “rue” and “barb”, rhubarb is an appealing vegetable (or fruit, if you ask the U.S. Customs Court) full of tart-flavored lure…
…and that a “Khoresh rivas” or rhubarb stew is not good. It is amazing. Pieces of succulent rhubarb and tender meat in an aromatic herb-infused pool of tart and savory flavors. Delicious, sophisticated, inviting.
So … that’s we fixed on making:
Khoresh is always served with rice but due to technical difficulties, we lost the mouthwatering rice-and-khoresh pictures, so we’ll have to implore you to use your imagination and conjure this: a bed of fluffy rice, steaming fragrant with saffron and a hint of butter. Lean in close and take a good inhale. Why not, it’s nice! Now take a generous ladle or two of the rhubarb stew and pour over the rice. Make sure you get a good bit of juice and a few good pieces of rhubarb and meat. Now mix your rice and khoresh, and take a spoonful to eat. Pause mid-way in anticipation of that first (always best) taste. Linger over this mental image and enjoy.
This (tormenting) exercise reminds me of a saying in Farsi which goes: “vasf ol aish, nesf ol aish” which roughly translates to “talk of a pleasure is half of the pleasure.” I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment, and here’s the recipe so that you can savor all (instead of half) the pleasure of the incomparable Persian rhubarb stew.
- 1 pound stewing meat (lamb, beef, or veal) washed and cut into 1-2 inch cubes
- 1 medium or large onion (chopped or sliced)
- 4 stalks of rhubarb
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon dried mint (or 3 sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped)
- 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)
- 1 teaspoon grated garlic (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in hot water (optional)
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
- salt and cooking oil
- Heat 1 or more tablespoons of oil in a skillet and saute parsley and fresh mint over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. If you are using dried mint, first saute parsley and add the dried mint for the final minute. Set your parsley and mint mixture aside for now.
- Wash rhubarb stalks. Dry. Peel off the thin-germy-film of the outer-skin of stalks and remove strings. Cut stalks into 1 to 2 inch pieces. (A 1 inch piece is typical but Maman prefers it for aesthetic reasons and also because the larger-size prevents the rhubarb, which despite appearances is a rather delicate vegetable, from falling apart when it is cooked.) Set aside for now.
- In a big pot, heat oil till it sizzles. Add onions, sprinkle with salt (prevents onion from emitting liquid and getting soggy) and saute (avoid over-stirring) over medium heat until nicely golden and translucent. Add turmeric and pepper. Stir to mix.
- Add meat to the onion and saute over medium heat for 5-6 minutes or until each piece of meat is browned on all sides. (Tip: if necessary, add more oil or 1-2 tablespoons of hot water to avoid burning it.) If you are using the grated ginger and garlic (optional but nice) add those half-way through this step of browning the meat.
- Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the pot, salt to taste, and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tenderly cooked. (Usually takes one hour, give or take, depending on the type of meat used.) Halfway through cooking the meat, add the parsley and mint mixture prepared earlier. Now is also the time to add the dissolved saffron – if you are availing yourself of this festive option. Stir gently to mix with the meat, cover, and continue to cook until the meat is done.
- Once the meat is cooked, add rhubarb, gently mix, and adjust seasoning. Partially cover pot with the lid ajar, and cook for another 15 minutes or until the rhubarb is done. (Rhubarb is delicate, as mentioned above, which is why it’s added at the last, stage of the game. Avoid over-cooking it so that it won’t fall apart.)
- Taste and adjust seasoning to taste. If you so desire, and only if you must, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar, just enough to balance but not drown the tart flavor.
Pour into deep serving bowl and serve hot with rice. (If absolutely unavoidable, khoresh can be enjoyed with bread instead of rice. They even do this in Iran sometimes. OK, rarely, but it is not unheard of!)
Typically, each person gets 2 ladles to pour over and mix with their rice. Second helpings are inevitable and encouraged.
Make it, and enjoy it, and noosheh jaan!