The first time I had ‘Sabzi Kormeh’ was back in the year 2000 at an Iranian restaurant in Kuwait. I remember falling completely in LOVE with the dish. I have always been fond of greens, in salads, as ‘saag’, even in savouries and pies but to have this version of what I knew as ‘saag meat’ was sensational. The meat was tender, the bone was laden with marrow, the greens were all so well blended yet you could taste each one separately. Gentle waves of ‘methi’ and ‘palak’ infused with garlic chives (if you know anyone living around Haryana’s villages, you can get fresh garlic chives right about now!) and spring onion greens, everything fell into sync like most old school dishes do. Despite the presence of some awesome kababs, this was all I ate that night and from thereon, ‘Sabzi Kormeh’ became one of my favourite Persian dishes, followed closely by ‘Chelo Kabab’, kebab (seekh like) with rice.
Over the years my masala tainted palate has learnt to appreciate the often deemed ‘bland’ foods of Persia, they are by no means ‘bland’, you have to have the finesse to locate the flavours dancing in your mouth. The burst of tanginess from pomegranate seeds, the zing of ‘sumac’ powder in the yoghurt, the real taste of lamb in the kabab’s and the potent combination of fragrance and flavour that only saffron has. I make this dish often but not often enough, after our year end trip to the Middle East, all these flavours have rushed back into our lives, we didn’t waste a single meal this time, each one was dedicated to the many facets of the much confused Mediterranean-Middle Eastern cuisine ....from Iran to Turkey and back!
1 bunch of Fresh spinach, around 1/5 kg, remove stems and wash very very well.
Fresh dill, 1/2 bunch
Fresh parsley, 1 bunch
Fresh cilantro, 1 bunch
Fresh coriander, few sprigs
Fresh Leeks, only the greens of 4
Fresh chives, 1 bunch, if you can’t find fresh chives, use 1 tbsp of dried
6 spring onions
Fresh fenugreek, yup good old methi, use ½ bunch for the bitter kick, you can use 1 tbsp of ‘kasure methi’
1/5 kg mutton on the bone, use a shoulder cut, try and get 2 marrow bones, use large pieces
4 dried lemons or 1 tbsp dried lemon powder, I use ‘sumac’ powder, I think it’s available in Bombay
1 medium onion, finely diced.
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup of soaked kidney beans
Seasoning of salt, pepper and red chilli powder, if you like it spicy.
Wash the meat and veggies well. cut up all the veggie bunches fine and mix together, smell that combination of greens to experience the freshest herb garden ever! The smaller the pieces the better. Put the chopped vegetables in a pot, with heat setting on high and frequently stir the vegetables until all their excess water has evaporated. Add two tbsp of cooking oil and stir fry the vegetables until they turn a brownish colour. This process should take about 15 minutes. Take the pot off and put aside. During the stir fry process, you may add a bit more oil if needed. When finished, the vegetables resemble dried ones with no water remaining in the pot. In a separate pan put about one tbsp of cooking oil and fry the chopped onions till they turn a golden brown. Add the meat, stir fry for a few minutes, add salt, pepper and turmeric and let the meat fry with the onions. If you are using dried beans, at this point drain them and add them to the mixture. Turn the heat to medium. If you are using dried lemons, poke holes in them and add to the dish, add 2 cups of water, cover with lid and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Add the fried greens to the mixture, turn the heat setting to medium-low and let it cook. The cooking time required from this point on is about 40 minutes. Once the meat is separated when poked by a fork, the stew is ready. This stew is served over white rice. Add the lemon juice last for an extra tang if you like.
When stir frying, its imperative to constantly stir the vegetables. Otherwise, they quickly form a crust and burn. You can easily undercook the vegetables but you can hardly ever over cook them. If they look watery stir fry them a bit longer. Almost all of the vegetables listed above are easily found at produce section of grocery stores. The only exception to this is cilantro and chives. In place of chives, use the stems of scallions (also called spring onions). This stew can be made with two kinds of dried/canned beans. Either use kidney beans or black-eyed beans, which don’t need to be soaked overnight. If your stew ends up having a bitter taste, you more than likely burned the vegetables. If it smells like henna, you added too much spinach. You can't recover from these two mishaps. If the vegetables swim to one side and the meat goes the opposite way, you've undercooked it. Put in back on medium heat and let some of the excess water evaporate.