A Friday night at the Rahmanan household is defined by Sabbath prayers and the aroma of foods that have been cooking on the stove throughout the day. Among them: the ghormeh sabzi, a quintessential Iranian stew made with a variety of herbs that has become a superstar dish among expatriates in the United States, Italy, Israel, and beyond.
Part of the khoresh family, a generic term for the stew-like dishes of the Iranian culinary canon (as well as Afghan Kurdish cuisine), ghormeh sabzi is arguably the most recognized. Although the origins of the specific stew are murky, many mention the word khordan (which means “to eat” in Farsi) when discussing the khoresh: a dish named after the very action of eating.
A deep green color resulting from the variety of veggies and herbs used (parsley, spinach, green onion, and cilantro are common ingredients), ghormeh sabzi translates to “braised herbs.” In addition to the greens, the dish’s unique flavor also heavily relies on the pieces of lamb or beef that are left to cook for hours within the stew.
Born and raised in Italy until moving to the United States at 16, I have never visited my mother’s birthplace, Iran, and yet am treated to an entire menu of Middle Eastern specialties at least once a week. After escaping Iran with her family right before the 1979 revolution that would have penalized her for being Jewish, my mother joined thousands of others relocating to the United States and eventually importing the cuisine of their former home to this side of the Atlantic.
Persian Jews often indulge in khoresh, an ubiquitous dish in Iran any day of the week, during the celebratory Sabbath meal, but it can also be prepared and enjoyed any day of the week. The weekly menu includes other Iranian staples like tahdig and dolmehs, effectively turning the Jewish Sabbath into a day of Iranian remembrance for some.
Although some recipes feature beans, whole dried Omani limes, and fenugreek, this one is a family recipe, which uses dried Omani lime powder, a pervasive flavor across Iranian gastronomy, to expedite the cooking process.
Given the combination of herbs and dried lime, the herbaceous ghormeh sabzi is simultaneously (and pleasantly) bitter and sour. When properly prepared, the combination of flavors is remarkably balanced and satisfying without leaving you too full to enjoy dessert.
As for how to properly consume the dish, tradition calls for blanketing khoresh over whiterice, but true fans know all about its versatility, like serving it with flatbread. As the stew sits, the flavors meld and become more harmonious; served the next day or as leftovers, this ghormeh sabzi is even more flavorful and rich.
Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes OR 1½ pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large white onions, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground dried lime, available online or in speciality stores
2 cups parsley (1 bunch, about 4 ounces), ends trimmed and finely chopped
2 cups green onions or scallions (1 bunch, about 6-8 onions), finely chopped
5-6 cups spinach (about 2 bunches), finely chopped
Cooked rice, for serving
Pour one quart of water in a 4-quart pot and bring to a boil. Add the lamb or beef cubes and cook for 6-8 minutes. Drain the meat and set aside.
In the same pot, heat olive oil until shimmery at medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and cook until brown, about 15 minutes.
Add the meat to the pot with the onions along with salt, pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, and lime powder. Add one cup of water to deglaze the pot and cook, stirring occasionally cooking until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add water — between two to two and a half quarts — to the pot, and simmer until the meat is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Add the finely chopped parsley, green onions, and spinach to the stew. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours. Serve in a bowl alongside rice or flatbread with additional herbs to garnish, if desired.