Casually he lifts up his shirt. Revealing cuts and bruises. A skateboarding injury. Meant to impress I think. He keeps the shirt up for a beat longer than necessary. Awkwardly lingering in the moment. Electrifying and innocent all at the same time. As a young man in his early twenties – really, still a boy – is apt to do.
Casually I ask him if he needs an icepack. As I lean a shoulder into the very white wall of my new apartment.
Leaning into my new life.
Leaning into a new city they call Angels.
Leaning into the blue of his eyes.
Leaning into a new friend.
Pretending not to notice that he has held up his shirt just a little longer than necessary.
Pretending not to notice the social gathering of butterflies in my stomach. Pretending that it’s just hunger pangs. As a young woman in her early twenties – really, still a girl – is apt to do.
I should make him a soup or maybe a khoresh – a stew – I think. The kind of stew that you long for when the weather starts to turn. When a long forgotten chill taps on your window panes, and settles in for a good long stay. Taking your breath away every time. The kind of stew that takes you by the waist and embraces you with warmth and doesn’t let go. The kind that heals cuts and bruises. The kind that calms the whisper of butterflies.
Khoresh Gheymeh is the ultimate late-fall/winter stew. I recently had the opportunity to meet Yotam Ottolenghi at an event for his recent book Plenty More. The conversation turned to Persian food and Mr. Ottolenghi remarked on how Persian food is really homemade cooking at its very best. I couldn’t agree more. And this stew is a perfect example of such. I like to make a big batch on a Sunday and hypnotize my family with its tantalizing aromas of faraway lands. Khoresh Gheymeh is a hearty stew so I like to serve it with brown rice, a side of mast-o-khiar, and fresh herbs to balance out the whole meal. What we don’t devour right away gets portioned out for school, work lunches and the freezer – when in a few weeks you can once again indulge yourself and your family to a fantastic and comforting mid-week meal.
Typically this stew is made with beef or lamb, yellow split peas, advieh – Persian spice mix, limoo omani – Persian dried limes, and garnished with matchstick fried potatoes. I don’t cook with red meat often so when I do I try to use the best quality meat I can. For this stew I like to use grass-fed eye of round stewing meat. Like most stewing meats, this cut of beef requires the luxury of time to sit and braise.
I prefer to cook the yellow split peas separately because the cooking time of the peas can vary. What you are ultimately looking for are peas that are completely cooked through, maintaining their shape without turning mushy. I find the best way to ensure this is to par-cook the peas separately and finish cooking them off in the stew in the final twenty minutes or so.
Advieh is a very fragrant and flavorful spice mix. There are two types of advieh most commonly used. One for rice dishes and one for stews and meats. The spices used varies from region to region and home to home. Common spices used in any combination can include turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, rose petals, golpar, corriander, black pepper, cumin and ginger. You can prepare a combination of these spices and store in a jar. Keep in mind that a small amount of advieh goes a long way.
He places the paper bags on the 2-person glass patio table. Now serving as my indoor dining table. He has come over to cook for me – some kind of pasta dish. I’ve made us a couple of pies – as I was apt to do in those days. He starts pulling out all sorts of brand new Trader Joes spice jars – basil, oregano, thyme. As he pulls out his salt shaker I can no longer contain it and break out into a giggle. What he doesn’t know – yet- is that what I may be lacking in furnishings, in wall decor, in plates, glasses and mugs – I more than make up for in my spice cupboard.
Saffron, turmeric, cinnamon, rose petals, cardamom, golpar, my advieh jar, salt – my dear, dear, companions.
Well traveled mismatched glass jars. Tiny little Bonne Maman jam jars filled with my precious ground up saffron. My own Maman’s handwriting forever etched on some of the jars – in Persian, English, some in Italian. These spices and the jars that so humbly house them tell the story of our lives.
Limoo Omani is the secret ingredient that gives Khoresh Gheymeh its unmistakable unique tart flavor – a key flavor in Persian cooking. Limoo Omani is a dried Persian lime and is quite often used whole or ground up in stews. The flavor of Limoo Omani as it cooks down and softens up, releasing its juices is absolutely incredible. This is where I could tell you to substitute fresh lime or lemon juice for the Limoo Omani. But I won’t, because to really enjoy and appreciate Khoresh Gheymeh you need to use these flavorful and aromatic dried limes. Limoo Omani can be found at Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. You first need to very carefully puncture them (so as not to stab yourself!) in a couple of places with a sharp knife and then place them in the stew. As they cook down you gently press down on them with the back of a wooden spoon to release their juices. I like to eat the Limoo Omani along with my stew. But I will readily admit eating them whole is an acquired taste.
Khoresh Gheymeh is also famous for the delicious matchstick fries that garnish it. When I prepare this dish at home I usually don’t make the fries – with apologies to all the traditionalists out there! I find the stew in combination with the rice it is served with makes for a very hearty meal as is. And doesn’t require the addition of another starchy food such as potatoes – and fried ones at that. But…if you have me over and make me Khoresh Gheymeh with matchstick fries I will happily and enthusiastically accept!
The boy from all those years ago became a best friend, a lover, a confidante, a husband, a father.
He still makes me pasta dishes.
I still look forward to making him soups and stews.
His skateboard comes out every once in a while. If only to trail the moon and the sun. As they try to find balance in it all. On their bikes. In their lives. He’s never far behind. Tending to his daughters’ cuts and bruises.
My spice cupboard is now our spice cupboard.
Full of mismatched glass jars.
And he still mixes up the turmeric with the saffron.
ADVIEH KHORESH – PERSIAN SPICE MIX FOR STEWS
- Please be very careful when piercing the limoo Omani. Work on a flat surface holding the dried limes firmly with one hand. I like to use a sharp paring knife. You just want a couple of punctures so the juices can release when they soften up in the stew.
- Make a double batch of this stew. It freezes really well and makes for a great mid-week meal. Adjust water when reheating.
1/2 teaspoon dried ground rose petals
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground dried coriander
In a small bowl mix all spices together place in a small jar and use as needed. This mix will make about 1 tablespoon. Feel free to double if you’d like more on hand.
A YELLOW SPLIT PEA AND PERSIAN LIME STEW – KHORESH GHEYMEH
3/4 cup yellow split peas, picked over and rinsed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion – chopped
1 pound stewing meat (preferably eye of round), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 cup tomato paste, mixed with 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon advieh (Persian spice mix)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron steeped in 2 tablespoons hot (not boiling) water
5 small limoo omani (Persian dried limes), pierced in a couple of spots
zest of 1 small orange
juice of 1/2 small orange
1- Place the yellow split peas in a small pot and cover with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium/low and partially cover. Cook until the yellow split peas are al dente. Not completely cooked through, softened but with a bite to them. This can take anywhere between 15-30 minutes depending on the quality of your yellow split peas. Set aside.
2- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, meat, 1 teaspoon salt, turmeric and ginger. Saute for about 6-8 minutes until onion softens (but doesn’t brown). Add 1 3/4 cups water and bring to a very gentle boil. Cover and simmer on low for 30-40 minutes.
3- Add the tomato paste/water mixture, advieh, saffron water, limoo Omani, and the orange zest. Stir to combine. Cover with the lid ajar and simmer on medium/low for 30-45 minutes. Occasionally gently press down with the back of a wooden spoon on the limoo Omani so they release their juices into the stew. Add the yellow split peas in the last 20 minutes of cooking. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary. If the stew gets too thick add more water. If you like it on the thicker side remove the lid and allow some of the water to evaporate. Add the orange juice right before turning off the heat. The stew is ready when the meat is very tender and the yellow split peas are cooked through but not mushy.