Undercooked - A Persian Lamb Stew


For this (December/January) round, we at Cook the Books Club have been featuring the collection of essays, memoir really, Undercooked by Dan Ahdoot.  A very personal, sometimes light-weight romp about his obsession with eating, frequently at high end restaurants, all over the world, to the detriment of any personal relationships, and how he got that way.  As the sub title of his books states "How I let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That's a Dumb Way to Live".  Well, duh.  It was at times funny, though often in a sad sort of way.  An enjoyable read for the most part.

I loved the description of Dan's first kitchen experiment as a kid.  A ten year old, and he wanted to make a Grand Marnier Souffle!  Then totally nailed it with the assistance and encouragement of his mom. 

From Kirkus Reviews: "A comic describes his lifelong love affair with food. "A good meal gives me more happiness than almost anything in life, including sex, money, and sex," Ahdoot writes in this collection of humorous essays. Later, he adds, "I'm probably the best comedian in the country with a deep obsession with food, so that's something, right?"  Much of the narrative describes how he got that way. Unfortunately, the book is like a restaurant that can't keep good chefs because the offerings vary wildly in quality. As the middle of three boys, Ahdoot was the only child in their Iranian Jewish household who shared his father's love of fine cuisine, a passion his father maintained until the oldest son died of cancer. Ahdoot's parents then turned to religion and frequented "subpar kosher immigrant eateries…". 

The rest of his life then becomes a sort of compensation for that loss of his father's attention.  Overall, I most enjoyed his Persian cultural and food background.  So, my cooking inspiration came from that part of the book.  But, with so many brilliant choices, it was difficult.    Most appealing to me was the Persian Lamb Stew with heaps of assorted herbs, Koresh-e Ghormeh Sabzi. 

Khoresh-e Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian Herb, Bean and Lamb Stew)


Yield:6 to 8 servings

1½ pounds lamb shoulder or beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 heaping teaspoon ground turmeric
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dried kidney beans (I used Great Northern, as kidney beans give me indigestion)
3 tablespoons plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 pound Italian parsley (about 3 large bunches)
1 pound cilantro (about 3 large bunches)
2 bunches chives
1 bunch scallions, roots trimmed
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves (I used 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, toasted)
4 Omani (dried Persian) limes, rinsed and punctured multiple times with a fork
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
white Jasmine rice, for serving
Mast-o Khiar or plain yogurt, with cucumbers and mint

In a medium bowl, season the meat with turmeric, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Rinse the beans and place in a medium bowl with 1 cup water and a generous pinch of salt. Set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Skip if you use canned beans.

In the meantime, place a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons oil. When it shimmers, add meat and cook, turning regularly so that it browns evenly on all sides, about 15 minutes. Once the meat has browned, move it to the edges of the pot and add the onion to the center of the pot, along with a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onion begins to soften and turn brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Drain the beans and add to the pot, stirring to combine everything and coat the beans with oil. Add 4 cups water, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the herbs: Wash parsley and cilantro, then use a salad spinner to dry very well. Remove and discard the tough stems. Chop the leaves and tender stems very, very finely, or feel free to use a food processor to get these herbs as finely chopped as possible. The more finely chopped the herbs, the more green and unctuous the ghormeh sabzi will be.

Separately chop the chives and entire bunch of scallions (including the green tops) as finely as possible by hand. These, too, must be very finely chopped — nearly minced — but they will turn to mush in a food processor and thus should be chopped by hand.

Set a large frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek if fresh is not available, sauté until popping. Add the remaining ¼ cup oil and the scallion-chive mixture. Allow to wilt, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, then add remaining chopped herbs and fenugreek leaves, crushing the fenugreek leaves between your fingers as you add them. Cook, stirring continuously, until the herbs are wilted and very dark green — but not burned — and they give off a bright green oil when pressed with a spoon, 18 to 20 minutes. This step is crucial to the flavor and color of the stew. You’ll know the herbs are ready when they feel dry and emit a strong, savory aroma.

When the meat has cooked for 2 hours, add the cooked herb mixture, Omani limes and ½ cup water. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover pot, and simmer for another hour. Check on the limes occasionally to make sure they are submerged in the stew but not falling apart. Gently push them into the stew if they’re still floating after 20 minutes.

As the stew nears the 3-hour mark, remove the lid and check the meat; it should be very tender. If the ghormeh sabzi seems a little watery, leave it uncovered for the last 20 minutes of cooking and allow to reduce into a thick stew. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. If the stew needs a little acidity, juice a lime into the stew through a sieve by pressing down on it with a spoon (avoid letting the seeds through the sieve, as they can be bitter). Set aside. Taste the stew and continue adding more lime juice until the stew is sufficiently tangy. Stir in the saffron. The stew should be a very deep, dark shade of green and quite thick when done. Return dried limes into the stew to serve.

Serve hot with rice and mast-o khiar, which is basically a cucumber salad with a yoghurt or kefir dressing.

This herby stew was just fabulous!  We loved it. Though, as you may have noticed, not a one pot, simple preparation!  So, thus my pick for Cook the Books.  There's still a wee bit of time, if you want to join in.  Deadline is Wednesday, January 31st.  And, after that there's the Roundup of all our wonderful meals.


A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

Great choice of recipe. I, too, love lamb and Persian food but I went a little more rustic with my inspiration.

Debra Eliotseats said...

That looks delicious. Multi-pot meals are fine if they're worth it. This looks worth it!!!!!!!

Marg said...

This sounds so flavoursome!

I wasn't able to easily get this book so have sat this round out, but I am hoping to join in for the next round.

Mae Travels said...

Lamb stew sounds just lovely.

Delaware Girl Eats said...

With it still being Winter here on the East Coast I can definitely get into a stew -- yours looks great! cathy

Delaware Girl Eats said...

Stew for mid-winter sounds great!

Simona Carini said...

Great choice of recipe! In reading the details, I wondered about making a vegetarian version of it. I'll let you know if I try. I need to start looking for Persian limes :)

Claudia said...

Thanks Simona, I got them on Amazon.