Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Mother's Ghormeh Sabzi

My mother learned how to cook in Iran. She lived there with her first husband and my brothers for a few years in the 80's, and fell in love with the country and its people. Years later, in Iowa, she would tell stories about Iran while preparing delicious Persian food. She still does this when she comes to visit. For my brothers and I, meals like baghali polo, chelo kabab, and ghormeh sabzi will probably always taste like home.

Of course over the years, the food became more Americanized. Some ingredients were switched out for what was more readily available, or what was more to the family's taste. And then, my mother isn't the type of cook who measures her ingredients. She throws a bit of this, and a hint of that into the pot (“whatever looks right”) and hopes for success. Generally her methods are effective, but the food comes out a little bit different each time.

I liked ghormeh sabzi as a child, but I can't say I got excited about it. It was standard winter fare, a heavy stew made out of hearty greens, beans, and thick chunks of beef served over rice and with a side of plain yogurt. Now my taste buds have changed, and it's a different matter entirely. After a long day, I find myself craving the complicated flavors and textures this dish has to offer. In the winter I eat it hot and it warms me up, in the summer I mix the greens with the rice and eat it cold with extra yogurt. It's satisfying and healthy, the perfect dish. And exactly what I was craving today.

Here's my mother's ghormeh sabzi. The only major changes I've made is leaving out the meat (mostly because I find beef to be inconvenient), and cooking it in a slow cooker (my mother's done this before, but I prefer to do it this way every time. I don't have enough patience to leave things boiling on the stove top).

Ghormeh Sabzi
  •  hearty greens (you can use frozen spinach, or fresh ones of your choice, washed and chopped) – enough to fill your slow cooker about halfway full
  • 1 can of kidney beans (less if your cooker is small. You can also use about 1c of dried beans, but you'll want to cook them first)
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped (I use either 1 big one, or 2 medium ones)
  • fenugreek seeds (I use about 2 t)
  • 1 dried lime, crushed (or you can get away with using the zest of about ½ a lemon)
  • mint (2t dried, or 2 T fresh)
  • dill (2 t dried, or 2 T fresh)
  • coriander (1½ t you can use whole seeds or the ground stuff)
  • oregano (1½ t)
  • basil (1½ t dried, or 2 T fresh)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I don't measure this, but you'll want quite a lot of salt. Beans and hearty greens like to be salty)
  • a little lemon juice to taste, stirred in at the very end.

Basically you throw it all into the slow cooker with a little water or a stock of your choice (I use chicken stock when I have it on hand. Vegetable or beef stock would work just as well), and cook it on low for about 6 hrs or on high for 3 or 4 hrs. Serve it over rice, and put some plain yogurt on the side and you have a fantastic dinner!

I make a giant pot of this a couple of times a month, in hope of having leftovers to freeze. That never works out, I eat it too quickly.

Usually I make this with frozen spinach, but this time around I used fresh kale and collared greens (they were on sale). Both ways are delicious, so I'd recommend making it in whatever way is convenient for you.

If you want to make it with beef:
  • first figure out how much will fit in your slow cooker (you don't need a lot. The chunks of meat are meant to be a part of the dish, not the main attraction). 
  • You'll want to cut it into bite-size chunks (any sort of inexpensive stew-meat will do. Remember that it's going into the slow-cooler, so it'll be tender). 
  • Brown the meat in a skillet with a little bit of oil, salt, and turmeric before adding it too the crock pot with everything else.


  1. I knew of the Persian influence - but didn't know you connected so strongly through the food.

    I must confess I need to overcome a bias towards non-American food: I once had a housemate who hailed from an African country. He would cook meat in the Summer with all kinds of spices. In the oven.

    The kitchen would get hotter than hades. I didn't appreciate the aroma of the spices. And so it was hard to think that, given those conditions, the food he prepared would be inviting.

    But what you describe sounds interesting. And if the kitchen doesn't get above 70 degrees while the food is cooked, a fork might even be able to find my mouth.

  2. You should give it a try :)
    The only difficult part might be finding some of the spices. I don't know what sort of grocery stores you have in your area.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this! It's my absolute favorite. Love you, sweetie. Love this blog, too!

  4. I found dried fenugreek leaves at an Indian Spice Shop, here in the suburbs of Mpls, MN- everything else was readily available, either dried or fresh at a number of markets- we even used fresh chives from the garden and leeks, instead of the mint/dill. Also, I learned that coriander LEAVES are CILANTRO, while cilantro SEEDS are what is known as coriander! (Who knew?)

    I also used lamb, as we really like to do lamb dishes every once in a while, and I read that for Iranian/Persian dishes, lamb would be more 'traditional.' (and any excuse to buy lamb is all I really need, anyway....)

    I tried this dish, because I read that fenugreek has many healthful properties, so was willing to do anything for 'health'- and/but, surprise, the dish tasted really good! Esp over basmati rice, browned in a rice cooker. (tah dig?) The smell in the house, though? Not 'bad', but not really 'midwestern' -if you get my drift. But it is a dish I would cook again for my family- there were few objections at all, from wife or kids.

    However, because I used a different recipe, that asked that the greens be 'sauteed' in the pan the lamb had been browned in, and THEN adding 4c. of broth/liquid to the crock pot, we ended up with a lot of 'broth'- like about three cups too much liquid for the type of covering you would expect to put over rice. It was redolent of all the greens, spices,etc. and made the rice disappear real fast... but, I would have expected the dish to have 'reduced' during the five hours it was in the crock pot.

    However, because the greens had already been sauteed, there was no place for the liquid to 'go'- duh (I should have figured it out, but it was THEIR recipe....) . Maybe less liquid according to the recipe I used will make the greens, beans, and meat be more like an Iranian version of Beef/Lamb Stew? And can you eat the Fenugreek seeds, after they have been cooked? Do they give a 'burst' of spice flavor in the mouth (sort of like skittles or pop rocks)?
    Or does it just taste/feel like more rice? I'm curious. - HSDadPhD


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