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).
- 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.