Who knew vegetarian ghormeh sabzi could be so delicious, even more so than the classic meat version! I think it’s because without the meat you get to taste and appreciate the other ingredients.
Some vegetarians visiting Iran comment on how difficult it is to find vegetarian dishes there or that the food is not vegetarian friendly. On the contrary, there are many wonderful vegetarian dishes if you know what to order at the restaurants. The only exception may be the traditional stews which usually contain meat. I don’t recall ever eating a meatless khoresht. If there was any leftover khoresht without meat, my mother-in-law would cook meat to add to it because no one would touch it.
In vegetarian ghormeh sabzi you can double the amount of kidney beans or add fried tofu to boost the protein content of the dish. Other types of beans or meat alternatives would also work with this recipe.
A lot of time and effort goes into making ghormeh sabzi. Most of the work involves the preparation of fresh herbs and frying the onions. When I’m making a large batch, especially if I’m cooking other dishes for a party, I clean, chop and fry the herbs a few days in advance and even fry the onions and cut the meat. All that is left to do a day before the event is assembling and cooking the stew. As the stew is refrigerated overnight, the flavors come together and it tastes even better the next day. When you break down the process into manageable parts, making this dish seems less cumbersome.
To clean the herbs, don’t go through the trouble of picking the leaves off the stems. Leave the rubber band on the bundle and use a sharp knife to cut the stems off at the rubber band. It’s perfectly okay to leave some stems on the herbs as they contain a lot of flavors. For green onions just remove the root ends and use both the white and the green parts.
If cutting the herbs by hand, place them on a large cutting board and finely chop them using a sharp knife. They can be roughly chopped too as long as there are no pieces longer than 1/4 inch. If chopping a large amount of herbs, a food processor would make the process much faster and easier. It’s best to cut the green onions by hand because they can get mushy in the food processor.
If you wash the herbs few days in advance, wrap them in a towel or layers of paper towel, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. The towel will absorb all the liquid helping herbs fry faster.
Frying the herbs is a crucial flavor developing step in this dish. Make sure you take the time to cook them long enough for the herbs to turn dark green and aromatic, but be careful not to burn them as they turn bitter. Use a pan with large surface to speed up the process and stir frequently.
If you’re good at multi-tasking in the kitchen, you can start frying your onions and herbs simultaneously. It takes about the same time for both to get ready which means shaving off 20 minutes of cooking time.
To fry the onions, add 4 tablespoons oil to a deep pan. Add onions and cook for up to 20 minutes or until slightly golden. Start with high heat and half way through cooking reduce heat to medium low. I don’t bother caramelizing my onions because it’s real time consuming and could take up to an hour. As long as onions are fried anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, your stew will have all required flavors of a tasty Persian stew. Since this stew is meatless, I fried the onions for a good 20 minutes to create a rich and flavorful stew.
Once the onions are ready, add the seasonings and dried limes limoo amani. Persian limes transform any dish by adding a pleasantly sour and aromatic tang of citrus to it. To pierce the limes, place them on a towel on the counter. Hold them with one hand so they don’t roll off the counter and use your other hand to pierce them using a fork or a knife, a fork is safer! As the stew’s cooking liquid flows through the holes in the limes, they add a scented tang and a subtle complexity to the entire dish.
Add fried herbs and hot water to the onions and bring the stew to a gentle boil. Lower heat to medium low, cover the pan and cook for about 30 minutes.
Stir in the drained kidney beans. I always rinse them thoroughly to get rid of the excess salt and starch and also the metallic flavor sometimes found in canned beans. It’s best to cook your own beans if you have the time. You can add the raw beans with the fried herbs if you like, but then you have to adjust the amount of water and the cooking time since the beans absorb the liquid and take longer to cook. Another option is to cook the beans up to a few days in advance.
As the stew finishes cooking, oil separates to the top and the liquid reduces in volume concentrating all the flavors. I don’t usually add saffron to ghormeh sabzi, but a friend of mine taught me to spoon saffron water (dissolved saffron in hot water) over it after it’s transferred to a serving bowl. You can’t go wrong with saffron :).
Vegetarian Ghormeh Sabzi
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 1 hour 30 min
Ready in: 2 hours
Yields: 4 servings
3 cups chopped parsley
3 cups chopped green onions
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek
½ cup olive oil divided
1 large onion chopped
1½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground
½ teaspoon turmeric
4 large or 6 small whole Persian limes pierced with a fork
1 can red kidney beans (15 oz.) drained
2 cups hot water
Add fresh chopped herbs, dried fenugreek and 4 tablespoons oil to large frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes or until the herbs become dark green and fragrant. Stir frequently.
In a medium-sized pan, fry onions in 4 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes or until golden. Stir in salt, pepper, turmeric and limes. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add fried herbs to onion mixture along with 2 cups hot water. Stir to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes.
Add kidney beans and cook 10 more minutes or until oil separates to the top.
Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve vegetarian ghormeh sabzi over fluffy and aromatic basmati polo.