Lamb, herb and celery stew
Winter is the season of Persian stews and this is a lovely introduction if you are new to Persian cuisine. Persian stews are relatively low maintenance to cook, which is a bit of a relief as the accompanying rice (chelow) requires attention and precision to create the fluffy grains and moreish Tahdig.
We have two versions of Khoresh Karafs in my family. The first one, the subject of this post and the better known version, is cooked with herbs. The second one is cooked with tomatoes and I will do a separate post on the red version in due course. In my big fat Persian family, we refer to them by their colour: Khoresh Karafs-e-Sabz (‘sabz’ means green in Farsi); and Khoresh Karafs-e-Ghermez (‘ghermez’ means red in Farsi).
The ingredients for this khoresh (stew) are simple and easy to source: onion, lamb, celery, parsley, mint, garlic, fresh lime juice, turmeric and saffron. Every household has its own variation and mine differs from others as I use more mint in my version. The resulting khoresh is lighter and fresher in flavour. The celery is also an equal star of the show and adds a delicious peppery and savoury flavour to the dish. So often celery is hidden in dishes to flavour them but in this case it is a headliner, where it deserves to be.
My family cook our stews with lamb or chicken but I have noticed our US and Canadian counterparts use beef. You can certainly use beef but make sure it is the cut of beef best for stewing i.e. braising beef such as skirt, chuck or blade. In the case of this recipe, the UK has excellent quality lamb so, unless you are not keen on it, it is the best meat to use to complement the herbs. The best cut of lamb to use for this recipe is from the leg and from a butcher. Ask for the leg to be trimmed of the outer layers of fat and to be cut into stew size pieces with the bone. I often buy a full leg of lamb chopped into chunks for stews and then I create separate portions (equivalent for a family of 4, ranging from 600 grams to 1kg depending on the bone to meat ratio) and freeze the lamb portions until I am ready to cook. The slow cooking of the khoresh results in the lamb falling off the bone and melting in your mouth and the stew will be more flavoursome due to the bone broth created.
If you are vegetarian or vegan then other vegetables of your choice which complement the herby flavours and/or meat substitutes such as jackfruit, tofu or quorn are great alternatives.
Although supermarkets have an excellent selection of herbs available, I tend to buy my big bunches of herbs from my local Asian supermarket. Usually it works out to two large bunches of parsley (approximately 250 grams) and one large bunch of mint (approximately 150 grams).
I hope this dish becomes a favourite for you as it has for my family. As with all Persian stews, the flavour continues to mature and intensify if you leave it for a day before you reheat and serve. This is, therefore, a dish you can make on a Sunday evening and tuck into later in the week reducing the time spent in the kitchen and washing up afterwards. Serve it with chelow and either torshi or a salad with a citrus dressing.
My husband recently asked me why Iranians referred to the vegetable and/or fruit element in the names of most of our stews and not the meat. For instance this stew translated is celery stew, there is no reference to the lamb. Khoresh Bademjan, despite being made with lamb, only refers to the aubergine (bademjan). Khoresh Beh ba Aloo refers to the quince (beh) and plums (aloo) despite either being cooked with chicken or lamb. There are exceptions such as Khoresh Gheymeh (a stew made with lamb, yellow split peas and dried limes) and Khoresh Fesenjan (a stew made with chicken or duck with walnuts and pomegranate molasses) which have their own etymology but I will save that history lesson for another time!
Now I don’t know the actual answer so as my husband and I discussed the matter I concluded the position on the following assumptions:
- It is a given that all or most of our stews have meat in them; and
- It is the addition of these vegetables, herbs and/or fruits that change the flavours of the dish given that the core ingredients and spices are often the same e.g. onion, either lamb or chicken, turmeric and saffron.
The variation of these vegetables, herbs or fruits should get top billing in the name of the stews as ultimately it is these hero ingredients that change the flavour profile.
Lamb, herb and celery stew
- 5 tbsp oil or butter or ghee
- 250 g fresh parsley
- 150 g fresh mint
- 1 large head of celery (about 7 to 10 stalks cut into 2 to 3 inch chunks)
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 0.6 to 1 kg lamb on the bone (preferably leg, portioned into chunks approx. 2 to 3 inches width)
- 600 ml water
- 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
- Juice of 1 to 2 fresh limes
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
Take the herbs and remove leaves from the stalks, discard the stalks, and place the leaves in a colander. Wash the leaves and let the water drain out in the time you are working through the next steps of the recipe.
Finely dice your onion.
Take a casserole dish / saucepan which has a lid and a minimum capacity of 3.5 litres and place it on a medium to high heat. Add 1 tbsp of the oil / butter / ghee and brown the lamb and remove from the pan.
Add 2 tbsp of the oil / butter / ghee and then add the diced onions. Cook the onions until they have turned golden (approx. 10 minutes).
Add the crushed garlic cloves and stir, being careful that the garlic does not turn brown and/or burn.
Add the lamb and stir.
Add the turmeric and stir until distributed evenly.
Then add the water and bloomed saffron (the water should just cover the meat so adjust if necessary), place a lid on the pan and turn down the heat to low and let the meat simmer.
In the meantime, take the herbs and finely chop them making sure to mix the mint and parsley until it is evenly distributed. Feel free to use a food processor to chop the herbs but pulse the herbs until they are chopped. If you over-process the resulting herbs will taste bitter.
Then take a frying pan and add 1 tbsp of the oil / butter / ghee and put on a medium/low heat. Add your chopped herbs and stir until the herb mix has softened, being careful not to burn it. A few minutes will suffice. Then add the herb mix to the lamb and stir. Replace the lid.
Take the celery and chop into 2 inch chunks. Sauté the celery on a medium heat in the frying pan, used for the herbs with the remaining tbsp of oil / butter / ghee, for no more than a few minutes. Just enough for the celery to take on some heat from the pan but not soften. Turn the heat off under your frying pan and add the celery to the lamb and herb mixture.
After 5 minutes of simmering, add the fresh lime juice (start with half the lime and then add more), salt and pepper and adjust according to taste.
Continue simmering the stew for a minimum of an hour, stirring gently every 15 minutes and checking the softness of the meat - ideally you want the meat to be falling off the bone.
When ready, turn off the heat and serve with chelow and either torshi or a salad with a citrus dressing.