Sunday, August 3, 2008

khoresh e rivaas (rhubarb stew) Part I

When I came across rhubarb last week at the Farmer's market, I was sure that this would be the last rhubarb for the season. My rhubarb experiences this summer were limited to raw rhubarb dipped in vanilla-sugar (that's so British!) and a rhubarb compote. It was a couple of weeks where I looked for rhubarb at every farmer's market I came across, but I was told that its too late. So, when I saw the red sticks at the Cambridge campus, I didnt hesitate. And where were they going to end up? A rhubarb stew.

Its funny that the very first stew I'm writing about is a dish I've never had before. Notice: its not that I've never made this before, I've never tasted it before! Rhubarb stew wasnt among the dishes my mom made, and I never came across rhubarb, as it was not a very widely-used vegetable at home. Not that unusual dishes didnt appear in my mom's kitchen; However rhubarb stew was not among them.

Let me tell you a bit about persian stews. If you recall from the rice cooking posts (cooking rice, post I) persian style rice is prepared either as polou or chelou; Chelou, the plain rice is served with stews or kebabs.

Persian stews (khoresh) are slowly cooked dishes made up of meat (mostly lamb or chicken) with green herbs, vegetables or legumes. If you perform a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) on Persian stews, 4 factors (aka eigenvalues) will explain most of the variance: The first one would be the green herb stews. By green herbs I mean parsley, chives, coriander, fenugreek*, mint and basil). The green herbs are chopped very fine and the stews have a tart flavour coming from tart citrus juices added, dried fruit or the vegetable itself. Among this category there are ghorme sabzi (green herbs stew), karafs (celery stew), rivaas (rhubarb) and aloo** esfenaaj (dried plums with spinach). The second category includes stews that have fried (and not sauteed) vegetables in them: baadenjaan (aubergine), kadoo (courgette) and baamiye (okra) fall in this group. Next is gheyme which is small lamb pieces and is the meat ingredient of a few stews: gheyme lappe (split peas with potato chunks), beh (quince) ,etc and the last, but surely not the least would be the fesenjoon (walnut and pomegranate paste), prestigious enough to merit its own category. Is that it? well, like any PCA, there is the question of how many components to retain. Looking at the plot of eigenvalues (scree plot) and noticing where the slope changes dramatically, I will stick with 4, and pigeonhole the rest into the miscellaneous category(morgh o aloo bokhaaraa i.e. chicken with dark dried plums, loobya sabz i.e. green beans...).

Khoresh rivaas continues here

The meat that goes into the stew is either lamb or chicken (duck, quail, pheasant are less frequently used). Fish is not a common ingredient as it doesnt fit the long and slow process of making persian stews, although it could be found in stews prepared in Northern and Southern parts of Iran (bordering Caspian sea, and the Persian Gulf, respectively). If red meat is used, lamb is the best. Beef is not the most proper meat for stew as it is too tough and not flavourful enough, so better forget it. I agree, lamb is a bit pricey, but it is worth it. Remember, you are going to spend at least 2-3 hours making a stew, so do it properly!

Which cut of lamb to use? well, I'm not going to explain all the lamb cuts here (that you should have learned in culinary school !). The lamb cuts at home are not exactly the same as the ones you get from your butcher (or mega-market) in US; for example you would rarely find a whole half cut (shaghe) in US; neither would you find blade chops or tenderloin at home. However, as lamb's anatomy is rather similar whether it grazed in North America or Middle East, the most frequently used cuts are shank (maay-che) and shoulder (shaane), which are among the least tender parts of the lamb, making them suitable for the long process of cooking in water. Backstrap (raaste) can also be used, which is lean and easier to remove the fat when doing smaller gheyme chops (although one would usually save this tender cut of meat for kabaab). In US, the meat labeled as stewing is mostly cut from shoulder, so go for that if you're planning to make a stew.

The other point is that lamb meat at home is obtained somewhat differently from that in US (although the anatomy of the ruminant is similar!). The animal would be slaughtered by a deep swift incision in the neck (severing jugular veins, carotid arteries, trachea and oesophus, and sparing the spinal cord), similar to the way Kosher meat is prepared. In Halaal***preparation of the meat (same for kosher), since ruminants have ejecting blood, a large volume of blood will gush out of the animal's body after slaughter (the spinal cord is intact, so the heart keeps bumping the blood out), then the carcass would be hung upside down for long enough to drain the body of blood (For kosher meat the blood drainage process is continued with treating the meat with kosher salt). In contrast, in Western world the animal is slaughtered after being stunned, and thus the blood doesnt exit the carcass. Which one is tastier? it depends on the dish you're preparing: if you are making a medium-rare juicy steak, I'd definitely go with the latter, while for stew preparations, the former one is preferred as you dont want the metallic taste of blood. This difference might be barely noticeable for chicken, however, for lamb or beef its more pronounced. However, this difference is not huge, and it doesnt lead me to the Middle Eastern butchery to get my lamb: I'm happy with Savenor's (not to mention that I'm also friends with the head butcher).

Edibles needed:

250 gr mint (0.5511 lb !!)

250 gr parsely (0.5511 lb)

500gr lamb meat (1.1022 lb)

500 gr rhubarb (1.1022 lb)

1 medium sized onion (any kind of onion would do, preferably not red onion)

1/2 litre water (~2 cups)

1-2 pinches of advieh khoresh i.e. persian stew-type spice mix (nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, coriander and cardamom)

2-3 pinches of salt

4-5 tbsp of vegetable oil

Non-edibles needed:

frying pan

stew pot (or even better dutch oven)

large cutting board (or food processor) for chopping the green herbs


Get these stuff, and check next week to learn the nuances of making the rhubarb stew!


* I'm referring to the leaves of the plant (shambalile), which is so hard to find fresh in US, not the seeds used as spice.

** In Hindi (and to my knowledge, also shirazi dialect) aloo means potato, but not in Farsi: thats the word meaning plum for non-shirazi Persians!

*** Halaal in Islam is what Kosher is in Judaism.


b said...

could we submit Rapid Communications?
Your rivaas story is nice but cannot be read on the "morning browsings" before the work begins.
I want to submit a rapid communication about Polpette.

mehdi said...

Hi b,

Thanks for reading my blog. I'm blogosphere semi-illiterate,so tell me more about Rapid Communications. Besides, I'm confused: where do you want to post about polpette?


E said...

I´m not that familiar with either persian or american use of rhubarb, but you should really try what we do in sweden - rhubarb lemonade (rabarbersaft). It´s really easy, and has a very sweat-sour taste, perfect for grown ups that still wants a lemonade that is´nt so sweet.