Tuesday, August 12, 2008
khoresh e rivaas (rhubarb stew) Part II
Now that you've got all the ingredients, we can pursue with making the stew.
Rhubarb stew is similar to celery stew, to a second-order approximation* I would say. In the category of green herb stews, I would group
rhubarb and celery stews together apart from ghorme sabzi, since both of the first two have the aromotic herbs (mint and parsley) compared to ghorme sabzi herbs**.
Pick the mint leaves and discard the stems. For the parsley, cut the stems off leaving only 2-3 cm of the stem with the leaves. Wash the vegetables thoroughly, rinse and pat-dry (or if you've got a salad spinner go for it; I don't have room for one at my place). Now the difficult part comes, which is chopping the vegetables. Green vegetables in persian cuisine are chopped to different fineness depending on the dish, and the size is not even the same for all stews: ghorme sabzi has got the finest, while for rhubarb or celery it would be chopped less fine. If you've got a food processor go for it (however you dont want the vegetable juice get squeezed out, so keep an eye on how much your green vegetables spin in the food processor). In the traditional way (or if you dont have a food processor, like me) you do it with a chef's knife: it should take ~10-15 min at least; anything less than that is too coarse for the stew, and would not yield the proper texture. And the knife-chopping skills to deal with the green herbs, even if you've gone to culinary school, doesnt help: its very special to persian cuisine (which as I mentioned in the first post, cooking rice I, is not taught even at the prestigious CIA!); you should have acquired the skill in a Persian kitchen..., so get yourself a food processor.
I'll tell you later what to do with the chopped herbs.
Cooking persian food starts with the onions; it would be used in almost every dish, and stews are no exception. Onions enhance the flavour of the dish as they are aromatic vegetables: same as mirepoix in French cuisine or soffritto in cucina italiana, which acts as the flavour base. However, there are two differences: First, onion is the only thing we use; there's no celery, carrot or garlic along it. Second, the onion in a mirepoix or soffritto is just sweat, whereas in Persian cuisine its sautéed/pan-fried.
Is that all I've got to know about the tear-causing vegetable? No way! Onion in persian cuisine is cut lengthwise from top to root (lyonnaise style), not the old-school grid method or the radial method. I prefer the lyonnaise shape/texture for stews as it yields quite thin stripes, while other methods give chunky pieces of onion in the stew. Add 1-2 fat pinches of salt to the onion as this will bring out the juice and fasten the process; Add 3-4 tbsp of vegetable oil and bring the heat to medium. In Persian cuisine, the onion is sautéed in the same pot and at the same time with the meat searing. However, I do it separately, as it gives better control on each one's doneness. Besides, when fried with meat, some onion slices get too browned while others are still translucent. Your onion is done when it turns goldish-brown, and the last 2 minutes is tricky as the time-discolouration curve is quite non-linear at that end!(its also non-linear at the beginning, but that wont be a problem). No need to mention you've got to keep stirring the onion regularly, and for the second half of time constantly. There are still nuances on how to avoid the onion going from yellow translucent to getting dark-brownish; If ignored, your onion will be over-done and you've got to do it all again (it did happen to my mom and she had to re-do it, but that was when my auntie called her on the phone!). That, I will leave to be figured out through trial-and-error (hint: Dont ever think of an ice bath or anything similar; its not asparagus or haricot vert).
Try to remove as much fat off from the meat; I'm not saying so for health reasons (which is more than true); lamb in US has got a strong animal-fat odour, which if not discarded will over-power the stew fragrance (my half-Azeri grandma had the same complaint when I once mentioned this to her). Cut the meat into "ghorme" style, which is cubes of ~2-3 cm each side. Pour 2-3 tbsp of oil in the pot (or dutch oven if you've got one) and start searing the meat. What does searing do? When taking Cooking 101 you were told that ...Cant remember, thats fine! Contrary to common belief, searing does not seal the flavours in the meat; it enhances the flavours through caramelisation and other chemical reactions. When the meat is almost done add the spice mix; sautéing spices in the oil for a minute or two will augment the aroma.
When the onion is done, add it to the meat, and then add about half a litre of water (~ 2 cups) to the pot, bringing it to boil. Meanwhile work on the chopped green herbs. Sauté the chopped green herbs for 8-12 minutes in 2-3 tbsp of oil, until it starts turning darkish green (for ghorme sabzi you sauté for 20-25 minutes, however mint will burn if sautéed that long).
Khoresh rivaas continues here
When the water along with the meat and onions reaches a boil, turn it down, so that it is boiling, yet with very small bubbles (reez-joosh, remember the Eskimos?!), add the sauteed herbs, taste the saltiness and add more if needed,and then put the lid on. It should be on the stove for another hour or so.
Start working on the rhubarbs. When buying rhubarbs, go for the thin ones (which I've found only at farmer's markets). when later on I was telling my half-Azeri grandma about my latest culinary adventure, we were both surprised; she that I hadnt peeled the rhubarbs, and I that there were no skin to peel off. (The rhubarbs are sold with the leaves trimmed). So until I come across a rhubarb happily living in the soil, I dont know whether its that thin ones dont have a skin, or there is a skin which departs the journey to the market early in the trip. Anyway, cut the rhubarb into 3-4 cm pieces, then wash and dry. (And who can keep her hands off and avoid sprinkling salt on a few pieces and enjoy the crunchy tart rhubarb). You will sauté the rhubarb pieces, so no water is allowed in the pan. Pour 1 tbsp oil in the frying pan, and when hot enough, add the rhubarbs. Do not stir by spatula, just toss over (as you've seen in cooking shows). Stirring will mash the rhubarbs. Do not sauté more than 3-4 minutes; otherwise they'll become too mushy.
After waiting for an hour or more (that's what makes persian stew unique, both in taste and required time!), take the lid off, and see how much water is left. If there is more than 1.5-2 finger phalanx-length (its not more absurd than inch or foot, is it?!) of water on top of the stew ingredients, bring up the heat only a bit and let it boil with the lid off (No rolling boil). Then add the rhubarbs gently, and let it boil for 5-7 minutes. Leave the rhubarbs more than that, and the rhubarb will get mushy and as Alton Brown says, "that is not good eats."
Your stew is ready. Prepare the rice as mentioned in the previous posts.
When serving, the stew is ladled in a deep dish, and then added to the rice in each individual's plate, and if you have tahdig (either rice or bread) cover that with 1-2 tbsps of stew, break it into pieces, and wait a minute or two so that it will absorb all that juicy stew. When stew is around, every kid wants a larger chunk of tahdig, each complaining that their share is smaller than their siblings, and the desire does not go down with age, until there is no tahdig-eating teeth (yes, this is the word-by-word translation from Persian!) . Tahdig with khoresh, regardless of the type of the stew, is a persian delicacy.
Nooshe jaan (bon appetit!)
* There are still subtle differences between celery and rhubarb stew: the former needs a tart ingredient to be added, while rhubarb doesn't as its tart itself. Besides, rhubarb cooks pretty fast compared to celery: due to this, the way to prepare rhubarb and the time to add it to the stew is different from celery.
** ghorme sabzi herbs: chive, parsley and fenugreek herb. At home you go to the green grocery and ask the vendor for "ghorme sabzi" herbs(or those for any other dish), and you will be given the right herbs at the proper weight ratio for the stew. Its here in US that I've got to pick each of them separately, at different stores.