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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hungry Dancer goes International: Persian stew, Abgoosht

Before meeting my husband, I knew nothing about Persian cooking, much less Persian culture. Of course, being married to a tall, dark and handsome Persian man is slowly enlightening my ignorance.

I say this with no judgement since I was in the same boat, but most Americans are clueless about what Persian even means, so here's a quick crash course. Persian is the culture of the people from Iran. The name comes from Iran's former empirical name, Persia. You may think of modern flicks like "The Prince of Persia" or "300" (the peeps the 300 Spartans were fighting off, led by the abnormally tall and golden-skinned Xerxes, according to Greek legend... the husband hates this movie, btw)... That's the extent of our idea of Persian, according to Hollywood.

Anyway, most people confuse Iran to be part of the Arab world, but they're not. Most of Iran's neighbors are Arab, and they share the Muslim religion, but they're not Arab - they're Persian. And they don't speak Arabic, they speak Farsi. Both are very rich with their own respective histories and cultures, but there are vast differences between the two. I'm no expert, so the culture lesson ends there. I am a hungry dancer, however, so let's move on to the food.

Slowly but surely I'm learning to cook Persian food. I'm not sure why, but cooking middle eastern food is completely intimidating. There's no logic to this, as it's just like cooking anything else: just follow the directions and most likely you will end up with something edible and hopefully delicious.

For starters, there is the rice. Rice is the foundation and staple of Persian cooking and as embarrassing as it is, I was never able to cook rice. Even with a rice cooker. Epicurean fail, I know. But! I'm happy to announce that I can now successfully cook rice, after Hubs walked me through it step-by-step. Now we share the rice-cooking responsibilities (enter his sigh of relief).

I have made a couple of Persian stews, both being successful on my first attempts! The one featured here is called abgoosht.

This is the recipe I followed as a guideline. Per usual, I deviated and forged my own path. My modifications were due to necessity, really. For example, I didn't have lamb or beef stew meat, so I made meatballs instead. I also didn't have four tomatoes, but I had 1 fresh and 1 can of diced, so I figured that would work. And it did.

Abgoosht (Hungry Dancer style) 

All the ingredients are the same according to what the recipe above calls for, except:
1 cup of chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1 cup of pinto beans
1 12-oz can of diced tomatoes
1 fresh tomato

A note about the beans:
I used dried beans, but I prepped them using the quick-soak method, which you can find here.

Mix together 1 lb of ground beef, half a finely diced white onion, approximately 1 cup of crushed saltine crackers, 1 egg and salt & pepper to taste. Mix with your hands. Don't be afraid to get in there and get dirty. If the mixture is too wet, just gradually add more cracker crumbs. Form and roll into balls. Set aside.

Toss the other ingredients into the slow cooker, starting with the chopped onions.

Top the onions with the meatballs.

Add the beans, canned tomatoes and spices.

Pour about 8 cups of water over all of this. Cover and turn the slow cooker on high.

After three to four hours, I added the fresh tomato (which I coarsely chopped) and the potatoes.

If you use dry beans like I did, plan for 10-12 hours of cooking time. If you use canned beans, I estimate that it will take about 5-6 hours on high (to ensure that the meat is cooked through and the potatoes are soft).

Note: The traditional way to eat Abgoosht is to strain the meat and veggies from the liquid, puree the meat and veggies until smooth, and then serve the meat/veggie puree alongside the liquid. (See pic here.) The husband and I are fans of chunky soup and stew, so I skipped this step.

Enjoy with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of plain yogurt, and a slice of crusty bread on the side!

The verdict: I received two thumbs up from Hubs. He said the stew tasted just like it should. Take that, rice!

You should try this. The spices are warm and savory and it's perfect for a chilly day. It's not difficult at all - I mean, the slow-cooker does all the cooking, after the prep work is complete. Let me know if you try it and how it turns out!

Are there seemingly "simple" foods you struggle to cook with success? Oh, like rice?

Bon appetit!


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