I was introduced to Iranian/Persian cuisine at the Raleigh International Festival. About 5 years ago, I tried a soup at the Iranian booth called Ash-e reshteh, and it blew my mind! This was a combination of flavors I hadn’t tried before, I had never been to a Persian or Iranian restaurant, and had never made a dish like that at home. But somehow it was instant comfort food, like my tongue recognized it even though I had never tasted it before. A similar phenomenon happens sometimes when I hear a new song on the radio, it feels like I know it already, like it’s already a part of my history, part of me – even though I’m just hearing it for the first time.
This soup was so yummy that I knew I couldn’t wait until the next year to try it again – so I wrote down the name, looked up a recipe online and made it for myself. It is a complex recipe, with lots of ingredients, but very much worth the effort in the end (I’ll share that recipe later this month sometime).
In the intervening years, I have tried a few other Iranian dishes, all very tasty, but that’s the only one I have attempted to cook at home. So I’m very excited about this month’s cooking. In preparation for the experience, I ordered a cookbook called Persian Cooking for a Healthy Kitchen by Najmieh Batmanglij, who seems to be the premier English language cookbook author for Persian cooking. This first recipe comes from that cookbook.
A common type of dish called khoresh (also spelled khoresht, or khorisht) is a stew or thick sauce, often containing meat but sometimes vegetarian, that is served with rice. In this recipe, the khoresh is a chicken curry with onion and celery, simmered to absorb the flavors, with tangy yogurt added at the end. Don’t let the longer cooking time fool you, it’s actually a very simple recipe that only takes about 10-15 minutes of hands-on cooking. My friends know that I’m not a very demonstrative person, but I have to tell you that when I tasted the first bite of this dish I exclaimed out loud to myself (or maybe to my cat?), “Oh… My…God!”, Janice-style :) It is so delicious, you’ll love it!
Khoresh-e Mast (Yogurt Khoresh)
3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 12 oz. total), cut into bite-sized pieces
3/4 c. onion, diced
1 large stalk celery, diced
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. curry powder
2 tsp. flour
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 c. nonfat yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp. canola oil
Heat some olive oil in a medium-sized non-stick pan and saute chicken, onion and celery for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add salt pepper, curry powder and flour, and stir together while cooking for a minute. Then add lime juice, mix well and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and let simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Measure the yogurt into a small bowl, add 1/4 tsp. salt and the cornstarch dissolved in oil. Mix well. Adding the cornstarch/oil mixture is supposed to prevent the yogurt from curdling when it is heated (the recipe suggests that an egg may be substituted to mix into the yogurt, but I haven’t tried that). After the hour, add the yogurt mixture to the chicken off the heat and mix gently. Continue to heat over very low heat for about 5 minutes, while stirring. Don’t let it come to a boil. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve over basmati rice, and garnish with almonds and raisins.
This recipe makes 2 generous servings.