Updated: Feb 9, 2022
This lovely artichoke khoresh, or stew, is scented with dried Persian limes, saffron, and lots of herbs. Served alongside a light mound of fragrant saffron rice with a terrific side dish of thick strained soy yogurt, mixed with Swiss chard, leeks, and roasted garlic for a delightful, healthy Persian supper. Of course, you can also enjoy any of these three components separately.
Note: Lightly fermented dried Persian limes are popular throughout the Middle East. Used whole to flavor a stew or soup and then discarded, they can also be ground and sprinkled over a dish to deepen and elevate its flavor. You can find them in ethnic markets and online.
Herby Persian Artichoke Celery Chickpea Khoresh
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 1 hour, most of which
Serves 4 to 5
Pinch of good quality saffron threads, crushed and steeped in 2 tablespoons hot water
2 Persian dried limes, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes or until softened
12 fresh baby artichokes, as small as possible, stems included, or 10-ounce jar or can artichoke hearts packed in water, or frozen, defrosted
2 onions, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 ½ cups celery, about 5 stalks, cut in ¼-inch slices
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas from 15.5-ounce can, no sodium, or made from about ½-cup dried beans
2 cups unsalted vegetable broth, heated
1 cup mixed fresh herbs, chopped, like mint, parsley, dill, cilantro, basil
Several grinds of black pepper
2 tablespoons shiro (mild, white) miso paste, diluted in hot water, or to taste
Garnishes: additional fresh chopped herbs, lemon wedges, lemon zest or ground dehydrated lemon powder
To make a saffron “tea” use a mortar and pestle to finely crush the saffron in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons
hot water and allow to steep until use.
In a small bowl cover the the dried limes with boiling water and steep for about 20 minutes or until softened. Discard the soaking water and puncture the limes in a few places with a skewer or chopstick. Set aside.
Tiny fresh artichokes have no chokes to remove. To prep, slice off the bottom of their stems, and remove the outer leaves until you reach the pale interior layers. We will cook them whole. If using jarred, canned, or frozen artichoke hearts, rinse gently and leave whole if they are less than ¾-inch wide. Otherwise, slice in half lengthwise.
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat for 3 minutes. Add the onions, cover, and allow to sweat and soften for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic, celery, raw artichokes, if using, and one tablespoon of saffron tea. If the mix is dry, add a few tablespoons of the hot broth. Cook on low for 10 minutes during which time the vegetables will soften and their flavors will blend.
Add the heated broth now and the punctured, soaked dry limes, and cover. Bring to a simmer. Now add the chopped mixed herbs and cook for another 45 minutes. Now add the jarred, canned, or frozen artichokes, cover, and cook for a final 10 minutes.
Season to taste with black pepper and shiro miso, and stir in the remaining saffron tea.
Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, and either a squeeze of fresh lemon or sprinkling of lemon zest or lemon powder.
Persian Saffron Rice
Most Persian rice recipes include plenty of oil and butter. This healthier version uses whole basmati and excludes the added fats. Its flavor is defined by the nutty, delicate rice, and floral saffron.
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Serves 4 to 5
2 cups brown basmati rice
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed and steeped in 1/3 cup hot water
Several grinds white pepper or to taste (optional)
2 tablespoons shiro (mild white) miso paste, diluted in 4 tablespoons hot water (optional)
“Bloom” the saffron in a tea, as described in the khoresh recipe above.
Wash and rinse the rice in cool water several times until the water is clear. Persian saffron rice is made in two stages: First it is par-cooked in boiling water; then it is steamed. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook at a slow boil for 10 minutes. Drain and submerge in cold water to halt its cooking. Drain again. Add the miso and pepper, if using, and toss it well with clean hands to gently spread it evenly.
Add 1/3 cup of water to a medium-sized pot with a multi-ply bottom and a tight fitting lid. Add half the saffron tea and stir 1 cup of the par-cooked rice in well. Now start adding the remaining rice, spooning it gently in with a large mixing spoon. Be careful not to compact the rice. Mound it lightly, higher in the pot’s center, lower at its perimeter, until all the rice is added. Pour the remaining saffron tea over the rice mound. Use a chopstick to poke 10 to 12 holes in the mound to facilitate its steaming evenly.
Cover and cook on low for about 30 minutes. The trick is to know your stove. Since we are not using oils or butter, we need to steam the rice very gently without burning the bottom. If your nose senses any hint of burning, lower the heat immediately, and add ¼ cup water to the rice.
After 30 minutes the rice will be steamed but damp. In its final cooking phase, we absorb its excess liquid, leaving the rice grains plump, light, and fluffy. Place a clean absorbent dish cloth under the lid and close tightly. Cook for a final 25 to 30 minutes over very low heat. The cooked rice will be speckled white and gold and fragrant. You can plate and serve the saffron rice immediately.
Persian Yogurt with Chard, Leeks, Garlic
This lusciously rich and creamy dish pairs nicely with the artichoke khoresh and saffron rice. It also makes a delicious dip for crudité, and whole grain crackers and crisps.
Prep time: 2 hours to strain the yogurt + 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes 1 ½ cups
2 ½ cups soy yogurt, strained for 1 ½ to 2 hours
1 head garlic, roasted
4 to 5 thin young leeks, white and greens, cut in 1/8-inch slices
2 large bunch Swiss chard leaves only, torn crudely and rinsed
Grinds of black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon shiro miso paste, or to taste
Thick homemade soy yogurt is particularly delicious in this dish, with additional nutritional benefits as a true probiotic food, unlike most commercial brands. I strain it in a large square of muslin, use string to tie the yogurt up into a bag, and hang it for 1 to 2 hours over the sink or a bowl to slowly reduce its amount of watery whey. Strained yogurt’s thicker texture provides a richer, creamier mouthfeel.
Remove the outer papery leaves on the garlic head. Dry roast the intact head in a 375° oven for 30 minutes. Cool. Break into cloves, peel them, and slice thinly.
Heat a large skillet over a medium-low heat for 3 minutes. Add the wet torn chard leaves, cover, and cook until just wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Place the wilted leaves in a strainer poised over a bowl, and allow it to drain. When it is cool, squeeze out as much liquid as possible, and chop the chard.
Leaving any residual chard juices in the skillet, reheat the pan on medium-low and stir in the leeks. Cover and sweat the leeks for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. It they begin to darken and adhere to the pan, add a tablespoonful or two of the chard’s juices. The leeks are ready when they are soft, fragrant, and golden here and there.
In a large bowl combine the chopped chard, sautéed leeks, and sliced roasted garlic. Scrape the strained yogurt from the muslin and add to the bowl. With a large spoon, combine well. Season to taste with pepper and shiro miso, making sure the miso is distributed evenly throughout the dish. Serve at room temp.