Now that the mayhem of Christmas is over and we’ve had turkey, ham and all the related leftovers for days on end I thought it would be nice to post a Persian recipe and take your taste buds on a journey to the Middle East. I’ve used the word stew above in trying to translate what a khoresht is, and it’s the closest term I could come up with. Khoresht is a meat based sauce or stew which is always accompanied by rice; it’s a staple of Persian cooking and is served daily in Persian households. Think of what curries are to Indians (although khoresht are not at all similar in spicing or flavour profile) and you’ll get a sense of what khoresht is to Persian cuisine. There are many different types of khoresht and whilst nearly all of them use lamb as the meat component the vegetables and herbs vary greatly. This zucchini khoresht is one of my favourites and was served regularly in our house growing up. My mother is an amazing cook, especially of Persian cuisine. In fact I would go so far as to say she makes the best Persian food I’ve ever tasted and visitors to our house are always amazed at her cooking and how much flavour and complexity her dishes have, and I’m talking about Persian guests who are very familiar with the food. I’m always surprised to read recipes for khoresht that stipulate one onion and a scant amount of meat and vegetables. I then look at the photo and sure enough a thin watery looking khoresht is staring back at me. My mother uses no less than 4-5 onions and caramelises them to golden perfection. Her vegetables are always fried and browned before adding them to the sauce and the khoresht is cooked for hours and always finished off by baking in the oven to further enhance and concentrate flavour. Khoresht kadoo, to my mind, is one of the hardest khoresht to make well as it only has four main ingredients; onions, turmeric, lamb and zucchini – so achieving a lot of flavour isn’t as easy as with Khoreshts that include tomatoes for instance. It’s for this reason that I think a lot of khoresht kadoo recipes include tomatoes but this isn’t the classical way of making it. This is a wonderful dish to make in the summer when you have a glut of zucchini growing in the garden and trying to come up with another recipe to use them up – you can happily dispose of 1.5 kgs with this one recipe alone! Serve this khoresht with plain basmati rice and a side plate of red radishes and fresh herbs such as mint and basil.
Ingredients – Serves 4-6 and freezes well
Vegetable oil – use a mild, neutral flavoured oil i.e. not olive oil or peanut oil
4 medium-large onions, finely diced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 kg diced lamb – preferably leg of lamb, removed of all fat and cut into 2cm pieces
1.5 kg zucchini – I prefer the small grey/light green Lebanese zucchini but the normal dark green variety is fine too
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
I prefer to start with the frying of the zucchini and this step can be done a day or two in advance to makes things easier. If you’re using the small grey Lebanese zucchini you will need to peel them first. Regular zucchini can be just washed and left unpeeled. Slice the zucchini lengthways into ½cm slices, you don’t want them too thick. Heat enough oil to generously cover the base of a large non stick frypan over medium heat and when hot put in enough zucchini slices to cover the base of the pan in one layer. Fry until the bottom of the zucchini are golden brown, not just light brown but really golden brown, this can take about 5 minutes or more depending on how high your heat is. Turn the slices over and cook the other side until also golden brown. Remove and set aside on a plate and continue with the rest of the zucchini, adding more oil as necessary. Sprinkle each round of zucchini once they have been browned lightly with salt.
To make the base of the khoresht, heat a good amount of oil, at least a quarter of a cup in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook string frequently until golden brown and caramelised. You may need to add more oil, it’s a lot of onions. You want to take your time with this step as it’s going to make a big difference to the end flavour and colour of the dish. It should take about 20 minutes for the onions to be cooked and you may need to adjust your heat between medium and medium-low to prevent the onions burning or browning too quickly without getting soft and sweet. Add the turmeric and stir it into the onions and cook for a few more minutes. Whilst the onions are cooking place the diced lamb into a large bowl and rinse a few times with cold water. I know this sounds odd but it removes any impurities from the meat and gives the sauce a cleaner flavour. Drain the meat in a colander and dry lightly using some kitchen paper. Once the turmeric has been added to the onions, increase the heat to medium high and add the meat; cook stirring occasionally until the meat has changed colour. Add 1½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and mix well. Bring a kettle to the boil and add enough boiling water so as just the tops of the lamb are peeking through. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook for one hour or until the meat is half cooked. After this time remove the lid and add the lemon juice. Take out some of the sauce and place into a small bowl and add some of the end sections of the zucchini, about 8 small slices, into the bowl and mash it into the sauce. Add this back to the saucepan and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary – you’ll be surprised at how much salt this dish can take. Replace the lid and cook for a further hour to hour and half, checking to make sure that the sauce isn’t running too dry. I usually find that I need to remove the lid for the last 20 minutes of cooking time as you want the sauce to be quite thick. Once the lamb is completely cooked and fork tender take an ovenproof baking dish and lay at least a third of the fried zucchini on the bottom of the dish. Pour the sauce over, reserving a few spoons of juice. Top with the remaining zucchini.
Spoon the reserved juice over the top and place in a 160C oven for anything up to 2 hours but a minimum of 1 hour. Check occasionally to make sure the top isn’t burning and if it is getting too dark place a sheet of foil over the dish. You do want however to achieve a nice golden colour on top, almost too dark,but not burnt. Serve hot or bring to room temperature and then freeze or refrigerate. It can be reheated in a low oven for 30 minutes until hot.