But it pains me to admit this because many vegans (like the ones JP Sears is parodying in this video) give us a bad name. Really, it could be argued that most vegans give vegans a bad name, and there are very few of us who are not pretentious fucks, but I digress.
I have been vegetarian for 4.5 years, and vegan for 2 years because I have a “colicy gallbladder” (according to a recent perambulation through my medical records), and because my electrophysiologist thinks being vegan could reverse my heart problem.
But before all this happened…
I could really cook the fuck out of some #NotVegan food. Especially Iranian food.
If I weren’t vegan, I would be cooking these Iranian dishes this week.
1. Tahdig ته دیگ
Tahdig is a must-have for your Iranian meals. Tahdig means “bottom of the pot” and is what happens when you leave rice on the stove for too long. I was told it goes back to when the Persians were cooking over open flame (you know, before non-stick cookware), and the bottom of the pot of rice would always crisp up. They found a way to turn it into a tasty, crispy, crunchy, buttery treat. Tahdig refers specifically to the crispy layer.
I had started typing out my whole process for you guys when I realised I have no pictures, and this is a dish that needs some pictures to accompany it. I happily found a guy on YouTube who does it pretty close to the way I do it.
2. Ghormeh Sabzi قورمه سبزی
This is one of my all time favourite Iranian dishes. I was taught how to make it by an old family friend of ours.
You basically take a fuckload of onions, herbs, kidney beans, and meat, and throw it into a pot, cook until delicious, and serve over rice.
This recipe from MyPersianKitchen.com is closest to the way I was taught.
Get some limu omani and throw them into the pot. Limu omani are little dried Iranian limes. Take a knife or a nut pick and stab some holes into the limu and add into the pot with your stew. They soak up all the meat juice and turn into little exploding flavour grenades in your mouth.
Trigger Warning (or Joy Warning, depending on your perspective): This dish is like… 50% cilantro.
3. Fesenjan خورش فسنجان
Fesenjan is a pomegranate walnut chicken stew. It’s rich and soooo delicious. You basically slow cook chicken with walnuts and pomegranate molasses until the chicken falls apart.
Pomegranate molasses is hard to come by if you don’t have a good Persian Grocery, but it’s fairly easy to make if you can get your hands on pomegranate juice.
On the stove in a non-stick pan add 4 cups of pomegranate juice, 1 cup of sugar, and 2/3 cup of lemon juice. Slow cook until reduced down to 1 cup of liquid. With so much lemon juice, this keeps in the fridge for a long time in case you have any left after you make fesenjan.
Fesenjan is one of those dishes that every Iranian family I know has a different method for, and as you cook it more frequently, you’ll discover your own methods. But this recipe from SimplyRecipes.com is a good place to start.
4. Mast-o-khiar ماست و خیار
This is a cucumber and yogurt sauce that bears a remarkable resemblance to tzatziki. Again, this is a recipe that basically every family has a version of.
The spread should be pretty thick with big chunks of cucumbers, a subtle undertone of rose, and a refreshing mintyness that doesn’t hit you right away.
I’m really bad about measuring things. Like OMWC I combine things until they taste right, so my recipe for mast-o-khiar is fairly free form.
In a bowl add plain yogurt, diced cucumber with the seeds removed or it’ll be too watery, a teeny-tiny bit of chopped mint, and a dash of rose water. I like to add 1 part labneh for every 2 parts of yogurt to thicken it up a little bit. Labneh is basically Lebanese cream cheese. If you can’t find it near you, you can make it with this recipe.
If you want a recipe with measurements, this one from Sunset Magazine is surprisingly authentic.
5. Khorake Loobia Sab خوراک لوبیا سبز
While the name of this dish is “green bean stew” beef plays a major role, as do potatoes. Khorake loobia sab doesn’t taste very green-beany. Instead it’s rich, and comforting with incredible umami. Key ingredients are beef, green beans, potatoes, onions, cayenne pepper, and turmeric. You can easily make this dish spicy by using more cayenne pepper or replacing it entirely with a spicier pepper. Khorake loobia sab holds up well to spice.
For best results make sure you get stew beef that has some fat in it. I always hated eating fat, but it adds an essential richness to this dish.
Most recipes call for sour plums to balance it out. You could omit them and replace with a bit of lemon juice, or limu omani.
Get started with this recipe from PersianMama.com.
A couple notes:
I’ve never seen a recipe discuss this for khorake loobia sab or ghormeh sabzi, but you can really improve the quality of a cheap cut of meat for both of these recipes with this technique:
Get a cut of beef roast like something you would use for London Broil. The day before you plan to cook the beef cover it with honey and/or diced onions and stick in a dish to marinate. Both honey and onions contain enzymes which tenderize the meat. It will be so tender that you will be able to slice into the meat with a spoon without overcooking it. Remove the onions and use them in the recipe for some extra beefy-ness.
Most Iranian entrees go well with a dash of sumac, which can be hard to find. I order mine from Amazon.
Most of these dishes can be made vegan by replacing the meat with a vegan alternative. It would be hard to do mast-o-khiar vegan.
Featured image: Mazandaran Province, Iran