I was in Erbil, Kurdistan (Iraq) for a few days recently; I visited the Bazaar in front of the old Citadel, of course, and neighborhood markets; I noticed that the vast majority of dry goods were imported from Turkey; in addition, there were a few items from Iran and I brought back Iranian saffron and dates and a box of qormeh sabzi.
Qormeh sabzi is an herb mixture cooked with meat (or poultry or fish or beans) as a stew and figures on the menu of all of the Persian restaurants I had been to in the US. The herbs consist of parsley, scallions or chives, cilantro and fenugreek, all chopped and normally fresh. The boxed mix is available in Middle-Eastern or Iranian markets in the US. The strong fragrance of fenugreek dominates this stew.
I made it upon my return using a combination of fresh herbs and that dry mix brought back from Erbil.
Another ingredient in the stew is dried limes which are sold in all the Middle-Eastern groceries in the US as well. They are called limu-omani in Persian or noomi Basra in Arabic; they are used a lot in Iraqi cooking as well (not in Lebanese cuisine). The limes give out a wonderful concentrated lime flavor when pricked and allowed to simmer with the stew. They can also be broken up; discard the seeds and add the pieces of dried peel to the stew.
There is another use for these dried limes which I will post later this week.
INGREDIENTS: 4 to 6 servings
- 1 lb. lamb shanks or chicken pieces or fish or 2 cans of beans ( I used 3/4 cup of white beans soaked overnight but kidney beans are traditional)
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 tbsp oil
- salt, to taste, a pinch of black pepper, 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 2 dried limes (pricked in 3 spots) or the juice of 2 fresh limes
- 2 cups chopped fresh parsley, 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1 cup chopped scallions, 1 chup chopped fenugreek OR use the box of dried herb mix, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes prior to usage
NOTE: If you cannot find the box mix, use dried fenugreek (1/4 cup) and the rest fresh.
1. Heat the oil and fry the chopped onion with the meat or chicken; add the spices and herbs and fry for a few minutes longer till fragrant; add water to the pot (more if using meat and less if using chicken, 2 to 4 cups of water total). Add the dried limes, cover and simmer the stew for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the type of meat used. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve with rice, preferably Basmati or long-grain.
NOTE: If using beans, simmer longer; if using canned beans, 30 minutes should be sufficient.
This dish is inspired by a recipe in Najmieh Batmanglij’s New Food of Life.