Persian culture offers a large number of stews, of which we are familiar with only a handful. The importance of a stew in Persian culture is tremendous, it brings out the skills of the home chef in providing a nutritious and delicious meal to sustain the family. Most of old Persia is a very harsh land, rocky, mountainous and arid, the extreme climate making it hard to grow vegetables. Those that were grown were cherished and cooking techniques, including stews and soups, were developed to maximize their nutritional value.
In addition, Persia was in the crossroads of ancient trade routes traveling through this region bringing a myriad of spices, cooking techniques and herbs. This resulted in wonderful and elaborate dishes, culminating with delicate and delicious stews. Most Persian stews contain meat, lentils, vegetables, spices and lots of herbs. The characteristic use of lots of herbs, by the bunch, makes cooking a stew a delicate art form, one that maintains the subtle flavors and textures in the dish. The ability of a chef is judged on their ability to make the perfect soup/stew, so much so that the Persian world for chef is derived from the word for soup, "Aush”.
This stew is one of the more popular and classic stews of Persia. The combination of chicken, celery, and herbs come together beautifully in a well balanced flavor profile. The technique involves first enhancing the flavor of the celery by pan sauting it with herbs and then slow braising the chicken with the celery and spices in a herby mix. The resulting stew is nutritious and delicious. This stew does not add lentils to the recipe, I find that the omission of lentils allows the celery and herbs to shine.
This is a beautiful book packed with most of the well known Persian recipes. The instructions are simple and you are guaranteed to fall in love with the tahdig once you master this art. I recommend this book for anyone who is looking for a great starter book on Persian cuisine. For more recipes from this cookbook click here.
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1 medium yellow onion, diced 2 skinless boneless preferably organic chicken breasts, cut in 1″ stewing cubes Salt to taste Pepper to taste 1 teaspoon turmeric powder 1 head celery, sliced in 1/2″-1″ slices green celery tops (leaves) chopped (if using) 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped 3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped plus 1 teaspoon dried mint Juice of 2 lemons or limes, more according to taste 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 5 tablespoons hot (not boiling) water
2-3 cups water, as needed
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, sprinkle with a little salt and saute until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
Add chicken. Give a quick stir add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and turmeric. Stir and saute for 5 minutes. Cover, and turn down heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes until chicken releases some of it juices.
In the meantime heat up remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add celery and celery tops (if using). Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute celery for 10 minutes until softened but not cooked through, stirring occasionally so the celery doesn’t stick.
Add parsley and fresh mint. Stir constantly and saute with celery for about 3 minutes. Turn down heat if needed. Mint can burn very quickly. Keep an eye and a nose on it. If using dried mint, rub the mint between your palms to release fragrance and flavor and add it to the celery only in the last minute. Give a quick stir and turn heat off.
Transfer the celery, parsley, mint mixture to the chicken. Add lemon juice, saffron water, 1 cup water and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Stir everything to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer. Partially cover and simmer over low heat for at least 45 minutes. You want the celery to be cooked and tender but NOT mushy. It should hold its shape. Add more water as necessary. Taste. Adjust for more fresh lemon or lime juice, mint, salt or other herbs as desired.
Serve hot sprinkled with a touch of minced mint and parsley, with a bread of your choice.