The khoresht, or stew, is at the core of the Persian kitchen. There is a myriad of versions and interpretations of each khoresht, with recipes passed on through oral tradition. Meat and vegetables, legumes or fruit usually constitute the base, and the most delicious often have an intense current of musky saffron running through them. The central idea is to create a dish in which hot, sour and sweet flavours are in balance.
As the leaves begin to turn vermillion, I long for a warm, rich stew to ladle over fragrant basmati rice and eat with torshi (pickled vegetables) on a Friday night in with my family. This khoresht, made with chicken, prunes and apricots, is one of my favourites. Do buy Persian saffron. It's a bit of an investment, but a pinch goes a long way and gives your stew that ambrosial quality (in the Greater Toronto Area it's available from several stores, including Tavazo in Thornhill). In Iran, this dish is traditionally made with golden plums, but I find it easier to use prunes.
The beauty of any stew is that it is forgiving and doesn't require complete culinary precision: You can add more or less water and season it to your liking. Vegetarians can substitute legumes, such as kidney beans, for the meat.
I like some heat from ginger and chili pepper flakes to complement the sweet and sour flavours, but the permutations are endless. Make the khoresht your own.
Servings: 4 to 5
3 tablespoons neutral oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
1 medium-size onion, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 bone-in skinless chicken thighs and legs
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes or powder (optional)
1 1/2 cups crushed tomato sauce
2 1/2 to 3 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon Persian saffron threads, crushed into powder in a pestle and mortar, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup dried apricots
Juice of two limes
Herbs of your choice, for garnish
Place a wide, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid on the stove on medium heat and add oil. Add onions and sauté for 10 minutes, till they turn slightly golden but not brown.
Turn heat to medium-high and add garlic, chicken and turmeric, and sauté till the chicken has lost its raw pink colour, about five minutes. Add cumin powder, salt, chili pepper and tomatoes. Sauté for five minutes, till the spices are fragrant and the tomato sauce has reduced and looks like a thick jam. (If you find the sauce is sticking to the pan, reduce heat and add 2 tablespoons of water.)
Add lukewarm water, saffron water, cinnamon stick, grated ginger, prunes, dried apricots and lime juice, and gently stir. Reduce heat and cover with a lid to simmer for 40 minutes.
Before serving, taste and adjust for salt. Serve with your favourite fresh herbs strewn on top, alongside rice or bread.