Persian Rhubarb Stew
خورشت ریواس; Khoresht-e-Rivas
Some produce are highly seasonal, which makes their arrival that much more exciting. Rhubarb for one, comes with Spring and is gone for Summer. In the meanwhile, rhubarb-hyphenated everything makes its way to the specials menus, with strawberry definitely being a popular pairing for the other side of that hyphen. In Seattle, lucky for us, rhubarb season extends past the summer solstice deadline, as it hasn’t really warmed up at all anyway. Rachel’s Ginger Beer has a strawberry-rhubarb moscow mule perfect for patio sipping, Cupcake Royale makes a rhubarb crumble ice-cream fit for the warmer days, and the French cafe on our corner, Belle Epicurean, has a rhubarb lemon brioche, the brightest of all their buns. And Pie Bar always, no matter the season, has a bomb strawberry-rhubarb slice with crumble topping- my absolute favorite of all pies. Thank goodness for freezers.
This weekend, while we were visiting dear friends in their charming new Vermont home, I discovered pounds of rhubarb bagged away in their freezer. So, when they mentioned they had ran out of ideas to keep up with their rhubarb supply, I suggested khoresht e rivas, Persian rhubarb stew. It’s fragrant and balanced, rich and bright, savory and tart all at the same time. Rhubarb can be more than just dessert. In fact, in Iran, rhubarb is almost only consumed in stews, as a tart component to a savory khoresht.
We used to live across the river in New Hampshire while attending grad-school, so although it took us a 7 hour flight and 2 1/2 hour drive to get to Quechee, it felt as though we had never left. We drove to the Co-Op for the remaining ingredients, and while the store had expanded and much had changed, it was all familiar. I still knew my way through the aisles, and to the butcher counter. Although the dish is traditionally made with stewing lamb or beef, I settled for 4 lamb loin chops. Two bouquets of parsley, one mint, an onion, and a bottle of wine.
I started cooking the night before, and let it simmer on low all night. In the morning, we were driving off to Burlington, to take a walk down Church Street and enjoy the breeze of Lake Champlain. When we would return, dinner would already be ready. We would ladle it over rice speckled with saffron like the fireflies in the night sky we could see out the windows. The crisp air would fill the room and crickets would perform live. We would laugh and ooh and ahh. And indeed, for dessert we would have a scoop of local ice cream (Vermont and New Hampshire do have the best dairy) and a delicious slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie
4 lamb loin chops, or 1-2 pounds stewing meat of choice
2 bunches parsley
1 bunch fresh mint
1 onion, diced
1-2 cups of rhubarb, chopped
Finely chop the parsley and mint. You can do so in a food processor, and you can do so mixed together. The measurements do not need to be exact, but a 2 to 1 ratio of parsley to mint is a good reference. You can always increase the portion of both herbs, or just the parsley, but because you will fully cook the mint, too much mint can be overpowering and slightly bitter.
Rinse and pat the lamb dry (any residual water can either cause splatter or disrupt the browning process). Season with salt, pepper, and turmeric.
Heat oil in a pan. I prefer coconut oil myself. To test whether or not the oil is ready, press a wooden spoon in the pan; if little bubbles form, the oil is hot enough to sear the meat. Brown the meat for a few minutes on each side, turning it on its fattier edges also if needed. Remove the meat from the pan and temporarily set aside. The meat will continue cooking later in the stew.
Add the diced onion to the oil, which has now been enriched by the lamb fat as well. Saute with salt, pepper, and additional turmeric, until soft and lightly golden. Now in goes the herbs. Saute and season.
Add the meat back in and pour in just enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then back down to a simmer. The perfume of the herbs, especially the mint, starts to be mesmerizing.
Now is a good time to add a couple teaspoons of saffron water.
Season to taste.
The stew can continue to simmer for a few hours, until the meat is tender. I let mine cook overnight on minimal heat. If you do not feel comfortable leaving the heat on because you do not have an electric stovetop or for any other reason, you can also transfer it to a slow cooker (or cook it during the day while you’re at home catching up on laundry, emails, and grading). Like with any Persian stew, the longer it cooks the better. And besides time, there’s not much else to it.
Add the rhubarb 15-20 minutes prior to serving.