1 package of grass-fed beef, cubed (the more, the merrier)
2 cups of dried yellow lentils (also known as chana dal)*
1 six-ounce can of tomato paste
5 medium to small sweet onions, chopped
3 tablespoons of ground turmeric
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 dried omani (also known as “dried lemon”)*
fresh ground pepper
2 teaspoons of agave syrup or honey
* these ingredients can be purchased at a middle eastern market or halal market.
listening to: khaled – henna
as per my bio, there will probably be a disproportionate amount of persian food on this blog. i married a persian, and it did not take me long to fall in love with the cuisine. this is one of my friend tabi’s favorite dishes to make, and she likes to add grilled eggplant whenever she prepares it. if this is your first foray into cooking persian, i hope it’s not your last.
many people complain inordinately about navigating through an international foods market. alas, many of the ingredients necessary to prepare some of the most amazing dishes can only be found in their dimly lit labyrinths. so, quit your bellyaching, take a deep breath, and ask the man with the strong accent where you can find “omani” and “chana dal”. chances are that he (or she) will be very glad to share this information . . . and then some.
start the dish by pouring 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a large pot with a lid on medium low heat. once the oil starts to shimmer and shift, add all the chopped onions and stir briskly to coat them with oil. spread the onions into an even layer on the bottom of the pot.
immediately place the cubes of beef on top of the layer of onions. i prefer to cut the cubes into smaller than normal size because it helps them cook quickly and also keeps them tender. DO NOT mix them in with the onions — just let them rest on top. sprinkle kosher salt and fresh ground pepper over the beef cubes before swirling a small amount of olive oil onto them. now, pour half a cup of water over the onions and beef. for the next step, please don’t be shy . . . sprinkle all three LIBERAL tablespoons of turmeric and the teaspoon of cinnamon on top of the beef cubes. DO NOT MIX OR STIR. finally, put the lid on the pot and set the temperature of the onion and beef mixture right between medium and low. leave it alone, for now. i’m serious.
take out a midsize frying pan and pour one tablespoon of olive oil into it. once the oil shimmers on low heat, add the two cups of yellow lentils to the frying pan.
cook the lentils on medium to low heat for a few moments before adding the entire can of tomato paste. carefully stir the paste into the lentils. then, add one cup of water to the mixture. bring it to a boil and let it simmer for a few moments. now, add the contents of the frying pan into the pot of beef and onions.
after this is completed, you now have permission to stir the mixture. once everything is incorporated, it is up to your judgment to determine how much water to add. i usually cover all the ingredients in water and then add a little more, but i like the sauce to be a bit runny.
once you’ve added the water and mixed it all together, put two whole omani into the water. now, omani is one of these things that looks a little like a treat for the dark gods. it’s essentially dried lemons. it looks strange and smells a bit off, but is one of those quintessential ingredients in persian cooking. if you buy a bag, it is sure to last you a while, so don’t be shy. the omission of this ingredient will warrant a strong “tsk, tsk” from me, so try your best to make sure this doesn’t happen. it really has a strong impact on the flavor of the dish. i hope this entire longwinded paragraph convinces you of its necessity.
now, add the two teaspoons of agave syrup or honey to cut through the tartness of the tomato paste. stir it altogether, and bring it to a boil. add salt and pepper, but be careful not to overseason. the stew will get saltier as the sauce reduces. i like to season again right before serving.
be sure to cook with the lid on for at least 1.5 hours on low heat. stir carefully so as not to break apart the lentils. after 1.5 hours, taste to make sure it is well-seasoned with salt and pepper.
lastly, remove the omani before serving over basmati rice. i usually prepare this dish alongside mast do khiar (persian yogurt sauce) and salad shirazi.