|Khoreshte Aloo Esfenaj|
One key step to consider is visiting your local Persian or Mediterranean Market to purchase dried Persian plums which is not pitted, yet peeled. These plums tend to be sweet and sour and slightly more firm than dried plums sold in most other markets. Dried prunes can be a substitute if you can't find dried Persian plums; however, the flavor profile is largely altered.
Khoreshte Aloo Esfenaj is high in fiber and iron. This earthy sweet and sour stew is rich in flavor which stems from the use of spinach, and fruity and floral with a sweet tang with the use of plums. Served with Persian rice, I hope these stews will soon become your favorites.
4 lamb shanks with bone (ask butcher to section each shank into thirds); omit if preparing vegetarian option
3 cups plums ( in a medium size bowl, soak plums in cold water for two hours prior to cooking; about 2 cups of water or until all the plums are fully submersed in water)
4 lbs. of washed spinach roughly chopped and steamed (if making Spinach Stew)
2 large onions; sliced thin
4 tablespoons of tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5-6 cups of hot water
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron
1/2 teaspoon each sea salt and black pepper
6 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
In a large pot over medium low heat, warm 4 tablespoon of oil and sauté onions until golden brown; stir frequently to prevent onions from burning or developing black outer edges. Increase heat to medium and stir in turmeric and tomato paste and cook for an additional 5 minutes to blend in well all three ingredients. Add lamb shanks with bone and brown all sides slightly for 8-9 minutes (omit this step if preparing vegetarian option); season liberally with salt and pepper (approximately 1/2 teaspoon each). With a slotted spoon, remove plums from water and add plums to pot. Do Not discard liquid in which plums had been soaked and add liquid to pot making certain to not add the settled sediments on the bottom of the bowl which might contain sand. Pour into pot boiling hot water just until lamb shanks are covered. Boil stew for 10 minutes over high heat. Remove and discard with a large spoon any 'foam' that might collect on top of the stew from the lamb. Bring heat to low and cover pot with lid. If making Spinach stew, in a large sauté pan over medium heat add 2 tablespoons of oil and add spinach. Sauté until spinach is wilted (5-6 minutes). With the back of a large spatula squeeze out any liquid from the spinach and add ONLY the spinach to the simmering lamb and plums. Simmer for 2 hours and occasionally stir stew gently to incorporate all the flavors. Taste for additional salt which might be needed and add lime juice. Stir in saffron before serving. Spoon stew into a large serving bowl along with a platter of Persian Rice. Be cautious and warn guests of plums containing pit! Each bite should be savored and slowly enjoyed; suggestions would be to separate plum from pit with spoon prior to consuming.