Ghormeh Sabzi and My Food Photography Course

by Sarah on May 10, 2010

persian lemons

After several months of scheduling, cancellations and postponements, I have finally started a five day food photography course in Tel Aviv.  As an autodidactic and hobbyist, I felt that I was making significant strides in understanding the craft but just one lesson with a professional photographer made me realize just how much I had yet to learn. Daniel Laila, who has contributed to Al Hashulhan culinary magazine, teaches the course which includes only three other participants. (When I finish the course I will put together a tutorial which I will post on this site)

It seems to me that there are some cuisines which are naturally more photogenic than others, with interesting geometric shapes, vibrant colors and sensual textures.  Then there’s Ghormeh Sabzi which is one of my favorite Persian stews yet is draped in moody hues of greens and hardly the enticing lure to put on the cover of a magazine.

fenugreek leaves

Fresh fenugreek and loomi lemons

Looks aside, Ghormeh Sabzi is a wonderful Persian dish made with mountains of aromatic fresh herbs and simmered with black Persian lemons until it forms a rich savory sauce. It is usually served simply with saffron steamed rice, complimenting  the complex flavors of the stew. Green herbs are used abundantly in Persian cuisine, cooked as in this recipe or served simply as they are, to be eaten with the meal.

herbs for sabzi

Green, in fact is the color of rebirth and fertility which has been incorporated into Jewish Persian tradition as well. During Passover celebration for example, which roughly coincides with Nowruz, the Persian New Year, our neighbors drape fresh herbs and lettuce over every door knob of the house. I thought this was a peculiar thing to do until they explained the symbolism behind it.

ghormeh sabzi

Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi

Goulash with green herbs, based on  a recipe from Gideon Kalimian’s Iranian Cooking (Hebrew) which is very similar to Najmieh Batmanglij’s recipe ( New Food of Life)

Here earthy and tart dry Persian lemons are used to add a unique flavor to the dish. These are actually limes which are boiled and left in to dry in the sun until they acquire a gray black color. Persians use herbs in a way vegetables are usually used, not in small amounts to give flavor to a stew but as a central ingredient. Shambalileh, or fenugreek leaves are used sparingly but is essential for an authentic Ghormeh Sabzi (I bought it in Ramle shuk).

½ cup vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

750 grams beef meat, cut into chunks (such as chuck, shoulder, shank)

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon turmeric

4 cups boiling water

1/2 cup dried red kidney beans, soaked over night

4 black Persian lemons, pierced

4 cups parsley, finely chopped

1 cup coriander, finely chopped

1 cup green onion, finely chopped

1 cup leak, finely chopped

1/2 cup fenugreek leaves also known as shambalileh (or 1 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves)

1 lemon, squeezed

1/2 teaspoon crushed Persian lemon

Brown the meat in oil until brown on all sides, set aside. Heat 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pot and the fry onions and leaks until golden. Add the meat, salt, pepper, and turmeric and mix well. Add the boiling water, red beans, Persian lemons and return to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes covered on low heat.

Meanwhile, heat ¼ cup vegetable oil and add the herbs, fry for 25 minutes while mixing until the herbs darken and release their aroma. Add the herb mixture and lemon juice to the meat. Cook the stew for 2½ hours or until the meat is soft and can be flaked with a fork. Adjust seasoning, salt, pepper and lemon.  Serve on top of white steaming rice or saffron steamed rice.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Yael May 10, 2010 at 1:11 am

Yeah! First commenter! Great looking food, next time I’m in the area I’m coming for lunch whether I’m invited or not. I’ll bring some organic coriander from my planters.


Yael the Finn May 10, 2010 at 6:31 am

Wow,really great pictures! Where is that food photography course, do you have a link?


Sarah May 10, 2010 at 6:42 am

here is the link


Jennifer May 10, 2010 at 7:18 am

Beautiful! Just wonderful!


lisaiscooking May 10, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I’ve never tasted a Persian lemon, but I’d like to. And, the generous amount of herbs sounds great to me. Can’t wait to read your photography tutorial!


Angie May 21, 2010 at 3:00 pm

One of my favorite dishes, just smelling the aromas the stew gives while it is simmering, makes my mouth start watering. Leftovers are great, the flavors seem to intensify and become more hmmm…sour?! I don’t use leeks in the version that I make but use more green onions. And I’ve never had fresh fenugreek, I have always used dried. I don’t think I’ve ever come across any fresh fenugreek leaves before… Thanks for posting the pictures…looks so good!


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