Wouldn’t you love to serve nazkhatoun, a smoky-tart-sweet dip of charred, collapsing eggplant popping with pomegranate seeds at your (eventual) next dinner party? (My hand is raised.) Or offer one of a multitude of warming stews, like the intensely herbaceous, fenugreek-fragranced lamb dish khoresh ghormeh sabzi, which cookbook author Naz Deravian says “could very well be the dish of Iran” to your loved ones? (Um, yes.) To appreciate sourness, and the scene-stealing capabilities of fresh herbs? (Thank you for this, Naz!) To waste nothing and feel as though you’re eating food fit for royalty? (What silly goose is saying no right now?)
You can explore each of these dishes — and many more — in Deravian’s “Bottom of the Pot,” that rare cookbook that’s both edifying and relatable, probably because Deravian personalizes it.
Her family left Tehran when she was a child amid the chaos and violence of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and the comfort of homemade meals of chelo khoresh (rice and stew) shared at the kitchen table. They moved to Rome, the city where her parents met, a “safe haven” where platters of tomatoes and mozzarella were served one night, and chelo kebab (rice and kebab) another. Next, they landed in Canada, where Deravian stayed until moving to Los Angeles after college.
Missing “a taste of home,” she asked her mother to share the recipes for her favorite Persian dishes. Except they weren’t exactly recipes. “This was cooking that relied on intuition, constant tasting and a good dose of lemon juice.” In her debut, Deravian translates that cooking into recipes of her own that come attached to stories.
Everyone loves a good story, but in our Essential Cookbooks collection, the food has to come first. And if it doesn’t pass muster, the whole enterprise is a fail. I shouldn’t have to tell you, but “Bottom of the Pot” passes with flying colors.
Start with the spicy, herb-packed ghalieh mahi. This stew isn’t just memorable, it offers a teachable moment. Deravian uses it for a lesson on “chashnee,” a Persian word that describes “a particular ingredient," a spice or special something, “that brightens the dish, bringing it to life, like lemon or vinegar,” and it changes from one region to another. In the Persian Gulf region of Iran, chashnee comes from incomparably tangy tamarind and the heat of chile peppers.
This recipe is from Week 7 of Voraciously’s Essential Cookbooks newsletter series. For more recipes like this one, sign up here. It appears as published in Naz Deravian’s “Bottom of the Pot” with minor edits for clarity.
NOTES: If your tamarind contains seeds, you may want to strain it through a fine sieve before adding to the sauce.
If you cannot find dried fenugreek, you can substitute yellow mustard seeds or even Dijon mustard. For fresh fenugreek, substitute watercress or celery leaves.
Scale and get a printer-friendly version of this recipe here.
Make Ahead: The stew can be prepared 3 days in advance without the fish. Reheat, adding more water and seasoning as needed, and add the fish to cook
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced (1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste or finely grated (2 tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 red serrano or small jalapeño chile pepper, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
- 3 bunches fresh cilantro, tough stems trimmed, finely chopped (5 to 6 cups, chopped); plus some whole leaves reserved for optional garnish
- 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek, or 1/2 bunch fresh leaves, finely chopped (see NOTE)
- 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste, dissolved in 2 cups warm water, plus more to taste (See NOTE)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar or honey, plus more to taste (optional)
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 pounds cod, halibut or other firm-fleshed fish
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cooked rice, for serving
In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt, reduce the heat to medium, and add the garlic, turmeric and chile pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the cilantro and fenugreek and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and the cilantro has considerably wilted, about 10 minutes.
Add the flour and the 2 teaspoons of salt and stir to incorporate for 1 minute. Stir in the tamarind mixture and tomato paste. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Taste as it simmers and make adjustments to suit your taste. If the sauce is too sour, add the sugar or honey to take the edge off the tang. Taste again for salt (keep in mind you will salt the fish as well), heat (add cayenne if you like) and more tang from tamarind.
Cut the fish into 2-inch pieces and season well with salt and black pepper. Raise the heat to medium, add the fish, and simmer, uncovered, until the fish cooks through, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir gently to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. If the stew gets too watered-down, remove the fish and raise the heat to reduce the sauce a little. If it’s too dry, add a little more water.
Garnish with more chile peppers and cilantro leaves, if you like, and serve with rice.
Calories: 242; Total Fat: 8 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 65 mg; Sodium: 659 mg; Carbohydrates: 14 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 29 g.
From “Bottom of the Pot” by Naz Deravian (Flatiron Books, 2018).
Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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