Khoresh-e-Karafs (Persian braised lamb, celery and herb stew)

(Serves 6-8)

For Iranians, stew is really the cornerstone of Persian cuisine. Always served with steamed Persian basmati rice (simplified recipe in my first book, Persiana) the stews are traditionally mostly lamb based and use either herbs, tomato or sometimes pomegranate molasses as a sauce base. This is one of my favourite stews and although I know many Brits are celery-haters, the celery here is so delicate, so soft and mild in flavour that it really has a completely different flavour to uncooked celery. This is one of my favourite stews and it is really simple to make and something special and different to anything else you’ll eat, so I do hope you will give it a try.

Ingredients

1kg lamb neck fillet, cut widthways into 2cm thick pieces

2 large (or 3 small) onions, finely chopped

2 heaped teaspoons of ground turmeric

2 head of celery, washed, leaves & ends trimmed and cut into 2 inch long pieces

300g flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

3 heaped tablespoons of dried mint

Juice of ½ a lemon

Vegetable oil

Maldon sea salt freshly ground black pepper

Method

My best advice to you is to make this either the night before you need it or the morning of the evening you wish to serve it as sometimes herb based stews do really benefit from the process of cooling down completely.

Preheat your largest stock pot or casserole dish over a medium heat. Pour in enough vegetable oil to generously coat the base of the pan and begin sweating off the onions, not to colour them but just to soften them until translucent. You do not want to brown the onions (or the meat, for that matter) as we don’t want to encourage any brown colouring into this dish.

Once the onions have softened, add the diced lamb and quickly coat them in the onion mixture, then add the turmeric and dried mint and mix well until the meat is coated evenly with both. Next, add the chopped parsley and this is where you need to pay attention. You need to wilt all the parsley completely, without burning/browning it. This takes about 5-6 minutes or so and does requires stirring and mixing every few minutes to ensure that all the parsley is wilted down properly, then add the celery and soften the pieces well for about 10-12 minutes, by which stage, the parsley will have lost its vibrant green colour and the celery would have soften and become less rigid. Add the lemon juice, a generous amount of salt and black pepper and mix well before pouring over hot water from a boiled kettle, but only just enough to barely cover the ingredients. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce heat to low and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. Then remove the lid, adjust salt level if desired and cook for a further hour and a half.

If following my advice of cooking this in advance, simply reheat the stew on a low, gentle heat for 20-30 minutes and serve with basmati rice. “Noosh-e-jan” (Bon appetit) as we say in Persian.