Somaye’s Cooking Corner #1: Ab Gousht

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By Somaye Dehban (’07)

Recipe #1:
“Ab Gousht” (literally: “Meat Water”). Traditional Iranian Dish

Ab Gousht is a category of dishes which is made in every Iranian house and is among the most popular in Iranian cuisine. There are different varieties of this dish according to the region and season. The following recipe is the most common and basic version of this dish.

Ingredients:

1. Red meat, preferably lamb rib and/or neck with bones OR ´bare´ meat, sliced in pieces 250 gr

NOTE: If you want to make a vegetarian version of this dish, you can skip this item (as if you could not figure this out yourself!). Since there are beans and peas in the dish the need for protein is covered. You can also replace the meat with soya.

2. Chickpeas (fresh-uncooked or from a jar) 50 gr
3. White and/or wax beans (fresh-uncooked or from a jar) 50 gr
4. Onions 1 (big)
5. Potatoes (suitable for boiling) 2-4
6. Tomatoes 3
7. Tomato puree 1 table spoon = 50 gr
8. Dried limes 2
9. Oil (sunflower or olive) 3 table spoon
10. Salt, black pepper To taste
11. Turmeric 1 tea spoon

 

Time:
Depending on the type of meat between 40 minutes (bare meat) to 120 minutes (rib/neck with bones)

 

Preparation:

  1. In most Iranian dishes, onion (and garlic) plays a role as it gives extra taste to the dish (of course you should not add too much of it because it will take over the taste of the whole dish). So if you have it on the list of ingredients then start with that: slice the onion in half from head (not the middle) and every half into 8 pieces from head to bottom! So at the end you have crescent-shaped pieces.

    NOTE: I will write some NOTES on onion slicing in upcoming recipes!
  2. Take the pot that you want to cook the dish in, turn on the flame and put the pot on. When it has warmed up a little, add the onion to the pot and already start stirring a bit. After 2-3 minutes add the oil, turn the flame down and leave the onion to fry.

    NOTE: It’s usually better to warm up the pot/pan before starting to cook, for several reasons: the smell of the previous dish that has been made in the pot/pan will go away & also most oil types aren’t good for heating for long so if the pot/pan is pre-heated the time that the oil is heated is shorter. With onions, if you add them to the pre-heated pot/pan, you will need less oil to fry them so your dish will also be healthier.

    NOTE: In traditional Iranian dishes, most of the times onions are deep fried which is not very healthy. Since the aim of these recipes are to provide healthy and fast food, I am altering the sections which are not healthy!

  3. If you are using rib or neck, simply rinse them and after the onions have turned into a ‘golden’ color, add them to the pot, stir, and let all sides of the meat fry just a little. If you are using ‘bare’ meat, again simply rinse them, chop it in pieces, add them to the golden onion, and stir until all blocks are somewhat fried. The size of the meat blocks can vary according to your taste: from 2 cm3 or bigger. Keep in mind that the bigger the size of your blocks, the more time they take to be cooked.
  4. After stirring the mix of onion and meat, add the tomato puree and stir a bit more. Keep the flame low in all these steps.
  5. If you bought ‘fresh’ (i.e. uncooked) chickpeas and beans from the market, it’s best to soak them in water for 8-10 hours before starting to cook, because it takes some time until they are cooked. You can also buy the pre-cooked ones which are usually in jars (or cans, which I don’t recommend) in the supermarket. In either case, add the uncooked/soaked/pre-cooked chickpeas and beans to the mix. Stir a bit more and add boiled water to the mix. The amount of water is measured like this: add water till the whole mix is covered and there is about an inch of water on top of the mix.


    NOTE: if you are using uncooked beans and chickpeas add a bit more water because the beans will soak up most of the water.

  6. Wash the potatoes very well as they will be added to the mix without peeling. If you have picked big ones sliced them in smaller pieces. Add them to the mix.


    NOTE: be careful with the amount of time that the potatoes need to be cooked! If it takes them let’s say 15 minutes to be cooked then add them to the mix at a later stage or boil them separately and add them to the mix 5 minutes before taking the pot off the flame. We do not want over cooked potatoes in our dish because, firstly, it just doesn’t taste good, secondly, it makes the dish look ugly, and, thirdly, that’s not how it’s done!

  7. Add the turmeric and black pepper. The amount of pepper you add really depends on how ‘peppery’ you like your dish to be. I recommend 1/2 tea spoon.
  8. Turn the flame high until you see the water is boiling and bubbles are coming to the surface. Then turn the flame down again and let it cook for a while.
  9. Meanwhile, after washing your tomatoes, with a sharp knife make a cross at the bottom, put them in a bowl and pour boiled water over them. This way the skin can be peeled easier. Leave them in the hot water for max. 10 minutes, peel them, and slice them into dices!
  10. Check your mixture: is the meat cooked? How about the beans? When they are half way cooked add the diced tomatoes and dried lime. Crack the dried lime before adding it to the dish so its flavor is better released. Give the whole mixture a good stir.
  11. When everything is cooked you are done! Add the salt in the last stage, a few minutes before turning off the flame. Keep in mind that this dish needs a bit more salt than most dishes because it contains potatoes and beans, which require more salt to bring to taste.


    NOTE: adding salt at the beginning would increase the time of cooking and we do not want that, do we?


Serving the dish:

As the name of the dish implies, Ab Gousht is served in two parts: water and meat.
  1. Take a bowl and pour the juicy/watery part of the dish in first. A ladle or two per person should do. This part of the dish is eaten with bread! Since the type and quality of bread in Iran is very different from the loafs of bread we have in Europe, using normal bread with this part would not be as good as it could or should be! So I recommend that you slice your loaf bread in little blocks, add a bit of olive oil and salt/pepper, and put it in the oven to make it a bit crunchy. Then serve it next to this dish. Add the crunchy bread to the ‘water’ in the bowl and enjoy!
  1. The next part can either be served on a plate, eaten with bread (like a wrap) and/or just simply eat it (you might need spoon here) as it already has potatoes in it. You can also mash the whole mix (of course take all the juicy/watery parts and bones out first) and when you get a smooth texture, serve it on a plate and, again, eat it with bread (like a wrap) or without.


    NOTE: if you have leftovers, you can mash it, add an egg or two and then put it in the oven and make a quiche or cutlet out of it. And you can use the watery part as the basis for a thick soup!


Side dishes:

One of the great aspects of Iranian cuisine are the ‘side dishes’. Unlike most western cuisines that serve dishes in an artistic way (like putting an umbrella or flag on top of your steak), most Iranian dishes are usually served on a big plate and are a mix of different ingredients (not a vegetable or potato next to your steak, for instance). Therefore, there is not much room for an artistic presentation of the dish. Although there are ways to do it, compared to Western cuisines it is a lot more limited. As a result, the artistic aspect of presenting a dish is with the side dishes that accompany the main dish. Side dishes not only bring more color to the table but also more taste. The number of side dishes offered by a single main dish is considered as a sign of mastering the dish!

Having said this, there are number of side dishes that go with Ab Gousht:

  1. A variety of marinated vegetables in salt or vinegar (which are two very different categories).

    NOTE: I will write about ways to make marinated vegetables in coming recipes.
  1. Garlic in vinegar with raisins.
  2. Fresh herbs, carefully cleaned and served in a basket.
  3. A mix of tomato, cucumber, red onion, and mint with lemon juice and salt/pepper.
  4. A mix of yogurt, cucumber, and herbs which is the easiest one to make: take half a cucumber, grate it in a bowl. Add salt and pepper with fresh dill (or if you have the dried version that will do too). Mix very well and add the yogurt. Mix again and your side dish is ready!