Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Persian green beans, and dried limes

This recipe is a modified version of an Iranian pilaf filling that appeared in Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian which is one of those rare cookbooks where every recipe seems to be good.  I have modified the method and the seasonings, but retain the use of dried limes as a key ingredient.  Dried limes have an interesting flavor, something that I would describe as low citrus with the aroma of a musty cathedral. This analogy is meant to be complimentary and it is not original though I can't trace its sources. They bring a powerful funky citrus aroma without sourness.  While limes generally have a way of brightening a food, dried limes darken it and add considerable depth of flavor.

They are most widely used in Persian cooking and are available in Middle Eastern and Indian markets.  Generally, you can only buy the whole ones, which you can use in one of two ways: you can puncture the limes in a few places and add to liquidy soups or stews, or you can crack them, pick out the seeds and add the debris to a sauce.  If you are really lucky however, you can buy them already ground.  This is available under the Sadaf label, a kosher company from California that distributes a wide range of Middle Eastern spices. They call them ground lemons, but don't believe it, they are limes.
They go beautifully in tomato sauces, so try them in:

Persian Green Beans

  • 2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium red onion, cut into quarters and sliced (you can substitute the equivalent amount of shallots, about 1/2 cup sliced)
  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or more to taste (you can substitute a teaspoon of paprika and a large pinch of cayenne)
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground dried lime
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup boiling water or a little more

  1. Heat the oil on medium high in a large nonstick skillet.  Add the onions and saute, shaking the pan or stirring occasionally, until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the green beans and salt and saute, stirring or shaking occasionally  until the beans are glossy.
  3. Ad the spices and saute for another minute until they lose some of their raw aroma.
  4. Push the beans aside and the tomato paste.  Heat a bit, and then add the water to the paste, stirring until you have a sauce.  Mix together well until incorporated into the green beans.  The amount of water will depend largely on the shape of your skillet, but the sauce should almost but not quite cover the beans.
  5. Cook 10-15 minutes on high, stirring from time to time,  until most of the liquid is evaporated, the sauce is thick, and the green beans are done.  I like the beans in this dish on the tender side.  If you want them crisper, use less water and be careful not to scorch the beans and sauce.  If you want them them really soft, add more water and cook for as long as a half hour.  Taste for salt.
  6. Serves 8 generously as a side dish.  Best with rice or bulgur, and also good cold with yogurt. 

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