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Behind the Recipes

An Iranian Feast

The laid-back, convivial meal known as abgoosht features a lightly spiced mash of lamb and chickpeas, a meaty broth spiked with lime, flatbread, and fresh herbs.
By and

Published Sept. 28, 2021.

Najmieh Batmanglij smiled and relaxed into her chair when asked about abgoosht. The iconic Iranian American cookbook author and culinary instructor was carried back to her childhood home in old Tehran, where her family had a special custom on the 14th of each month, the time of the ecclesiastical full moon. To honor the day, which they considered ideal for praying, feasting, rituals, and being kind, her parents and volunteer helpers would prepare “a large cauldron” of the wholesome meal—a coarse meat, bean, and vegetable paste and its savory-tart cooking broth; sangak (a type of flatbread); and fragrant herbs—to offer as alms. “[It] was an open house for friends and family,” Batmanglij said. “Without invitation, they knew they could come and have a bowl of soup, goosht koobideh [meat paste], bread, and all the trimmings.”

“The idea is to make your own sandwich with all the goodies.”
–Celebrated cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij

Ancient Customs

Abgoosht has been prepared throughout Iran’s mountains and fertile valleys for centuries, with the earliest documentation seen in the work of the 14th‑century Persian poet Bos’haq, who penned verses exclusively about food and cooking. 

One of the oldest iterations is still widely prepared today. It consists of a fatty, bony cut of lamb—shank and shoulder are common—simmered in water (“ab” translates as “water”; “goosht,” “meat”) with dried chickpeas, potatoes, onion, fresh tomato, and warm spices. The broth gets a distinctive musky tang from limu omani (dried limes) that are steeped whole in the pot.

Ingredient Spotlight: Limu Omani

In Iran, limes are revered: Kitchens are typically stocked not only with the fresh citrus but also with rock-hard, shriveled limu omani (also called dried limes; black limes; or Omani limes, so named because they are said to have originated in Oman), which have been brined before being sun- or oven-dried. The limes, which are the size of Ping-Pong balls, have a unique sour-sweet muskiness that’s released when they are simmered in liquid-y dishes. Find them in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. For more ideas on using dried limes, click here.

Once the lamb is falling off the bone and the chickpeas and vegetables are meltingly soft, the broth is strained off for serving and the solids are pounded to a paste, either by the cook with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon or by diners with individual pestles and bowls. Mashing distributes the flavors throughout the paste and historically was a way to stretch animal protein and ensure that each guest received an equal portion. 

The lightly spiced mash is presented with the savory-tart broth and sabzi khordan, the fresh, verdant platter of palate-cleansing herbs and aromatics offered with most Persian meals. Sangak, a stone-baked flatbread, must also be on the table (lavash, which is soft, works well, too): Break some up and stir it into the broth or sip the broth on its own, and then use the sangak as a base for customized mouthfuls of meat paste and herbs. “The idea,” said Batmanglij, “is to make your own sandwich with all the goodies.” 

Choice Cut: Lamb Shoulder Chops 

Abgoosht is typically made with a well-marbled, bony cut of meat so that its fat and collagen can give body to the broth and help create a cohesive paste. Lamb shoulder chops have both qualities; they’re also inexpensive and boast rich flavor and tender meat that’s easy to pull off the bone.   

Illustration: John Burgoyne

Modern Methods

While the earliest versions of abgoosht bubbled on a hearth for 10 to 15 hours in a ceramic or clay pot called a dizi (“dizi” also refers to modern Iranian teahouses that exclusively serve abgoosht), for decades many home cooks have been relying on the increased speed of a pressure cooker. As the technology continues to advance, a multicooker has become the next logical vessel. 

Indeed, America’s Test Kitchen cookbook editor Emily Rahravan grew up eating abgoosht prepared by her father Cyroos, who agrees that the tool is ideal for turning the meat, chickpeas, and vegetables tender quickly and at once. His recipe, which we worked from, is as simple as loading all the ingredients into the cooker. Thin lamb shoulder chops quickly soften, and the flavorful, moderately fatty meat is easy to pull off the bone for mashing. Soaked dried chickpeas, peeled and quartered Yukon Gold potatoes, a yellow onion, and fresh tomatoes bolstered with a spoonful of tomato paste also go in, along with a couple limu omani, ground turmeric, and half a cinnamon stick.

Mashing the Stew

At Iranian teahouses, diners grip small pestles to pound individual portions of the meat, bean, and vegetable mixture into a rustic paste. We use a potato masher, gently mashing until the lamb is finely shredded and the chickpeas, potatoes, onion, and tomatoes are mostly smooth. 

After pouring in enough water to cover the ingredients, cook the stew under pressure for just 40 minutes before straining out the solids for mashing. A pinch of saffron gives the steaming, velvety broth—now infused with lime, spices, and meaty richness—an amber glow. Served with stacks of flatbread and an enticing platter of fresh mint, dill, and/or tarragon; grassy sliced scallions; slivers of sharp red onion; and thinly sliced red radishes, you have a delicious spread for the entire family (and then some).

A special thanks to Cyroos Rahravan for sharing his recipe.

Multicooker Abgoosht

The laid-back, convivial meal known as abgoosht features a lightly spiced mash of lamb and chickpeas, a meaty broth spiked with lime, flatbread, and fresh herbs.
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