Iranian food (also known as Persian food) is underrepresented in most U.S. cities, even in famously multicultural New York — but NYC’s dining spot Sofreh is an excellent example of Iran’s vibrant and delicious cuisine.
We spent some time with Sofreh owner and chef Nasim Alikhani to learn more about Iranian cuisine and how to make baghali ghatogh, a savory vegetarian butter bean stew packed with dill.
Read on for your personal introduction to butter beans, plus chef Alikhani’s signature recipe.
Sure, there are a lot of meaty kebabs in Iranian cuisine, but Persian food isn’t an endless parade of animal products. This dish is naturally vegetarian (though we find it just as satisfying as anything with meat). It’s easy to make vegan too!
The first step toward a delicious baghali ghatogh is to soak your butter beans (also known as lima beans, but don’t let that deter you!) overnight.
Quick note: There is some debate about lima beans versus butter beans. The two terms are widely used interchangeably, but some say that the age of the beans determines their name. (Less mature beans are sometimes categorized as “lima,” and more mature ones are labeled “butter.”)
For the purposes of this recipe, though, don’t sweat the distinction. The one thing you will need to ensure is that you use dried beans. They should be fairly large, ivory-white, and flat.
While canned or frozen lima beans can work their creamy magic in many recipes, they won’t work here.
Look for dried limas (or butters) — and, in either case, start by covering them with water in a large pot and soaking them overnight. (Some research suggests this helps make the beans easier to digest and may reduce the musical fruit’s, uh, musical abilities).
The next day, drain the beans and cover them with fresh water. Then let them sit for 30 minutes or so. This beany bath time gives you a window in which to chop the mountain of onions and garlic that go into the dish.
Chef Alikhani admits that she uses more onions and garlic than is traditional (“excessive,” even) — almost more onions than beans. But since they get cooked down slowly and gently, they’re not at all overpowering, practically melting into the dish.
The key is to keep stirring and never let them stick or burn, lest they become bitter. When the onions and garlic are fragrant, golden, and starting to stick even despite your stirring, it’s time to add turmeric, a brightly colored, earthy spice crucial to Iranian cooking.
Next, add lemon juice to deglaze the pan and water to make a thick broth. Chef Alikhani doesn’t like a soupy texture, so she advises pouring water in slowly. You can always add more, but once you have too much, it’s hard to correct. Keep tasting your broth and adjust with salt and pepper to taste.
The other key element of this dish is a massive amount of dill. If using fresh herbs, you could be dealing with literal pounds of it — but good-quality dried dill is preferable if the fresh stuff is lacking in flavor.
Once you stir your cooked beans into the herby, savory, lemony broth, follow chef Alikhani’s lead and drizzle in a good-quality olive oil to finish the dish. Then, there’s just one final step: adding the eggs.
Traditionally, in northern Iran, raw eggs are gently whisked into the finished dish, but chef Alikhani doesn’t like the resulting texture, so she tops each portion with a runny poached egg instead. If you need a vegan meal, just leave out the eggs. Either way, serve the dish with plenty of saffron-tinted basmati rice — and prepare to swoon.
- 2 cups dried butter beans
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
- 1/2 cup finely chopped garlic
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice, plus extra for serving
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup dried dill (Chef Alikhani recommends good quality Persian dill) or 8 ounces finely chopped fresh dill
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 poached egg per person
- Soak beans overnight.
- Drain beans, place in a pot, and cover with plenty of cold water. Cook on medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, then add salt. Cook for another 20–30 minutes, or until softened but still firm.
- While beans are cooking, cook onion in olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until dark golden. This will likely take at least 20 minutes, but judge by the color (more golden than golden-brown) and the smell, which should be full and fragrant, not acrid or raw.
- Add garlic and continue stirring. Cook until fragrant. Add turmeric, reduce the heat, and continue stirring until turmeric is fragrant, only about 1 minute (don’t let it burn).
- Add lemon juice to the hot pan to deglaze the onion and garlic. Let sit for a moment, then use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape all the browned bits off the bottom and mix them into the broth.
- Add water, plus salt and pepper to taste, then cover the pan with a close-fitting lid. If you’re using fresh dill, you should add it at this point as well. Cook for about 10 minutes. If using dried dill, add the dill after these 10 minutes.
- Add the cooked and drained beans to the onion-herb mixture. Adjust the seasoning and continue cooking on low heat for a few more minutes to warm through.
- Traditionally, eggs are cracked and incorporated into the stew before serving, but if you want to follow chef Alikhani’s lead, top each serving with a poached egg instead. If you’re keeping the stew vegan, simply skip this step and serve.
- When plating, the chef suggests drizzling the stew with a little more fresh lemon juice and good quality extra virgin olive oil, with some freshly ground pepper to finish.
Noush e Jan!