This stew was inspired by a glorious afternoon’s cooking in Rasht with pharmacist Sima Mohamadzahdeh, who likes to pot-roast a whole chicken when entertaining guests, presenting it on a bed of spinach and prune sauce. My version of her masterpiece involves poaching flavourful chicken thigh pieces with some warming spices before cooking them in the luscious green sauce. This khoresht is traditionally made with the juice of Seville oranges (narenj), which give a subtle, sweet and sour hint to the chicken and bring out the earthy notes of the spinach. Since these are not widely available here, ordinary oranges combined with lime juice provide an intense, tangy flavour of their own. Serve with rice and a green salad.
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
8 chicken thighs, on the bone, skin off
200ml good-quality chicken stock
1 tsp turmeric
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
Sea salt and black pepper
½ tsp saffron strands
A pinch of sugar
2 tbsp freshly boiled water
800g spinach, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1 orange
Pared zest of ½ orange, sliced into thin strips
1½ tbsp flaked almonds, to garnish
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large casserole pot and fry the onions over a low heat for 25 minutes, until they are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and fry for another 2 minutes.
Turn up the heat and add the chicken. Cook for a few minutes to brown the chicken on all sides. Lower the heat, then add the stock, turmeric, cinnamon, a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Cover with a lid and cook for 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, make a saffron liquid by grinding the saffron strands with a pinch of sugar using a pestle and mortar and then adding the boiled water. Leave to steep.
In a large pot or wok, cook the spinach over a high heat until it has wilted and then place in a colander to drain. You’ll probably have to do this in a few batches, unless you have an extremely large pot. Let the spinach cool and then squeeze it dry with your hands. Roughly chop and set aside.
After the chicken has been cooking for 35 minutes, add the chopped spinach and the lime and orange juice, along with the orange zest and saffron liquid. Place a lid on the pot and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
Fry the prunes in 1 tablespoon of oil until they just start to plump up and caramelise. Add them to the stew and cook for a final 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper to your preference.
Toast some flaked almonds in a small pan over a low heat for 1 minute until they start to go a golden brown colour. Sprinkle the toasted nuts onto the stew just before serving.
Extract taken from The Saffron Tales published by Bloomsbury, £26, Hardback, Photography © Shahrzad Darafsheh and Matt Russell