Khoresh Gheimeh;Persian meat, split peas and dried limes stew

Gheymeh literally means finely minced meat and the word shares the same Sanskrit origin with the Indian word “Keema” .  This very traditional stew is made with split peas, finely chopped meat, is seasoned with dry lime and cinnamon and finally topped with fried potato fries. 

There still are some older versions of this recipe around and in some regions of Iran such as Kurdistan.  As tomatoes and potatoes are considered the gifts from the “New world”, the older version (i.e. Khalal stew) is colored with a rich saffron solution and instead of fries, slivered toasted almond is used.  My speculation is that the gifts from the new world caused a cost reduction by replacing the expensive ingredients and took control over time and particularly over the past couple of decades.

As it is relatively cheap and easy to mass produce, Gheymeh is the official food of most of the religious festivals such as annual Āshūrā commemorations. The stew for these occasions, should have a vivid bright orange color and with the right pea and meat texture. To achieve the bright red color, cinnamon powder is omitted as it might turn the color to an undesired dark pale state. Instead cinnamon sticks are used and rosewater is used to compensate the lack of spicy note.   

In this post, I design my recipe based on the traditional version and in the end shall present the home style version in which the color is not the most important issue.

200 gr yellow split peas (one cup)
2 cinnamon sticks, divided
1 TSP turmeric
2 TBSP tomato paste
750 gr fresh or canned tomatoes
2 cups of light beef or turkey stock(or just water)
750 gr boneless stewing beef (or 1 kg lamb), finely cubed
2 medium white onion, finely chopped
8 dried black Persian limes
White pepper and salt to taste
1 TBSP rosewater(optional read the text)
Pinch of saffron
500 gr potato fries
Saute the split peas and one of cinnamon sticks until peas are golden and fragrant. Add turmeric and tomato paste and keep heating for a further couple of minutes.

Puree tomatoes and add the golden brown peas. Add the stock (or water if you will) and simmer over low heat

Meanwhile, saute onions along with the other cinnamon stick until lightly caramelized. Add meat, dried limes and enough water to simmer.   

Skim the initial foam resulting from simmering and simmer with the lid on until the meat is tender. When the meat is close to be done, take off the lid and increase the heat. Cook until the moisture is evaporated and the beef is almost dry.  

When both the peas and meat are cooked, discard both cinnamon sticks and add meat mixture to the stew, add a pinch of saffron and the rosewater and simmer for a couple of minutes until the desired consistency is reached and the flavors are combined. 

This stew is traditionally served with thinly slice potato fries. Prepare or buy the fries and cover the stew and serve immediately.  
For the homemade comfort-food version, replace cinnamon sticks of ½ TSP of cinnamon and dismiss the rosewater.  You also can omit using fresh tomatoes and double the tomato paste. Also, the dish is cooked one-pot and by first browning the meat along with the spices and then by adding the fried onions and peas.