Five easy vegetarian and vegan Persian dishes

Trying to lower our meat intake can be difficult when so many of our favourite dishes seem to include it. It’s a staple ingredient in Iranian khoresh (stew), but thanks to the great flavours and foundations of these dishes, finding a meat-free alternative is easy and will ensure vegetarians and vegans can also enjoy Persian cooking.

If you’ve read my previous articles, I’m hoping that by now I’ve convinced you of the the beauty of Iranian food, or at the very least intrigued you enough to head to an Iranian restaurant or try cooking some of your own. I’m a huge fan of my heritage cuisine but I’m also the first to admit: Persian food is very meat-heavy. But what if I told you that you could enjoy a variety of Iranian dishes that are all completely vegetarian and/or vegan?

Now, there’s no way I can deny that the meat in Iranian khoresh is simply on another level. But when cooking a Persian stew it’s important to note that the base for most recipes is pretty much the same. Therefore, it’s really easy to swap out the lamb in favour of aubergines or extra vegetables.

In addition to meaty stews, you can easily turn vegetarian – there are lots of soups in Iranian cuisine that have always been plant-based. We already use a lot of pulses and legumes in Persian cooking, so it’s really easy to ensure your dishes are always full of substance and goodness, even when they’re meat-free.

Popular Persian dishes such as ghormeh sabzi and abgoosht traditionally contain lamb but can be easily adapted. Ghormeh sabzi contains lots of cooked greens and kidney beans, while abghoosht features chickpeas and potatoes as primary ingredients, so feeling nourished and full after your dinner shouldn’t be an issue at all.

Whether you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet every day, or you’re simply trying to cut down on your meat intake, here are five dishes you should add to your recipe book.

Read more:

Gheymeh bademjan

Gheymeh bademjan is just as delicious and filling without meat

(Amira Arasteh)

Gheymeh is a lamb and split pea stew that literally translates to “chopped meat”. Gheymeh bademjan is the same, but with added aubergine, which goes hand in hand with the lamb, but also fills the “empty space” in the veggie version (which is also topped with delicious crispy potatoes).

As a meat-eater myself, I can attest to the fact that this dish is delicious with meat but still maintains its tasty and filling quality when made meat-free.

Makes: 4 servings

Prep time: 10 mins | Cooking time: 1-1.5 hrs

Ingredients

4 dried Persian limes

4 cups of water

3-4 tbsp sunflower/olive oil

2 tbsp tomato puree

1-2 aubergines

1 onion

½ tbsp turmeric

½ tbsp of advieh (Persian spice mix of turmeric, cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, pepper cloves, dried rose petals)

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

¼ tsp ground saffron

Method

Fry onions in some oil until translucent. Sprinkle some turmeric, advieh, salt and pepper into the pot. Add your tomato puree and continue to fry for a further two to three minutes. Add water and bring to the boil. Add saffron and then let it all simmer for an hour.

Halfway through, pierce your dried limes with a fork and add to the mix. Then add your split peas to the pot.

While everything is simmering, slice your aubergine and dehydrate them in salt. Fry them in a separate pan until a little crispy.

Check on the water in your stew (you want a balanced level of thickness to your stew). When ready, transfer stew to a serving dish and add the gently fried aubergine slices on top.

Serve with white rice (make your tahdig in a Persian rice cooker).

Ash-e reshteh

This soup is naturally vegetarian, but can also easily be made vegan

(Amira Arasteh)

Ash-e reshteh is a thick Iranian soup featuring reshteh (Persian noodles), kashk (fermented yoghurt) and a variety of greens. Herbs such as fresh parsley, spinach and coriander are used here, as well as leeks, chickpeas and kidney beans.

The soup is naturally vegetarian but can be made vegan by excluding the kashk yoghurt. Predominantly cooked in the autumn and winter months due to the thick and hearty nature of this soup, it is a traditional dish served at Nowruz (Persian new year).

Makes: 4 servings

Prep time: 10 mins | Cooking time: 2-2.5 hrs

Ingredients

500g spinach

400g kidney beans

400g chickpeas

300g lentils

125g parsley

100g coriander

4 tbsp kashk

3 cloves of garlic, fried

3 tbsp dried mint

3 tbsp oil

1 tbsp turmeric

1 onion, fried

½ leek (just the bottom)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Overnight, soak your chickpeas and kidney beans together in approximately 500ml water (until they’re covered), and your lentils in about 300ml water (again, until covered) in a separate bowl.

When ready to get cooking, chop all your greens on a cutting board.

Fry your onions in oil in a pot, adding salt to taste. Once fried, add turmeric to the pot. Add soaked chickpeas and kidney beans to the mix. Pour 1L of water into the pot and allow to simmer.

Add in all the greens: your spinach, coriander, parsley and leeks. Next add your soaked lentils.

In a separate pan, gently fry dried mint.

Give everything in the first pot a good stir and allow to gently simmer for another 30 minutes.

Mix your kashk with about 250-300ml of reserved ash water (the broth you’re cooking) and pour into the pot. Break apart a handful of reshteh and add to the pot. Give the soup one last stir.

Serve in a bowl and enjoy.

Khoresh bamieh

Predominantly cooked in winter, khoresh bamieh is traditionally served at Persian new year

(Amira Arasteh)

Ash-e reshteh is a thick Iranian soup lamb, featuring reshteh (Persian noodles), kashk (a fermented yoghurt) and a variety of greens. Herbs such as fresh parsley, spinach and coriander are used in this soup, as well as leeks, chickpeas and kidney beans. The soup is naturally vegetarian but can be made vegan by excluding the kashk yoghurt. Predominantly cooked in the autumn and winter months due to the thick and hearty nature of this soup, it is a traditional dish served at Nowruz (Persian new year).

Makes: 4 servings

Prep time: 10 mins | Cooking time: 1-1.5 hrs

Ingredients

400ml water

300g okra

300g carrots

3 tbsp oil

2 tbsp tomato puree

2 tsp turmeric

1 onion, diced

1 clove of garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Fry the chopped onion in oil in a pan. Add the minced garlic. Add the turmeric to the mix and salt and pepper, to taste. Fry gently for a couple of minutes.

Add one tbsp of tomato puree to the mix and fry for another minute. Mix the other tbsp of tomato puree with 400ml of water and add to the pot.

In a separate pan saute your okra and carrots gently until cooked. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve over white rice.

Loobia polo

It’s all about the stock in loobia polo

(Amira Arasteh)

Loobia polo is a Persian rice dish, traditionally featuring green beans, rice and lamb. However, given that the name of the dish translates to “rice with beans”, it doesn’t seem too much of an injustice to remove the meat, in order to make this popular Persian dish suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

A tip for this particular recipe is to consider adding vegetable stock (homemade would be preferable but a stock cube would suffice) to replace the meat broth that would be there from cooking the lamb.

Makes: 4 servings

Prep time: 10 mins | Cooking time: 1.5 hrs

Ingredients

500g green beans, cut into 5cm pieces

100-150ml water

6 tbsp oil

400g white basmati rice

2-3 tbsp tomato puree

1 vegetable stock cube

1 medium potato, sliced

½ tsp saffron

½ tsp advieh

Method

Boil the green beans for 10 minutes and drain well. Saute the green beans in two tbsp of oil, add salt and pepper to taste. Add two to three tbsp of tomato puree. Mix half a tsp of saffron with 100-150ml water and add to the pot. Add half a tsp of advieh for rice and allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes.

Boil water (adding salt) and add to 400g of rice in a separate pot. Let boil for 10-15 minutes until rice is al dente. Drain the pot and add two tbsp oil. Add slices of potato. Spread over rice and green beans in alternative layers.

Add boiled water to two tbsp of oil and mix together in a glass. Pour this over the final layer of the rice and green beans. Place hob on a medium heat and let everything cook for 10 minutes.

Lower the heat and let the pot simmer for another 30 minutes. Keep checking until rice is cooked to your liking. You can also choose to add more saffron at this point for taste and colour.

Serve with natural yoghurt and cucumber (mast-o khiar).

Ash-e balghur

A great alternative for vegetarians/vegans who want less greens

(Amira Arasteh)

Another nutritious and delicious Persian soup, made with bulgur wheat. This tomato-based soup is a great alternative for any vegetarians or vegans who aren’t so keen on eating that many greens.

Bulgur wheat is a staple in cuisines across the Middle East and acts as a great base for this soup in particular. It’s not traditional but you could easily turn this soup into a stew by following the foundation steps listed in the khoresh recipes.

Makes: 4 servings

Prep time: 10 mins | Cooking time: 1-1.5 hrs

Ingredients

500ml water

220g green beans, chopped

3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped

4 tbsp bulgur wheat (1 per person)

3 tbsp oil

2 tbsp turmeric

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 onion, chopped

1 pepper, diced (any colour)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Fry the onion in oil. Add minced garlic. Add turmeric, salt and pepper and fry for a further couple of minutes. Add one tbsp of tomato puree to the mix and fry for another minute.

Wash and drain the bulgur wheat and add to the pot. Add another tbsp of tomato puree mixed with 500ml of water, depending on colour preference of soup. Let the soup cook for half an hour.

Chop the pepper and green beans and add both to the mix. Chop your potatoes and add to the pot. Let the mixture cook for another half an hour.

Leave to simmer depending on how thick you want your soup.

Serve in a bowl and enjoy.