It makes me so happy to see that veganism is slowly inching its way into the mainstream here in Bahrain. Sure, we may not have any explicitly vegan dining establishments per se – but many up-and-coming restaurants are starting to include more plant-based options on their menus.
This is important to me for two reasons: the first is that it means that the voices of vegans locally and regionally are being heard. The more we speak out, whether it is on social media, comment cards or even to restaurant managers in person, the louder our collective voice becomes. It also may indicate that business owners are being savvy and staying on top of trends – there’s no denying that vegan, paleo, gluten-free and other special dietary needs are being tended to far better than they were even three years ago when I first moved back to Bahrain.
The second reason is that every time a popular restaurant or cafe uses the word “vegan” or “plant-based” it helps spread awareness and educate the general public. While the idea of vegetarianism isn’t completely foreign here, most people still don’t completely understand what it means to be vegan as opposed to vegetarian – or how gluten-free fits in (it doesn’t, at least not exclusively). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of “You’re the first Arab vegan I’ve ever met” – and while I do enjoy the novelty on some level, I can’t wait for the day where the response will be “Oh – my cousin/brother/sister/friend is vegan too!”
That said – today’s recipe is an adaptation of one such vegan option I had at a local restaurant in Bahrain – Ghormeh Sabzi. Traditionally made with lamb and served with yoghurt and saffron rice, this Persian dish is a slow-cooked fragrant green stew consisting of herbs and vegetables such as parsley, coriander, fenugreek, spinach, onions, garlic and kidney beans to name a few.
The version I had was absolutely divine – delicately spiced with black lemon, fenugreek and turmeric, served atop perfectly fluff saffron rice. My one qualm? Not nearly enough beans. I vowed to re-create my own version with enough legumes and the addition of millet instead of rice to pack a decent protein punch.
Vegan with Saffron Millet Pilaf
For the Ghormeh Sabzi:,
- 2 large red onions, finely chopped
- 4 large cloves of garlic
- 1 cup spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 1/2 cups spinach, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fenugreek finely chopped (you can also use 2 tbsp of dried fenugreek as an alternative)
- 1.5 cups cooked kidney beans
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp black lime powder
- 1 1/2 water or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
For the Saffron Millet Pilaf:,
- 1 cup organic millet
- 1/2 tsp of saffron strands
- 2 cups of vegetable stock or water
- In a large pot on medium heat, sautee the onions in 1 tbsp of coconut oil until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and turmeric and stir through for a few more minutes.
- Add the spinach, spring onions, herbs and fry with the remaining oil until wilted. Add the water, drained kidney beans and remaining spices and bring to a boil for a few minutes before covering and allowing to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Don’t be afraid to adjust water or seasonings as needed.
- In the mean time, prepare the saffron millet pilaf in a separate pot. Add the millet, water or stock and saffron strands then bring to a boil on medium heat. Lower the heat and cover, then cook until all water is absorbed and millet fluffs.
- Once the greens are stewed and fragrant and the vegetables are cooked through, your sabzi is ready. Serve piping hot atop the saffron millet and garnish with fresh coriander.
This was the perfect lunch on a slightly chilly breezy afternoon – fragrantly warming, flavorful and filling.
Admittedly, my version is a little more rustic than the traditional slow-cooked version, but I can guarantee you it’s every bit as flavorful.