Vegetarian esfenaj aloo, spinach and plum stew, is sautéed spinach cooked in an aromatic sweet and sour sauce of fried onions and garlic with aloo bukhara and Persian lime limoo amani. I’ve made this dish with prunes before, but prefer the taste of aloo Bukhara.
If you’re looking for the meat version of this stew, check out my Khoresht Esfenaj and Aloo recipe.
Use either fresh or frozen spinach for this recipe. I always buy a large bag of fresh spinach from Costco and freeze the leftovers without chopping it. Before using it, I smash the bag of frozen spinach with my hands breaking leaves into smaller pieces. It’s much easier and faster :).
Spinach leaves release a lot of liquid during cooking and 12 cups of it wilts down to 2 cups. The fastest way to sauté it is to use higher cooking temperatures and a large pan to increase the cooking surface. Cooking in batches not to crowd the pan will also help speed up the process. I let my spinach cook down and fry for few minutes before taking it off the heat.
While the spinach was cooking, I fried the onions and garlic and added the spices. Cooking the ingredients simultaneously instead of in stages saves time and energy in the kitchen, but the drawback is more dirty pots.
This was the first time I used limoo amani in this dish and I was pleased with how it turned out. Since the cooking time was shorter for vegetarian esfenaj aloo, I broke the limes into pieces and removed their seeds and shells before adding them to the pot. After stirring in hot water, I let the sauce cook for 10 minutes for the plums to soften before adding the spinach. By adding hot water the temperature of the sauce remained the same, hence reducing the cooking time.
I cooked the vegetarian esfenaj aloo for 30 more minutes and while that was cooking, pressure cooked a cup of Great Northen beans to boost the stew’s protein content. That’s what I had in my pantry and it turned out to be a great choice. But, other types of white beans or legumes would work with this recipe. Another great meat alterative is tofu, that is if you like tofu.
I loved the creamy texture of the white beans in this dish. Not only did they look good, they tasted yummy and best of all, they didn’t alter the flavors of this traditional stew.
Vegetarian Khoresht Esfenaj Aloo
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 50 min
Ready in: 1 hour
Yields: 4 servings
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2½ pounds fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped or 16 oz. frozen
¾ cup dried Persian Aloo Bukhara rinsed and drained
2 Persian limes limoo amani broken into pieces with seeds and shells removed
3 cups hot water
2 cups cooked white beans or canned beans
Add chopped spinach and 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat for about 8 to 10 minutes or until all the liquid is gone and the spinach is reduced in volume.
In a medium-sized pan, fry onions in the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until slightly golden. Stir in salt, pepper, turmeric, aloo bukhara and limes.
Add 3 cups hot water to the onion mixture. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes.
Add cooked white beans and cook 10 more minutes to let the flavors blend.
Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve vegetarian esfenaj aloo over a bed of aromatic basmati rice.