The historic splendor of Persia’s capital, Shushan, encompassed more than the majestic courts and the palatial gardens of King Ahasuerus and Queen Esther.
Shushan was, in fact, a terminus of the Royal Road, an ancient highway reorganized by King Darius the Great as a thoroughfare for communications and goods from Shushan to Sardis.
This monumental road hastened the intensity of cultural advancement, transforming Shushan into a major trade center—a venerable melting pot—drawing flavors from places as far-flung as India and Ethiopia. I imagine that the banquets held in that era were alive with an array of vibrant colors and spices highlighting the best gifts that the noblemen and officials from distant lands had to offer.
This ancient land inspires the velvety, savory soup shared in this recipe. This soup will transport your senses to the splendor of Queen Esther’s royal banquet halls, where no expense was spared for people’s dining pleasure. Its humble ingredients of earthy barley and tender chicken thighs are completely transformed by some of the most celebrated spices, herbs, and flavors that would have arrived in Shushan via the Royal Road. The amplified aromas and exotic notes come together in a complex and heartwarming experience, delivering delight with each spoonful of goodness.
Persian stew is perfect to serve as a main dish for a Purim family dinner, an Erev Shabbat dinner, or even a Tu Bishvat dinner. Serve with warm pita or challah alongside fresh lemon wedges and extra herbs. This is one sure way to deliver the royal treatment to your loved ones at your table.
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced in large pieces
- 8 cloves of garlic, diced
- 2 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tbsp. each: turmeric and cumin
- 1 tsp. coriander
- ¼ tsp. cardamom
- ⅛ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- ⅓ cup tomato paste
- 4 medium carrots, diced or shredded
- 1 large russet potato, diced
- 4 quarts water
- 4-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 2 cups barley (pressed or pearl)
- 1 bunch Italian parsley, rinsed and finely chopped
- 2 bunches cilantro, rinsed and finely chopped
- Juice and zest of one lemon
In a large pot, heat extra-virgin olive oil on medium-high heat. Add onion, and saute for 4-5 minutes. Add turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cayenne, and bay leaves to bloom the spices.
Add garlic and ginger, and stir for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and carrots, and saute for 2-3 minutes, constantly stirring. Add water, chicken thighs, barley, and kosher salt. Turn the heat up to high, and bring to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.
After one hour, remove bay leaves and chicken thighs. Discard bay leaves. Shred the chicken thighs with two forks. Return shredded chicken to the pot. Stir to bring together. Add freshly chopped herbs to the soup, reserving a small portion for the final garnish. Add the zest and juice of one lemon.
Ladle soup into bowls, top each bowl with an herb garnish, and serve lemon wedges on the side.