Alireza Fakhrashrafi didn't know he was going to be a chef. When he was 11, his mom recognized his talent and let him make Persian rice for family get-togethers, but it was a long journey from that house in Tehran to owning two restaurants (Pomegranate and Tavoos) in Toronto.
Along the way, Fakhrashrafi planned to be a physician, witnessed a revolution, moved to Canada, published a magazine and earned a master's degree. It wasn't until he started cooking for friends that he realized opening a restaurant and becoming a chef could be a career. "My student friends couldn't even boil an egg," he says, "so I cooked for them at our parties and cultural events." At Pomegranate, Fakhrashrafi serves traditional Persian entrees while Tavoos is devoted to the rich, hearty breakfasts of his childhood. But to taste this complex, herbaceous shrimp stew, you'll have to wrangle an invitation to Fakhrashrafi's home for dinner – or cook it yourself. It's simply too delicate for a restaurant menu, he says with a smile.
Servings: Serves 6 to 8
Ready time: 35 minutes
1 medium cooking onion, finely chopped
6 tbsp grapeseed oil, divided
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp chopped ginger
½ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground coriander seeds
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro, divided
½ cup chopped fresh or dried fenugreek (if dried, soak in water 10 minutes and drain)
4 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups water
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp tamarind paste or pomegranate molasses
2 cups raw deveined shrimp (thawed if frozen), divided
6 mini potatoes, boiled and drained 6 grape tomatoes
1 tbsp butter
¼ tsp ground saffron (use a mortar and pestle) in 1 tbsp hot water
2 chopped bird’s-eye chili peppers
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, sauté onion in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. When the onions are golden, add garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and coriander. Sauté for 2 more minutes. Turn off the heat.
In a dry skillet, wilt 1½ cups of cilantro and fenugreek until softened (1 to 2 minutes). Add 3 tablespoons of oil and cook over medium for 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes longer. Combine this mixture with onion and spices along with water, salt and tamarind paste. Mix well and taste, adjusting seasoning if necessary.
Add ¼ cup of shrimp to mixture and simmer for 10 minutes. In a separate saucepan, heat remaining tablespoon of oil and sauté whole potatoes and tomatoes over medium until lightly coloured.
In a separate skillet, melt butter and sauté remaining shrimp with saffron water and remaining cilantro for 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer simmered mixture to a serving dish and top with sautéed shrimp.
Garnish with chilies, potatoes and tomatoes and serve with steamed bulgur or rice and sides of yogurt, fresh herbs and Persian pickles.