Jewels from Iran
The mellow spices used in Middle Eastern cooking lend it wonderful flavours. But the best ingredient is a spirit of generosity.
Ihave a great love and respect for the cuisines of the Middle East; Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and so on, as the first thing that springs to mind is love and generosity, in spite of all the strife that these nations have endured. It’s a strange and terrible irony, but at the same time, it also makes complete sense. Food unifies; it brings people together, when everything else is fear and darkness. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of friends from Iran who have given me first-hand experiences of their fascinating and ancient food culture. I love picking out the different influences from East and West and the liberal use of soft, mellow spices such as cinnamon, saffron and cumin. Pomegranate plays an influential part and in many forms. The fresh fruit is slowly becoming more widely available here in New Zealand; they’re growing down in Gisborne now. Pomegranate molasses is an especially wonderful treat to play with, not least because of its versatility in sweet and savoury dishes. I’ll put it over icecream or into a cake batter as readily as I would over a leg of lamb.
Here are two recipes that make the most of the wonderful sweet-sour quality of pomegranate molasses, both loosely inspired by the glorious cuisines of the Middle East, and as always, best made with love.
A PERSIAN-Y LEG OF LAMB WITH JEWELLED RICE
Prep time: 10 mins / Cook time: 4-5 hours Serves: 6
This is a sort of take on the traditional Kiwi leg of lamb, if you like. By all means, use a shoulder of lamb instead of a leg; anything on the bone will do, really.
Traditionally, barberries are the thing to add to jewelled rice, however, given their limited availability down here in the Antipodes, you will be excused for not using them. Cranberries are perfectly acceptable in their place. You may want to use other dried fruits such apricots or dates. I would suggest serving the spiced yoghurt from the yam recipe opposite with the lamb, to help cut through the richness of the dish.
1 leg of lamb, about 2 kg in weight 8 cloves garlic, halved
Flaky sea salt
750ml good beef or lamb stock Pinch of saffron
1 tsp cumin seeds
¼ cup pomegranate molasses 1 onion, sliced
1½ cups basmati rice
150g melted butter
Pinch of saffron threads
3 tbsp each of sliced almonds, raisins, pistachios and
Zest of 1 orange
Mint leaves, finely sliced, to serve
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Pat the lamb dry with kitchen towels and make a dozen or so deep cuts into the surface of the meat. Prod the pieces of garlic into the holes, rub the meat all over with salt and place in a large, lidded roasting dish, casserole or Dutch oven. Pour in the stock, add the saffron and cumin seeds and drizzle the pomegranate molasses over the top of the lamb. Scatter the onion around the meat, pop the lid on and cook for at least four hours, basting occasionally, until the lamb is meltingly tender and well caramelised on the outside. Allow to rest as you finish the rice.
Wash the rice well and add to a large saucepan of well-salted boiling water. Leave to simmer away for 10 minutes, then drain well.
Combine the melted butter and saffron. In a large frying pan over a moderate-low heat, add 2 tablespoons of the butter, followed by ⅓ of the rice. Scatter over ⅓ of the almonds, raisins, pistachios and cranberries with a little more salt, before layering with more melted butter and repeating twice, finishing with a final layer of the dried fruit and nuts, the last of the melted butter and saffron and the orange zest. Cover with a tightly fitting lid and leave to cook for about 30 minutes, until the base is lovely and crunchy. Take care not to let it burn.
Turn out onto a platter and serve with the lamb, with a scattering of mint leaves over the top.