Jew­els from Iran

The mel­low spices used in Mid­dle Eastern cook­ing lend it won­der­ful flavours. But the best in­gre­di­ent is a spirit of gen­eros­ity.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - FOOD WITH SAM MANNERING -

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.

LAMB

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

RICE

1½ cups bas­mati rice

Salt

150g melted but­ter

Pinch of saf­fron threads

3 tbsp each of sliced al­monds, raisins, pis­ta­chios and

cran­ber­ries

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.

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