Have a little lamb

Medleys of rice, vegetables and meat are popular throughout the Mideast, central Asia and India.

November 6, 2008 17:07
lamb chop 88

lamb chop 88. (photo credit: )


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Shopping for food is one of my favorite activities, as it can be a great opportunity not only to discuss recipes with the other shoppers and to try new ingredients, but even to discover new dishes. Recently I enjoyed a festive, exotic Persian specialty of lamb and rice, not at a restaurant or a dinner party, but at a grocery store. It was a small Persian supermarket that has a fine array of prepared Persian delights, made in the store's small kitchen. The enticing entree featured lamb shanks on a bed of basmati rice cooked with fresh fava beans and dill, with a garnish of saffron rice on the meat. It was delicious and made me reflect on the popularity of this combination, not just in the Mideast, but throughout central Asia and in India. Persians have many versions of these medleys of rice, called polow, cooked with all sorts of ingredients, from lentils to sour cherries, and often served with lamb. Variations are prepared by cooks in other central Asian countries. I loved the Afghan Kabuli palau that I sampled at an Afghan restaurant, in which lamb seasoned with sweet spices was braised with basmati rice, carrots, raisins and nuts. Cooks in Afghanistan also use chicken and meatballs in palau and sometimes flavor it with saffron or rosewater. I first tried the Uzbek version, called plov, at a wedding in Israel where nobody was Uzbek or "Buchari," but everyone was eager to taste what they referred to as "oshpolo." According to Lynn Visson, author of The Art of Uzbek Cooking, its name is "Oshkovok palov," and it is made of lamb cubes with sauteed onion, carrots, pumpkin, cumin, turmeric, rice and a whole head of garlic. The Uzbeks also make variations using quinces, chickpeas or turnips. For a simple version of Indian lamb pullao, wrote Neelam Batra, author of 1,000 Indian Recipes, lamb and rice might be cooked with fresh ginger, garlic, hot green chilies, tomato, diced potato, ground coriander, cardamom seeds and other spices. Cooks in India also layer spiced lamb with rice, and often nuts and dried fruit to make a festive dish called biriani. Actually, even the basic versions of these dishes are not for every day, but are served for special occasions. To make serving easy, you can prepare the rice and the lamb separately and put them together at dinner times. DELICATE LAMB RAGOUT WITH FAVA BEAN RICE For this lightly seasoned stew, the meat is briefly browned and simmered in a simple onion-tomato sauce with a little garlic. I add a sweet pepper too, and occasionally another vegetable such as asparagus - fresh when in season, or frozen at other time. Makes 6 servings 4 1 kg. boneless lamb shoulder, excess fat removed 4 2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil 4 1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped 4 Salt and freshly ground pepper 4 700 gr. ripe tomatoes, peeled, or an 800-gr. can, drained 4 11⁄2 cups meat or vegetable broth or water 4 3 large garlic cloves, chopped 4 Sprig of fresh thyme or 1⁄2 tsp. dried 4 1 large green or yellow pepper, diced 4 450 gr. to 650 gr. frozen asparagus (optional) 4 Fava Bean Rice (see next recipe) 4 1 or 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional) Cut lamb in 21⁄2-cm. cubes. Heat oil in a large heavy stew pan. Add onion and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until beginning to turn golden. Add lamb, sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute lightly until meat changes color. Chop fresh or canned tomatoes and add to pan. Add broth, garlic and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add green pepper and simmer for 30 more minutes or until lamb is tender, adding a little hot water if needed to keep meat moist. If sauce is too thin, remove lamb and simmer sauce uncovered until thick enough to lightly coat meat; return meat to pan and heat through. Discard thyme sprig. Cook asparagus uncovered in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain well. If pieces are large, cut them in 5-cm. pieces. Reserve a few spears for garnish and stir remaining asparagus lightly into sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve lamb over rice. Garnish with reserved asparagus and sprinkle lamb with chopped parsley. FAVA BEAN RICE For this festive rice dish, the basmati rice is flavored with fresh dill and saffron. Persian cooks, like French cooks, often peel each cooked fava bean for the most delicate, bright-green result. To do this, squeeze each bean gently, like when peeling a blanched almond. Cooks in other Middle Eastern countries usually skip this time-consuming step, but then the beans have a less vivid, gray-green hue. You can substitute lima beans. Makes about 6 servings 4 1 kg. fresh fava beans, shelled, or 300 to 350 gr. frozen fava or lima beans 4 11⁄2 cups basmati or other fine long-grain rice, rinsed well 4 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil 4 1 medium onion, minced 4 1⁄3 cup chopped fresh dill 4 1⁄4 tsp. saffron threads (optional) Cook fresh or frozen beans in a saucepan of boiling salted water uncovered over high heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain well. If using fresh fava beans or frozen ones that come in their skins, peel off and discard the tough outer skins. If using saffron, put it in a small bowl and soak it in 2 tablespoons warm water for about 15 minutes. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large heavy saucepan. Add rice and cook over high heat for 12 minutes or until nearly tender. Drain, rinse with lukewarm water, and drain well. Heat oil in saucepan used to cook rice. Add onion and cook over medium-low heat for 7 minutes or until soft. Add fava beans, salt and pepper, and toss 1 or 2 minutes over heat. Add rice and toss very gently. Add saffron in its liquid. Cover tightly and cook over low heat, without stirring, for 7 minutes or until rice is tender. Add dill and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand, covered, until ready to serve. Fluff rice gently with a fork and mound it on a platter. Serve with lamb. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.

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