Monday, 7 May 2012

Albalu Polo- Iranian Lamb and Sour Cherry Pilau

I love reading about and cooking Middle Eastern food, in particular Iranian. My recipe book collection has a high proportion of books about food from this part of the world. Unfortunately I am about as far as I could be from my books, but I do have a mental catalogue of the dishes I want to cook. This sour cherry dish is one of them.

I've never seen fresh sour cherries on sale- not only are they not commonly grown, they have a limited season. However, I've used bottled sour or Morello cherries with good results. With regard to the lamb, I’ve used both shoulder and leg in this type of dish, and I definitely prefer shoulder. The quantity of meat is pretty frugal for Western diets, if it bothers you, increase the quantity of lamb.

Now for the most important element- the rice. Cooking rice is a serious business in Iran, alongside bread it is their staple food. The Iranians don't export their superior rice varieties, but keep it in the country. Rice dishes from Iran can be grouped into three types, characterised by the cooking method:

Kateh- simply cooked in salted water with butter

Damy- Similar to the above, but other ingredients are stirred into the rice before cooking, such as lentils

Polo-This is the method used in the recipe below, and the tastiest. You soak the rice for at least an hour, and then par-boil it. You return it to the saucepan, and steam it over a low heat for 40 minutes or so. By the end of cooking time, you are left with very light, fluffy rice and a golden brown crust on the bottom- the tah-deeg. Crispy rice shouldn’t be so tasty, but it is. You break it into pieces and divide it as fairly as you can.


450g basmati rice
One large onion, peeled and chopped medium fine
Olive oil
Pinch saffron strands, ground
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
4oog lamb shoulder, cut into small pieces
1 jar morello/sour cherries, about 500g
1-2 tbsp light honey or sugar
unsalted butter

Soak the rice in twice its volume of cold, salted water. Leave while you get on with the lamb. Fry the onion in a little olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole. Once it has softened, stir in the lamb and spices, plus salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add enough water to cover- about 500ml. You don’t need to brown the lamb like you would for an English stew. Half cover with a lid, and cook over a low heat for 1hr-1hr and a half until the lamb is tender and the liquid is reduced. About 20 minutes before it is ready, add the cherries and sugar. At the end of cooking, you should have quite a thick sauce, reduce a over a high heat if it seems thin. Taste for salt/sugar/spice adjustments.

Put 2 litres salted water on to boil. Drain the rice, and rinse in a sieve until the water runs clear. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the rice and cook for 4-7 minutes, until the rice is very nearly cooked. It should still have a bite in the centre, but be almost ready to eat. Drain, and mix in a little butter. Heat some butter in a heavy bottomed( NON-STICK!) saucepan that has a lid. With the pan still on the heat, line the base with some of the rice-just enough to cover. Spoon over a half of the lamb, then cover with half of what’s left of the rice. Layer the second half of the lamb on that, and finally the remainder of the rice. Shape the top of the rice into a slightly domed shape with a wooden spoon, the highest part in the centre. Cook on a medium high heat for 2 minutes, and then turn the heat down to the lowest heat, put the lid on and cook for 40 minutes. While it is cooking, put a chopping board or baking sheet in the freezer (something metal is best). When the cooking time is up, put the pan on the frozen surface for 1 minute. This helps the bottom of the rice come loose from the pan. Serve, either straight from the pan, or up-end it into a dish, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a nicely moulded cake of lamb pilaf.

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