This is a classic combination of lamb and prunes, found across many cultures and cooking styles. This particular recipe is from the north west of Iran, near the border with Turkey. It is totally delicious and relatively easy. I found the recipe in the magnificent book ‘Nightingales and Roses’ by Maryam Sinaiee. Of course, we don’t have 100% of the ingredients in South Uist, but she makes suggestions that helped me to adapt to local circumstances.
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 400g lamb neck fillets or lean tender lamb (I used boned lamb chops)
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp madras curry powder
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 8 dried apricots, chopped in half
- 2 medium potatoes, cubed
- 3 tsp salt
- 100g yellow split peas
- 8 prunes
- Oil to fry the potatoes.
- Heat 2 tbsp cooking oil in a heavy pan, and fry the onions over a medium heat until they are browning.
- Add the meat, turmeric and curry powder, and continue to stir and cook until the meat is browned.
- Add the tomato paste, cook for another couple of minutes, and then cover the meat in boiling water. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour and a half, until the meat is tender.
- Meanwhile, soak the apricots in water for at least 30 minutes
- Meanwhile, cook the yellow peas – put them in a small saucepan and cover with water, and simmer over a low heat. The peas should be soft but still firm. Drain and rinse with cold water.
- Meanwhile, peel and dice the potatoes, and put them in cold water with the salt.
- When the meat is nearly tender, drain the apricots and add to the stew along with the prunes and split peas. Add a little water if needed to make sure all the ingredients are covered. Bring back to the boil and continue to simmer until the peas are soft.
- About 30 minutes before serving, check for seasoning. Drain the potatoes, and fry them in hot oil for about 10 to 15 minutes until golden and crispy.
Serve the stew with the fried potatoes on top. This goes well with plain rice.
This is a truly delicious meal, I keep sneaking back for extra portions. It uses a surprisingly small amount of meat to make a meal for around eight people.
I derived the recipe from the astonishingly good book, Nightingales and Roses by Maryam Sinaiee. There are a couple of tweaks to match local circumstances and my store cupboard.
- 400g basmati rice
- 400g white cabbage – I used a whole sweetheart cabbage
- vegetable oil
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 200g mince
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 5 tbsp tomato puree OR 250ml passata
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 20g butter
- Put the rice in a large bowl, and cover with water, stirring to loosen any surface starch. Drain, and repeat this step three times, then leave the rice to soak in salted water for 30 minutes or more.
- Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Drain the soaked rice and add to the pan. Bring the water back to the boil, and cook uncovered until the rice grains are on the surface of the water. This takes about six minutes or so. The rice should feel cooked, but still with a little bite to it.
- Drain the cooked rice and rinse with cold water to separate the grains and stop them cooking.
- Chop the cabbage coarsely and saute it in 1 tbsp of oil over a medium to high heat, seasoned with the black pepper. After five minutes, as it starts to brown, remove from the pan.
- Add a bit more oil to the pan, and the chopped onions, fry for around 10 minutes until starting to brown.
- Add the mince, turmeric, and cumin, and fry until the mince is well browned.
- Add the tomato paste, salt and cabbage. If you are using tomato paste and not passata, then add 200ml boiling water. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. If the mixture is looking a little dry, or starting to catch, add another drop of water.
- Using the large pan, put a couple of tablespoons of oil at the bottom, and heat it. Then add alternating layers of rice and cabbage mixture, starting and ending with a rice layer. Wrap the pan lid in a tea towel and jam it firmly on top.
- Put the pan over a medium heat and cook until the outside of the pan is hot.
- Melt the butter in 2 tablespoons of boiling water, and pour this over the top of the rice mountain in the pan. Put the pan into an oven at Gas 3, 170C, and bake for 30 minutes.
- When the dish is done, it should be turned out onto a platter, and served with yoghurt, pickled vegetables, and a salad of herbs. At this time of year, not that many delicious herbs in the garden, so I skipped that bit.
We have some wild goose breasts in the freezer, and I am always looking for good ways to cook them. Somewhere I have a traditional goose soup recipe to try, but before I could test it, I came across a recipe for a lamb dish in Nightingales and Roses by Maryam Sinaiee.
I must tell you, it was sensational, best recipe ever for wild goose. Spices are available from Seasoned Pioneers, and the other ingredients I got from Persepolis in Peckham.
- 100g slivered or flaked almonds
- 2 dried limes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 3 goose breasts, sliced into strips
- 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 stick cinnamon
- 100g dried barberries
- 30g butter
- 1/2 tbsp rose water
- a small pinch of saffron, ground and steeped in 1 tbsp boiling water
- a teaspoon of brown sugar or date syrup
- a large pinch of salt, to taste
- Cover the almonds in cold water, and leave to soak.
- Cover the limes in boiling water, and put something on top to weigh them down so they remain immersed
- Heat the oil in a heavy pan, and fry the onions over a medium heat for around 8 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure they don’t stick as they fry – they should be sticky and beginning to brown.
- Increase the heat to high, and add the goose meat and turmeric. Fry until the meat is browned on all sides.
- Add the tomato paste, cook for a couple of minutes, then add the cinnamon and enough water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil and then simmer for half an hour.
- Rinse the limes, and pierce them in three or four places. Add them into the stew along with the drained almonds, and simmer for another half an hour.
- Fry the barberries in the butter.
- Just before serving, when the goose is cooked, check the flavour. Add salt and sugar to balance the sourness, and boil off any excess water.
- Add the rosewater, saffron water and barberries, and serve with plain rice.
I’ve been eating a lot of salad this summer, this is a good one to serve with some of the other dishes that I’ve posted this year. It is from Nightingales and Roses by Maryann Sinaiee. I have adapted it a bit, because we don’t get a lot of pomegranates on South Uist, but you can add these for an extra burst of colour and flavour.
- Half a long cucumber
- About the same weight in cherry tomatoes
- About the same weight in spring onions
- A couple of sprigs of fresh mint
- A good squeeze of lemon juice
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Peel the cucumber and dice
- Cut the tomatoes into 8 (half, half and half again)
- Chop the spring onions into small circles
- Chop the mint finely
- Mix the chopped ingredients.
- Just before serving, mix in the lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.
I can hardly wait to tell you about this recipe, or to eat it again. It is delicious, and dangerously garlicky, so I think I will be in trouble at work tomorrow. I made it with tinned beans, but the original recipe starts from scratch. I got the recipe from the remarkable book, Nightingales and Roses. These are recipes from all over Iran, organised by seasonal availability of ingredients. Where she wins over my other current favourite book, Jerusalem, is her serving suggestions.
- 1 can of cannellini or borlotti beans
- 50g butter
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 small bulb of garlic, with the cloves peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 3 tsp of dill seed, or 5 tsp dried dill weed, or 30g fresh dill, chopped
- salt, to taste
- 4 eggs
- Melt the butter in a medium lidded frying pan, add the oil and then the chopped garlic, and fry until the garlic is turning golden.
- Add the turmeric, pepper, dill, and salt, and then add the can of beans including the water they are in.
- Bring to a simmer, and cook, until the mixture is getting drier and thicker.
- Make 4 wells in the bean mixture, and into each well, break an egg. Cover the pan and cook on a low heat until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
The book suggests serving this with a little rice, with side dishes of olives, chopped radishes, smoked fish. We were not so dainty, and served this with a side salad with herbs and some bread, olives and labneh.
This is just too good to be true, and too good not to share. The Hebrides produces the main ingredients so well. Mint and rhubarb grow in my garden, and there are sheep all around. The recipe is Persian, and this version comes from ‘Nightingales and Roses’ by Maryam Sinaiee.
- 5 tbsp vegetable oil, or 50/50 oil and butter
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 400g lamb, off the bone and cut into large cubes
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 120g parsley, finely chopped
- 50g fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp flour
- 3 stalks of rhubarb sliced into 2cm lengths
- 2 tsp date syrup, or brown sugar
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a casserole dish, and lightly brown the onions.
- Turn up the heat a little and add the lamb, turmeric, salt and pepper, and fry until the meat is browned on all sides
- Pour over boiling water, so that the meat is covered by around 2 cm of water. Simmer for an hour and a half.
- Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan, and cook the herbs for four to five minutes, until they start to darken.
- Add the flour, and continue to stir and cook for another three minutes or so.
- Add the herbs to the lamb stew and simmer for another half an hour, to make a thick minty stew. At this point, the stew can be set aside and can be finished another day. Just add the herbs, and then stir and freeze, and then do the half hour simmer on defrosting.
- Add the rhubarb and date syrup, stir it in and then cook the stew on a low heat for another 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t stir, as this will break up the rhubarb
Serve with rice.
I’ve bought a few new cookbooks this year, the theme seems to be about the middle east. This book of Persian recipes is called ‘Nightingales and Roses’ by Maryam Sinaiee. Hopelessly romantic title, but then again, I have a photograph of two Tehrani police officers outside our gate in northern Tehran, posing for my mother with bunches of roses and honeysuckle.
I never had this soup, though, until today. It is easy and delicious. The recipe makes a large quantity, it says it serves four but only if you have two helpings each. It takes about an hour and a half to make.
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 medium onions, chopped finely
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- 1.5 litres boiling water
- 50g arborio rice
- 1 can of chickpeas, drained
- 1 pack of coriander leaf, chopped (around 40g)
- 1 pack of flat leaf parsley, chopped (around 40g)
- 1 tbsp dried summer savory (or substitute a mixture of thyme and mint)
- 300g spinach, chopped
- 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
- 250ml greek yoghurt or sour cream or creme fraiche
- Black pepper to garnish
- Heat the oil in a large pan with a lid. When it is hot, add the chopped onions, and fry for 10-15 minutes until the onions are brown. Stir in the turmeric and mix. Set aside a tablespoonful of fried onions for a garnish at the end.
- Add the water and rice to the rest of the fried onions, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the chickpeas, herbs and spinach, bring to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes.
- Add the salt and pepper to taste, then beat in the yoghurt. Don’t boil once the yoghurt is added, because it will curdle.
- Garnish with extra yoghurt, the fried onions, and a grating of black pepper.
For a vegan version, leave out the yoghurt, or use coconut yoghurt. For a meaty version, use beef stock instead of water and add small meatballs.
When I was much younger, I lived in Teheran, and we used to have barbecues when we were out and about – often my dad would barbecue chicken, but we’ve had some amazing meals. We had a sort of portable barbecue, and some rush fans to get the charcoal glowing hot.
I made these kebabs under the electric grill at home, but they would taste so much better cooked under an open sky, the sun throbbing in the sky, with mountains on the horizon and an icy river flowing through the rocks below.
- 1 large onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1kg beef mince, or 50/50 beef and lamb
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice (about half a lime)
- A pinch of saffron, ground in a pestle and mortar and dissolved in a tsp of hot water
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp lime juice
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Chop the onion and garlic, and put it in the blender with the lime juice and blitz it.
- Put the meat, onion/garlic/lime, salt, pepper, saffron and baking soda in a large bowl. Kneed the mixture with your hands for 15 minutes to make a paste
- Divide the meat into eight or so lumps, and press this around the skewers. The skewers should be flat, so that the kebab doesn’t spin round. We used some stainless steel strips cut into 18 inch lengths. Mold the meat around the skewers. Once they are ready, set aside in a cool place.
- If you are using a barbecue, this should be lit and burning for around half an hour before cooking, so that the charcoal is glowing hot. We had the grill set to high.
- In a small pan, melt the butter and combine with a dash of lime and a pinch of salt. A little cayenne pepper could also be added here.
- Brown the kebabs quickly on each side, so that the outer layer is firm; this is to stop the kebabs falling apart.
- Baste with the butter and lime, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
- Serve with flat bread, and salad. The kebab can be garnished with lime juice or sumac powder. The best salad would be yoghurt, spring onions, herbs and garlic, perhaps with some walnuts.
This is a very easy Persian version of a common middle-eastern dip. Be prepared to get a bit messy for the best results.
- 2 large aubergines
- 1 tbsp very good quality olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 200ml plain full-fat greek yoghurt
- 4 tbsp chopped fresh mint
- 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Rinse the aubergines and prick them with a fork in a few places. Put them in the centre of the oven on a rack with a baking tray underneath. Bake for one hour.
- Remove the aubergines from the oven, let them cool until you can handle them. Peel off the skin and chop the flesh.
- Put all the chopped aubergine into a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. I used my bare hands to squish the aubergine well, before beating with a fork. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
- Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with saffron water, a tablespoonful of plain yoghurt and mint leaves.
- This recipe is best made 24 hours in advance, and stored in the fridge. Remove from the fridge 10 minutes before serving. This is good served with bread.
Some of you will know that I spent some time living in Teheran when I was a child. Zara used to work for our family as a housekeeper, and she used to cook wonderful Persian home-cooking for us. Our favourite was a dish called Loubia Pollow, made with rice, beans, tomatoes and lamb. We also used to eat the most delicious barbari bread and thick plain yoghurt sold in blue earthenware bowls.
I have sought to recreate the flavours of the food we ate there, and have never managed to get it quite right. Persian food is very complex and sophisticated, from ancient civilisations, combining the herbs and spices of east and west.
There are a few sites online where you can look up Persian recipes, but the flavours and end-results are unfamiliar to most. I have one recipe book, A Taste of Persia which is aimed at the US market, and has all the ingredients in cups. I’ve been working my way through the recipes and re-jigging them to suit local ingredients and UK directions.
- 1 cucumber, peeled and finely diced
- 1 500g tub of full-fat plain Greek Yoghurt
- A bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh dill or fennel leaf, chopped
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 tsp dried tarragon
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 3 tbsp chopped walnuts
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Garnish of fresh mint, rose petals, dill leaf, chive flowers, chopped walnuts, chopped radishes etcetera
- Combine all the ingredients, mix well and adjust the seasoning.
- Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, and up to four hours before serving. Take out of the fridge ten minutes before serving and garnish.