Indeed, Persian cookery engages not just the eyes and nose, but it captivates the taste buds as well, unfolding flavors that subtly hint at the delights that await. The visuals, though, beguile, and make the first pass at seduction.
Persians call the pilaf Javaher Polow, or Jeweled Rice, and fittingly so. Saffron sets the rice aglow with a deep gold, while carrots, berries and chopped pistachios entice with glints of color. This imagery was enough to encourage an attempt when Milk Street pictured it in the January/February 2019 issue.
The flavors fulfil that initial promise, and intertwine both flavors and pleasingly contrasting textures, building to an exceptional finale. Sweetness abounds in the carrots and in the berries, which bracket it with mild tartness. These are cranberries in the original recipe, but with the more authentic barberries on hand…
The pilaf opens well, though the lamb mesmerizes with a symphony of tastes even more intriguing than what the rice boasts. The New York Times landed a major scoop when it featured instructions for Persian-Spiced Lamb Shanks on its website.
The shank benefits from a long braise, which leaves the normally-challenging cut succulent and, literally, fall-off-the-bone tender. Spending hours in a spice-infused spa confers considerable flavor advantages too. Cinnamon, cardamom, thyme and onions all have their say, while rose buds and rose water, two Near Eastern staples, contribute bewitching floral notes.
Then, after the broth steeps and infuses the lamb with its magnificence (and vice-versa), it’s strained and is poured over the lamb, which is finally adorned with mint leaves and fresh orange zest. Truly, it’s even more spectacular than it sounds. The kitchen will smell amazing.
It’s a treasure bound for the Imperial Palace, brought to your table instead.
(Persian Jeweled Rice)
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 4 tablespoons salted butter
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced (*1)
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 and 3/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 2 medium carrots, shredded on the large side of a box grater
- 1 cup dried cranberries (*2)
- 1 teaspoon finely-grated orange zest
- cup shelled and chopped pistachios, divided
In a bowl combine the saffron with 2 and 2/3 cups of water. Microwave for one minute and set aside.
In a 12-inch skillet set over medium flame, melt the butter. Add the onions and two teaspoons of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden-brown, about ten minutes. Stir in the rice, cumin and cardamom. Salt and pepper lightly. Cook, stirring, until the rice is golden-brown, about seven minutes.
Stir in the saffron water, carrots and cranberries. Bring liquid to a boil and cover, then reduce flame to low. Cook for twenty minutes.
Turn off the flame and stir in half the pistachios. Salt and pepper to taste, then fluff rice with a fork. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with remaining pistachios.
1 – Instead, I used two large shallots, of course.
2 – I had some barberries left from a previous recipe, and this was a good opportunity to use them. While barberries are more “authentic,” cranberries would’ve been better, as they’re bigger, brighter and less tart.
Persian-Spiced Lamb Shanks
- 4 lamb shanks
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground dried rosebuds, crushed (*3)
- 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron
- juice of 2 limes
- 3 teaspoons rosewater (*3)
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped (*4)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground dried lime (*3)
- zest of one orange, plus more for garnish
- a few thyme sprigs
- 2 small bay leaves
- 6 cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoon roughly-chopped mint, for garnish
Season lamb shanks generously with salt. Mix together the cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, rosebuds, black pepper and turmeric. Rub mixture into meat and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.
Put the saffron in a small bowl along with the lime juice, two teaspoons of rosewater and 1/2 cup of warm water. Set it aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, removing all but the lowermost rack.
Place a stockpot over medium high flame. Once the bottom is hot, pour in oil to half-an-inch in depth. Working with two shanks at a time, brown the lamb in the pot, turning it as necessary to brown it evenly on all surfaces, about five minutes per batch. Once the lamb is browned, remove it to a separate plate.
Reduce flame to medium and carefully pour off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about ten minutes. Season with salt, and add the dried lime, orange zest, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Stir in the saffron water. Lay in the lamb shanks and pour in the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then turn off flame and cover.
Transfer the pot to the oven and cook, covered, for about 90 minutes. Remove the lamb shanks to a deep serving dish and set in a warm place.
Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid through a cheesecloth, pressing on the solids to extract maximum flavor. Discard the solids and salt and pepper the liquid to taste, adding a little more rosewater if desired.
Pour some liquid over each lamb shank, garnish with more orange zest and torn mint leaves, and serve.
3 – Dried rose petals, rosewater and dried limes all are common in Persian cooking, and may be found in some larger supermarkets. If not there, then they definitely may be obtained online.
Barring that, you may omit the rose petals and the rosewater, with only minor diminishment to the overall dish. As for the grated dried lime, substitute the zest of one fresh lime.
4 – You know me, I replaced the onion with two medium shallots.