Treasure Beyond Gold and Jewels

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.


Javeher Polow

(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.



52 thoughts on “Treasure Beyond Gold and Jewels

  1. I have never been a fan of eating lamb, but you have succeeded in even making this look scrumptious. Now, that’s an award-winning accomplishment! But, I never doubted you. 😃

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Much appreciated, Tamara!

      Actually, in keeping with your preference, the rice really is the star of the show. In fact, the whole post just as easily could’ve been about the grain.

      The lamb was pricey, and it would’ve been a shame to have let it go to waste, but the pilaf greatly exceeded expectations. Especially with all those pistachios and barberries. Oh my, the crunch, the sparkle!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, a lamb! OK, of course.

        I see.

        Actually, I don’t see, and that’s the whole point. My vision isn’t what it once was, and it never was very good. At least I spotted the four legs, and guessed it was some kind of mammal.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A dog with horns? In which universe? I know Thor has wings, but when did he get the headgear?

        Cliff Claven knows what’s going on. “Yeah, Normie, that’s one of those little-known flying rams. They eat barbells.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m pretty sure I have some barberries stuffed into the back of one of my spice drawers, so I’m thinking I should try one! (I know you said the cranberries would be better but I don’t mind going the more authentic route too.) Some of us are eating quite well during this quarantine, eh? I’d wager you’d be hard-pressed to find a dish that sounds and looks half as delectable as this one in a restaurant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much obliged, Summer!

      This recipe emptied the shelf of barberries, meaning an amazon refill is in order. There’s another recipe, perhaps, in the coming months that requires them and, like you, I prefer authenticity when I’m trying something for the first time. After a dish has had its chance to shine as it wax intended to have been prepared, then tinkering is permissible, it it genuinely improves the experience. At other times, though, t’s best to leave well enough alone.

      In the pilaf’s case, though, going forward, the cranberries would be better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I think so, Summer. Thanks for asking. Of course, it probably will have to wait for a time market shelves are bit more supportive of…exploration.

        By the way, I’ve missed your blog lately. Not that I expect something new constantly, though I do delight in your generosity anyway. Still, I began to worry you decided this whole blogging thing really isn’t for you.

        Great, now where am I supposed to go for great foodie discussions?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My blog hasn’t been refreshing reliably, though I’ve been posting every M, W, F as always. I think I have the issue resolved now. Can you see the new posts?

        It’s frustrating because I know which plug-in that is causing the issue but it is too important to delete it entirely. I guess the benefit of social media is that I can link directly to the new posts as they publish to the site.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Thanks for the explanation, Summer.

        On my browser, at least, the steel cut oats and apples entry from a week or so ago is the latest one available.

        I’m definitely going to keep checking back, though, because you’ve become must-read blogging for sure.

        Hey, all of the sudden, I regained the ability to “Like” entries. Your site to bound to reappear just as abruptly. Think I’m giving up this easily, computer? Think again!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Nope, Summer, still stuck on the oats and apples. Sure, if you’re going to be caught up anywhere, that’s the place to be, but still, now I know I’m missing something, and it’s making me antsy!

        I navigated a little and found your butcher’s block entry. Either it’s new, or it’s something from before I discovered your blog. Hoping for the former.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Thanks for the tip, Summer!

        No luck, unfortunately. There definitely is something odd about how my PC or browser interacts with your site. Until earlier this month, not a problem in the world, now nothing but. For one thing, I don’t see this ‘slider’ you mention, unless you mean the pictures that glide through the top of the page. There, oats are the most recent example, then it cycles through to the older ones.

        Until I figure this out, under which category is your most recent entry listed (“Breakfasts,” “Slow Cooker,” etc.)? While I can’t see the new stuff at the top of the page, I still can access it by clicking on the individual categories.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Hmmm… try this instead of the homepage to see the posts in reverse chronological order

        If oatmeal is still at the top, try refreshing the page. Or you could see if you still have the issue in an incognito window. Sometimes my site behaves differently in a private window versus when it knows it’s me. lol

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Awesome, Summer – that did it! So, takes me to one spot only, a place now frozen permanently in oatmeal, whereas opens the universe to all sorts of updates. It’s the place I remember so fondly. Three cheers and three cheers more!

        Actually, I’m sort of surprised I managed to stumble upon three new entries when I was blinded. Still, three or four other new entries remain to explore later on too. Thanks much, Summer!

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I’m so glad that worked! I could switch the homepage to the blog page I just sent you if I start hearing others are having issues. Unfortunate that it stuck on oatmeal. There’s other dishes I would have preferred it to freeze on!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Odd, too, oatmeal trapped the homepage like quicksand. Up to that point it had worked fine, then suddenly…glug!

        As I was the only one deprived of your cooking, it must’ve been an issue with my PC, though most likely, WordPress had a hand in things too.

        Write what you will, Summer, but I was the one who was trapped for two weeks. Fortunately, you kept me well-supplied with apple-cinnamon goodness. I don’t complain!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I confess, I derive a great deal of enjoyment from knowing in advance exactly what an aside is going to be. “Onions? Hah! As if…”

    Per your Persian treasures, though, I have another confession: I have never had lamb. Nope, not once. And yet, I can almost taste the spices diffused through the tender meat, detect the scents wafting from — somewhere on high, certainly. And as for the pilaf: anything that combines berries, carrots, and rice, is saintly in my book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Just when predictability entombs writing, something unexpected shatters the complacency. Think you’re up-to-date on the allium situation? Ha! Soon, my love of onions will know no rival! Fooled you, didn’t I, Rachel?

      Lamb definitely has a distinct taste, which requires equally assertive spices to soothe it. Applied successfully, the combination is sublime.

      One of the most beneficial agents, though, isn’t a spice, strictly speaking. Orange zest brings an exhilarating brightness that lightens the whole experiences. Similarly advantageous grated over the rice, by the way! Really compliments the carrots in particular.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, Rachel, “distinct” is a nice way of putting it, though in previous years, when I wasn’t much of a fan, I likely would’ve selected a word less flattering.

        Only recently did I discover that, if you treat lamb decently, it will reward the effort.

        Some friends of Croatian descent enjoy lamb every Easter, in a centuries-old family tradition, studded with garlic cloves, and rosemary sprigs. Positively indulgent!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s no need to dine out with you in the kitchen, Keith. I know restaurant quality when I see it, and your serving dishes accessorize your Persian fare ever so beautifully. Thank you for sharing your menus and pro tips.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Much appreciated, Crystal!

      Now, how do we get my prep time down from the current 17.8 hours? The restaurant idea’s a flattering one, but at this rate, the weekly customer count is going to be, what, three? Plus, the menu knows no logic, bouncing around in one week from Uzbek, to Filipino, to Carolina Low Country…

      The job takes care of finances, largely, though cooking inspires the spirit. The week is given to working. but also to dreaming, to planning, and, especially, to savoring your comments. Thanks for your continued interest, Crystal, and for all the great conversations you inspire!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds like you’ve busted the code for how not to be bored at home these days.

        There must be an untapped market for Uzbek-Filipino-Carolina fusion. Let’s see. We could call your restaurant Keith’s World Tour or Cuisine Globe? I have no doubt you’re the idea guy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Lumpia stuffed with plov (pilaf) and Carolina pulled pork? Actually, that points to future ideas, though in three separate entries, rest assured!

        Thanks to you, my days are filled with scribbling, and my nights, with dreaming. Sometimes, vice-versa. All for delightful discoveries on Saturdays, and the beautiful comments they bring the following week. Never in my wildest dreams… Thanks so much for making it reality, Crystal!


      3. Thanks, Crystal!

        Ideas a-plenty, and now that it seems society isn’t as immobilized as it was a few weeks ago, I’m confident of getting ingredients (sooner or later) to realize them.

        Ha – outsmarted you again, mob!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. well you’ve got me bewitched and drooling even tho I see meat there!
    All those exotic flavours mix into a delightful taste tempter …

    Seems WP is not delivering most posts to my reader, sorry for this late find … beggar when I rely on them to keep me updated with those I follow …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No explanation necessary, Kate. Just flattered you still check out the journal. In fact, it means considerably more you actually make an effort, rather than respond to something that appears automatically.

      For what it’s worth, it’s been the better part of a year since WP has deigned to tell me about any new posts, even on those sites, like yours, to which I subscribe. Long ago I bookmarked the blogs I like, and when I get home each afternoon and have had dinner, I go down the list…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ha I have no intentions of trying to master a new system at this stage 🙂

        WP eventually get it together, most are volunteers! That’s why they can offer it free plus all their ads 🙂


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