Rice dishes are a big part of Persian cooking. In this recipe rice, eggplant and lamb are layered to make a huge baked rice dish with a beautiful crispy crust.
- ¾ tsp ground saffron
- 1.5 kg boneless leg of lamb
- 3 cups plain (natural) yogurt
- 6½ tbsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 6 cups long grain rice
- 1.2 kg eggplants (see Note)
- 300 ml oil (approximately)
- 100 g xereshk (dried barberries) (see Note)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 200 g slivered almonds
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Marinating time: 8 hours
Soaking time: 2 hours
Dissolve the saffron in 3 tablespoons of hot water and set aside.
Clean the meat, remove any excess fat and cut into pieces (about 5 x 5 x 2 cm). Marinate in 2 cups of the yoghurt, 2 teaspoons of the salt, black pepper and ¾ of the dissolved saffron. Refrigerate for about 8 hours.
Clean and wash the rice with lukewarm water and soak for at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, peel the eggplants and cut into discs. Dissolve 3 tablespoons of salt in a litre of water and soak the eggplants for about an hour before frying. This is to remove the bitter taste and to stop them soaking up too much oil.
Drain and dry the eggplants with kitchen paper. Heat ¼ cup of oil in a large non-stick frying pan and when hot, fry the eggplant pieces in batches on both sides. You may have to gradually add some more oil as needed.
Clean the barberries and soak for 2 minutes in water for any sand or dirt to sink to the bottom. Carefully scoop the barberries out without stirring up the sediment. Wash a few times and leave to drain. Stir-fry the barberries in 2 tablespoons of oil very lightly for about 1 minute. Take off the stove and immediately sprinkle with sugar, stir and put aside. There is no need for sugar if you are using blackcurrants.
Mix the remaining yogurt and dissolved saffron with the egg yolks and put aside.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Boil 12 cups of water in a large pot. Drain the soaked rice in a strainer. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and the rice to the boiling water and gently stir once or twice. Leave uncovered and boil for 5 minutes. Try a grain of rice by pressing it between your fingers. It should be half-soft and half-hard. Drain the rice in the strainer. Wash out the excess starch with a cup of warm water while in the strainer.
Pour 3 tablespoons of oil over the base of the oven-safe pot and swirl to coat the sides.
Keep 2 tablespoons of the yoghurt and egg mixture aside. To the remaining mixture add one cup of the rice and spread it evenly over the bottom of the pot ensuring it is fully covered.
Pour half of the rice into the pot, level it and spread the meat over the top in one layer.
Spread the eggplant pieces on top of the meat (reserving a few rounds for serving) and sprinkle with slivered almonds and ⅔ of the barberries. Pour the rest of the rice and level it out. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil to 1 cup of water and spread over the top of the rice. Add the reserved yogurt and egg yolk mixture to the left over mixture from the marinated meat and the remaining dissolved saffron. Pour this mixture around the inside edge of the pot. This makes a crispy layer of rice around the edge and the bottom of the pot helping it to come out as a cake when cooked. Press a bit with the back of a spoon so that the ingredients stick together.
Poke a few holes in the rice to allow the steam to rise from the bottom and place the lid on.
Put the pot into the oven and bake for 1 hour, then reduce the oven to 130ºC and bake for 1 hour more.
Take out of the oven and leave for a few minutes. Place a round serving tray or a large plate on top of the pot. While firmly holding the tray against the pot, gently and carefully flip upside down so that the contents of the pot neatly fall out onto the tray.
Garnish with fried eggplant circles and remaining barberries and serve hot.
Continental/Lebanese eggplants are preferable, as they require less oil for frying.
Zereshk (barberries) can be found in Persian or Lebanese shops, alternatively you may use red currants.