"How old were you when the first meal you had was not just sustenance but cuisine?"
- Tim Storrier Extract from The Artist's Lunch.
This dish is so called because of its Middle Eastern blend of spices. I sometimes serve it with a pastry-fashioned tassle on top. The key to the meat is the slow, slow cooking.
- 1 boned leg of lamb (or whatever meat will fall apart nicely), dice into large chunks
- 2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken up
- 4 whole cardamom pods
- 3 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 cloves
- 8 peppercorns, any colours
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 cm knob fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 red-hot chillies, deseeded
- 1 bunch coriander, leaves not roots
- 1 tbsp (or so) preserved lemon (substitute juice of 1 lemon if you don’t have preserved lemons)
- 3 medium brown onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 x 400 g tins Italian tomatoes, diced
- sea salt, generous pinch
- packet puff pastry or home-made shortcrust pastry
- good olive oil
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.
Preparing the spices
Preheat oven to 160ºC.
In a dry pan on a low heat and with no oil, gently dry-fry the cumin, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cardamom pods, fennel seeds, cloves and peppercorns, just for about 5 minutes to release the flavours. Don’t overcook them or they will become bitter.
Whizz the spices in a coffee grinder or use a pestle and mortar to make a fine paste.
In a food processor, pulse the garlic, ginger, chillies, coriander (reserving some to sprinkle on top when serving), preserved lemon and lastly the onions as you do not want them too fine. Heat 6 generous tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy cast-iron casserole dish with a good fitting lid. Fry the pulsed mixture for 5 minutes or so until translucent but not browning.
Add the blended spices and more oil if too dry, and fry for a few more minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes. Continue to simmer gently. Add sea salt to taste. Preparing the meat Fry the meat in batches in more olive oil in a separate pan to just brown and seal the meat. Now add the browned meat to the casserole dish and place in the oven and cook gently for 2½ hours, stirring occasionally.
If there is too much liquid in the dish during the cooking, remove the lid, or conversely add water if it is becoming too dry. When the meat is tender and falling apart, remove it from the oven.
Turn the temperature up to 200ºC. Place the meat in a pie dish. You can add a sheet of puff pastry with a ‘pie bird’ in the centre to release the steam, or if you do not have one, slash the pastry to allow the steam to escape. You can fashion a tassle with puff pastry slices. Glaze with milk and cook in the hot oven for a further 20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden.
Watch the pastry as it can burn very quickly. Alternatively, you can fashion a fez-style top to your pie from homemade shortcrust pastry. I make mine in the food processor and chill it in the fridge until I’m ready to roll — always use unsalted butter. This pie is a bit of fun. I serve it with peas and a green salad.