Iranian rice is first par-boiled, then cooked with oil or butter to form a crust known as the tahdig, which literally translates as ‘the bottom of the pot’. The rice is tinted yellow with saffron; a prized spice in Iran that is so precious, it inspires folk stories. Iranian tables always house bowls of fresh herbs and pickles so that guests can add to their dishes as they please.
- 60 ml (¼ cup) olive oil
- 6 lamb shanks
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 200 g (1 cup) red kidney beans, soaked in water for 1 hour, drained, rinsed
- 2 large bunches English spinach, trimmed, thinly sliced
- 6 dried limes or lemons (see Note), pricked all over with a skewer
- 6 spring onions, thinly sliced
- ½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped, plus extra, to serve
- ½ bunch coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped, plus extra, to serve
- ½ bunch mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped, plus extra, to serve
- ½ cup dried fenugreek leaves (see Note)
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- Persian pickled vegetables (see Note) and flatbread, to serve
- 360 g (2 cups) basmati rice, rinsed, drained
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) olive oil
- 2 desiree potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp saffron threads, dry-roasted
- 1½ tbsp currants
- 1½ tbsp barberries (see Note)
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.
Soaking time 1 hour
Preheat oven to 160°C. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large, heavy-based, ovenproof pan over medium–high heat. Season lamb with salt and cook for 5 minutes or until browned. Transfer to a plate. Add onions and garlic to pan and cook for 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Return lamb to dish with kidney beans and 500 ml (2 cups) water. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat and cover with foil. Transfer to oven and bake for 1½ hours.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over medium–high heat. Cook spinach, in batches if necessary, for 20 seconds or until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove lamb from oven and stir in spinach, limes, spring onions, herbs and turmeric. Re-cover dish and bake for a further hour or until lamb is falling off the bone and kidney beans are tender.
Meanwhile, to make rice, place 3 tsp salt and 2 litres boiling water in a large saucepan. Gradually add rice and cook for 2 minutes or until grains are tender on the outside but still firm in the centre; take care not to overcook. Drain and rinse rice under cold water to prevent further cooking.
Heat oil in a large, heavy-based pan over medium–high heat. Line base of pan with potatoes. Gradually add rice to form a mound. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, make 3 or 4 holes in mound, then cover pan with a lid wrapped in a tea towel; the towel helps to seal the pan and absorb moisture from the steam. Allow steam to build for 1 minute, then reduce heat to low–medium and cook for a further 30 minutes or until rice is tender and fluffy and there is a crisp potato crust on the base. Carefully invert rice with crust in one piece onto a plate and cover with foil.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind saffron to a powder. Place in a bowl with 2 tbsp warm water. Set aside for 10 minutes, then sprinkle over rice. Scatter over currants and barberries.
Serve stew with barberry rice, pickled vegetables, flatbread and extra herbs.
• Dried limes and lemons, dried fenugreek leaves, barberries and Persian pickled vegetables are available from Middle Eastern food shops.
Photography by Anson Smart.
As seen in Feast magazine, October 2011, Issue 2. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.