I’d be thrilled to report we first had this dish on a long, extravagant tour of the Middle East…but sadly, no. We tried it at a potluck lunch at our son’s school.
One of the mothers who was originally from Iran used to bring a carload of homemade food to serve the volunteers at the annual debate tournament. I had no idea the names of the dishes we carried out of the backseat for her (One was baklava-like, another a ricotta cheese-based dessert), but they were the most fascinating, exotic recipes my family had ever tasted. No wonder that four day-long debate tournament had plenty of volunteers!
A little googling yielded a recipe for her spectacular main course -a huge pan of cinnamon, cardamom and saffron-infused rice piled high with dried fruits, nuts and meat. It was a meal fit for a king! Not a Buckingham Palace king, but one who sits on Oriental carpets in a tent under desert stars. The dish, Jeweled Rice, is appropriately named because of the bright, multi-colored spices and ingredients decorating the rice.
The recipe is versatile, too. With meat it’s a one-dish dinner. Eliminate that and it becomes an unusual accompaniment. Don’t like lamb? Substitute beef, poultry or even some of that leftover turkey.
And if you ever need a dozen or so volunteers for a boring and mundane assignment, bring this! And there’s nothing wrong with a little hands-off management if, like that Persian prince, you decide to enjoy a big plate of Jeweled Rice while your helpers do all the work.
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 1½ pounds lamb stew meat (ask butcher to cut it for you) Or substitute poultry or beef, if you prefer.
- ¾ cup butter, divided use
- 2 tablespoon salt, divided use
- 1½ oranges
- ½ cup whole dried cranberries (or dried barberries, if you can find them)
- ½ cup sultanas or golden raisins
- ½ cup dried apricots, chopped
- 1 teaspoon loosely packed saffron or ½ teaspoon ground tumeric
- ⅓ cup sugar, divided
- ¼ cup orange blossom water
- ½ cup sliced raw almonds, toasted
- ½ cup pistachios, toasted and chopped
- 2-3 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 2-inch matchsticks
- 1 piece 4-inch stick cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Rinse the rice in a colander or sieve until the water runs clear. Place in a pot with 1 tablespoon salt, cover with water and soak for 2 hours or more. After soaking, drain the rice, return it to the pan. Cover it with water and add ½ tablespoon salt. Bring to boil and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes once rice has begun to boil. Remove from heat and drain rice in the sieve.
- Cut the lamb stew pieces into ½ inch chunks (if the butcher did not do this for you.). In a large frying pan, heat ½ tablespoon butter and brown the lamb pieces until cooked, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
- In a large sauce or frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter. Add the almonds and pistachios and sauté for about a minute. Add the raisins, cranberries (or barberries) and dried apricots and toss with the nuts. Empty into bowl and set aside.
- Use a vegetable peeler to remove the rind from the oranges. Slice the peel into very narrow slivers 1- 1½ inches long. Put the slivers into a small pot of boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove the orange peel and set aside. (This reduces the bitterness of the orange.)
- Using a mortar or even your fingers, crush the saffron threads with a few pinches of sugar until a powder forms. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the orange blossom water and set aside.
- In the same pan used for the fruit and nuts, heat 2 tablespoons of the saffron orange blossom water mixture, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the sliced carrots and orange peel and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, the remaining orange blossom water, the cinnamon and cardamom and sauté for about a minute. Add 1 cup water, bring to a boil, then lower to medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes until the carrots slightly caramelize and the liquid has reduced to a syrup.
- In a wide, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid (We used an 11 inch stovetop pot), melt 6 tablespoons butter and cover with ground black pepper. Layer with ⅓ of the rice, making sure it is evenly spread over the bottom of the pan. Cover this layer with ½ of the fruit/nuts, ½ of the carrot/oranges (including the syrup) and ½ of the lamb. Repeat the layers, then top with the remaining ⅓ of the rice.
- Make 5 or 6 holes in rice to the bottom of the pan with the handle of a wooden spoon. Dot with the remaining butter. Cover the pot with a kitchen towel and a heavy to prevent steam from escaping. Be sure to fold up the corners of the towel to keep it from burning! Cook over moderate heat for about 30 minutes.
- To serve, spoon the Jeweled Rice into a mound on a large platter. Sprinkle with a few more nuts and dried fruit, if desired.