Persian Jeweled Rice With Lamb


persian jeweled rice

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.

Persian Jeweled Rice With Lamb
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Serves: 8 servings
  • 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
For the rice layer:
  1. 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.
For the lamb layer:
  1. 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.
For the dried fruit/nut layer:
  1. 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.
For the orange/carrot layer:
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. To serve, spoon the Jeweled Rice into a mound on a large platter. Sprinkle with a few more nuts and dried fruit, if desired.

Persian Jeweled Rice


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