Baghali Polo ba Machiche

by , under food, recipes

That is, Iranian lamb stew. Adapted from a recipe in the NRC (one of the few serious Dutch newspapers) by Abdelkader Benali and Saïda Nadi-Benali.

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The only lamb in the supermarket (it was too warm to cycle 15 minutes to the Turkish butcher and back) was frozen New Zealand leg slices, so I used that and it was excellent for the purpose. I’m afraid our lamb was a hogget, but so would lamb from the Turkish butcher have been, and anyway really young lamb doesn’t have enough flavour for this.

I was rather generous with the spices, used mace instead of nutmeg because nutmeg makes me annoyingly dizzy while mace doesn’t, and put in twice the saffron and garlic. I added the sugar to the meat rub instead of with the fruit, and put off the rose water until the end instead of adding it in the middle and boiling all the aroma away. Also, I noticed while cooking that the amount of water was far too much — the stew was soupy and I had to fish out the solids, not a bad thing on hindsight because I could take the meat off the bone, and reduce the liquid to about a quarter — so I’m changing that in the writeup. (Note that the amounts in the recipe below are already mine; if you want the original you can easily reverse-engineer or if you can read Dutch look it up on the newspaper site.)

This is what worked for me. Something else may work for you.

Not counting marinating time, this takes at least 3 hours, possibly longer if your meat is on the tough side, but most of it is just simmering so you can go away and do something else.

According to the Benalis, if you don’t want meat you can replace it by okra or broad beans. I don’t think either will make a good replacement for technical reasons — the long stewing does something with the overall taste, not just with the meat — but I do want to try broad beans with this seasoning. [ETA: broad beans are absolutely the best vegetable to have with this.] And if I can ever get goat meat again, I’ll try this recipe on that as well.

Stage 1

about 750g lamb (or mutton or goat), pretty much any cut will do but preferably with bones in
1 heaped tsp ground cardamom
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
1 heaped tsp ground turmeric
1/8 tsp ground mace or nutmeg (it tends to dominate)
1 tsp cane sugar

Mix all the spices and the sugar and rub the meat with it all over. Cover and refrigerate, preferably overnight but otherwise as early as possible. Some meat juice may leak out; don’t throw it away.

Stage 2

a good pinch of saffron
1 lime, organic or at least well-scrubbed
1 orange, ditto
150ml hot water

The original recipe says “fill a large glass with 150ml hot water” but of course a large glass would be only half full then; I’ve taken it to mean “don’t put the water in too small a vessel because the lime and orange juice need to fit in too” and used my 1/2 litre measuring jug. I have a nice hoard of Spanish saffron but if you can only get it in those ridiculously tiny paper packets you need two of them.

Soak the saffron in the hot water, add the zest and juice of the lime and orange (the easiest way is to grate the zest off the fruit right into the jug with a small hand grater and then squeeze the fruit). Stir, and let it stand while you do the next stage.

Stage 3

the marinated meat
olive oil
1 medium to large onion, cut fairly small
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
12 sprigs of fresh thyme

Cover the bottom of a wide, thick-bottomed pan with olive oil and let it get properly hot. Brown each piece of meat separately and put it back into the marinating bowl. Then fry the onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme in the same fat until the onion begins to colour. Put all the meat back in and sprinkle with salt.

Stage 4

about 450ml tepid water

Add the saffron/juice mixture to the pan. Swish tepid water in the marinating bowl (hot water would make the protein in the leaked-out meat juice congeal immediately, cold water would impede the initial stewing) and add to the pan as well. The liquid should barely cover the meat. Add some more water if you’re concerned, you can always reduce it later. Bring to a tentative boil, reduce the heat to very low and forget the whole thing for an hour or so. If you happen to pass the stove, you can turn the meat and put the bottom pieces on top.

Stage 5

a small handful of raisins
6-8 prunes

Wash the raisins, cut the prunes up coarsely. Add to the pan and stir in. Leave it on very low heat for another hour or more, turning the meat occasionally. It’s ready when the meat falls off the bones.

Stage 6

Take the pan off the heat. Fish the solids out with a slotted spoon. If there’s a lot of liquid left and/or it’s very thin, reduce it on high heat until it starts to thicken.

Sort the solids into edible (meat, fruit) and inedible (bones, spent bay leaves and thyme, fatty bits you don’t want to eat) and put the edible parts back into the (possibly reduced) sauce.

At this point you can abandon it until you’re almost ready to eat, and cook fragrant rice (either pandan rice or ordinary rice steamed with a stick of cinnamon and a couple of cardamom pods) and any vegetables you like.

Stage 7

1 tbsp rose water

Reheat the stew if necessary. Taste to determine whether it needs more salt or sugar or lime juice, and add rose water just before serving.


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