RECIPE: Persian Lamb Stew
Inside the Tajrish bazaar in northern Tehran, narrow alleys lined with windowfuls of saffron bustle with cool young locals sipping tea and reading Hafez, and groups of young women laden with shopping bags. Through the gilded arcade, past nutsellers and fabric merchants the single through-passage opens out into a wide square fruit and veg market. Mountains of herbs, tomatoes and eggplants make up a single giant stall sourrounded by shops selling sour fruit leather and endless marinated pickles.
Shoulder to shoulder locals fill their bags with cheese, vegetables, fish from the Caspian sea and hunks of freshly butchered lamb. Unlike many cultures, Iran’s street food is limited. Spiced broad beans, sweet syrupy beetroot (laboo), and traditional kebabs are about the extent of it. It is in the homes of the local people that the food gets interesting. Delicately flavoured soups, crispy potatoes, endless permutations of rice, and deep spiced stews are all common on Iranian tables.
This Persian lamb stew, adapted from a Naomi Duguid recipe in her book ‘Taste of Persia’ is a typical homestyle Iranian dish. Simply delicious and definitely worth trying if you’re an adventurous eater, the flavours are wonderfully sour and earthy, thanks mainly to the dried limes, which for me are the defining taste of Persian cuisine.
*A special thanks to my Mum who when visiting us here in Melbourne bought me this wonderful cookbook from my favourite shop, Book for Cooks. If you are ever here I cannot recommend this shop enough – you can lose yourself for hours – and it’s so conveniently positioned next to the Victoria Market!
Serves: 4 or 2 with leftovers for lunch
Prep time: 2 hours
450g lamb shoulder (cubed)
1/2 cup dried black eye peas
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp powdered dried lime
2 whole dried limes
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
Oil for frying
4 medium waxy potatoes
1/4 cup oil for frying
First of all get the black eyed peas cooking in about 3 cups of boiling water. Cook over a high heat on a rolling boil until tender (about 45 mins to an hour). You can just use tinned black beans for this recipe to cut down on cooking time.
Next, in a large heavy based casserole pot heat a glug of oil over a medium heat. Add in the roughly chopped onions and sautee until transluscent. Place the cubed lamb in the pot and brown on all sides before adding in the turmeric and black pepper and then the tomato paste. Stir together until the spices and paste completely cover the lamb pieces.
Deglaze the bottom of the pan with a little hot water to ensure nothing has stuck before adding in the black eyed peas and enough water to cover the lamb. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour or until the meat is tender. Traditionally, you would only cook the meat for about 20-30 minutes, but I prefer it to be slightly breaking apart.
Finally, stir in the dried lime powder and the whole dried limes (prick the whole limes – carefully as they’re hard – about 4 to 5 times before adding to the stew) and simmer for a final 10 minutes. Immediately before serving squeeze over the juice of one lemon and season well with salt.
To cook the potatoes cut them up into 2cm cubes and fry (in 1/4 cup oil) in a heavy based pan over a medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are golden. Season with salt before serving.
Chickpeas instead of black eyed peas.
Enjoy with a plate of herbs like tarragon, parsley, dill and spring onions.
Flatbread to mop up the juices around your bowl.