Opulence of the East – Persian Jeweled Rice and Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Quinces

Persian Jeweled Rice, Morasa Polow

I am a terribly lazy blogger.  Why is that, you ask?  Simply, because I blog for the pleasure of it, and this blog is not monetized, so I do it on occasions when I have something to write about, have the time to write, and some nice photos of food that I might have managed to snap before it got devoured.  Which means, in order to write a post (because everyone wants pictures on a blog, obivously!), I need to remember to do that – which, thanks to giving myself enough time (for a change) before guests arrived, I managed yesterday.

Why did I make sure to give myself enough time for photos in particular?  Because, and I hope you will agree, the dish I was making tends to look bloody spectacular, and I don’t cook it all that often, so I didn’t want to miss the occasion.

Persian Jeweled Rice (aka Morasa-Polow) is a specialty of Tehran (or so Wikipedia informs me).  It is a celebratory dish that is (forgive me if I say wrong here but that’s what I have been told – I have never been to Iran!) often prepared for Persian New Year and other major celebrations.  I have no claims to any sort of Persian connection – my only claim to this dish is that I have learned how to make it, both from Persian ladies and after perusing a number of books and internet sources, and that in my not at all humble opinion, I make it well.  And let me tell you – if you haven’t had this, you really, really want to either find a good Persian restaurant and try it there, or make it, because (and especially as vegetarian celebratory dishes go), it is a glorious thing to behold – and to eat.  The dish is supposed to represent a pile of treasure – gold and silver and gems, akin to the fantasy depiction of a shah’s (or a dragon’s!) hoard.  And while it looks fancy, it isn’t actually very difficult to prepare – however, the method of preparation is rather specific, and the bag or box of basmati rice won’t tell you how to do it.  But I will.

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb and Quinces

I also made a very very simple and lazy lamb shoulder roast to go with the rice – rubbed with Ras-al-Hanut (a Moroccan spice blend) and roasted slowly with sliced quinces that I had left over from my manic quince-buying spree last October (didn’t I tell you those keep forever?  They do!  The ones left over from making jam last year were still happily sitting in a fruit bowl 4 months later – a tiny bit wrinkled, but not even really spotty.)  The method of preparation of this is so simple, it is barely a recipe at all, but for those who have never attempted to roast shoulder of lamb (a tough and generally less-desirable cut because of it), it’s worth mentioning because treated right, it has amazing flavor and is wonderfully tender.

The sum total of this is a fantastic combination that can be served formally or informally, and looks amazing – for not that much effort, although it does take some time – most of which is passive, which is to say you can go nap, take a shower or clean up during it – my favorite way to cook for anything from a dinner for two to a huge crowd.

What you need for Jeweled Rice:  (serves 4 very hungry people or possibly 5 not so hungry ones)

  • A large pan or shallow pot and a clean kitchen towel large enough to wrap the lid of said pan or pot.
  • 4dl best-quality basmati rice (dry)
  • 0.5g packet of saffron. I prefer pre-ground saffron but if you have threads, they work just fine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 50g butter
  • A bit of vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons or 2 giantly heaping tablespoons of Greek or Turkish yogurt (full-fat)

Garnish for the rice:

  • 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and Frenched (sliced in half and then into slivers lengthwise)
  • A knob of butter and a bit of vegetable oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons dried zereshk (berberis) berries – can be found in most Middle-Eastern shops (optional)
  • A pomegranate – seeds extracted
  • A handful of parsley, chopped
  • Some shelled pistachio nuts (I do not use those since T is deadly allergic to them, but they taste great and play the role of ’emeralds’ wonderfully).

For the shoulder of lamb (serves 4 generously)

  • 1 shoulder of lamb, bone-in (about 1-1.5kg)
  • 2 tsp and a pinch or so of salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons Ras-al-Hanut or Baharat or Advieh (all three are regional variations on the common theme of a rich blend of the best spices, and any would work here, though there are other dishes in which they aren’t interchangeable).
  • 3 medium quinces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Method for lamb:  (Takes about 4 hours, plus some to marinate)

  • Score the fatty (upper) side of shoulder of lamb with a sharp knife cutting through the fat and any connective tissue to the top layer of meat.
  • Using 2 tsp salt, salt the lamb all around.  Rub lamb with the spice mix generously and allow to sit for 1-2 hours at room temperature or in the fridge overnight.
  • Set oven to 140C and place lamb scored side up in a roasting dish.  Add a bit of water to the bottom of the dish (not quite enough to cover the bottom) and swish the meat around in it so there’s water underneat it.  Place a thermometer probe in the meat if you have one (I use a continuous-monitoring thermometer with a readout outside the oven).  Let roast for an hour.
  • Core and slice the quinces, and toss in a tiny bit of oil and a pinch of salt.  Arrange quinces around the lamb in the roasting dish, turn heat down to about 120C and allow to roast till internal lamb temperature reads approximately 93C (allowing fat and collagen to soften and liquefy).  Baste the quinces and lamb with melting fat and juices once or twice during roasting which will take another 2-3 hours.
  • When the internal temperature is reached, remove from oven and shred the meat using forks (use a knife if needed to cut meat off the bone where needed) and swish the meat and quince wedges in the juices.  Pile into a warmed bowl and sprinkle with a tiny bit of greenery if desired.

Method for rice: (Takes a little less than 1 hour – can be made during the last hour of lamb roasting in the oven).

  • Soak the zereshk berries (if using) in boiling water and let stand while you make the rice.
  • Place the basmati rice in a sieve and rinse, under both running water and by immersing in a bowl of cold water until water runs clear (this may take a few minutes of rinsing and several changes of water).  Set over a bowl or sink to drain in a sieve.
  • Boil a pot of water (about 3L pot is fine).   Add the salt.  Once water reaches rolling boil, add the drained rice and cook 4-8 minutes (keep checking, the rices vary!) until al dente (the rice will have expanded in length to nearly twice its original size, but will be still fairly firm to the bite, even a tiny bit crunchy).  Drain the rice back into the sieve.
  • Heat a large pan (nonstick is fine, so are other kinds) on medium heat and melt the butter plus a small drop of oil in it.  Add the saffron (crush the threads if using or just dump the packet in if it’s pre-ground) and allow to disperse in the butter.  Once butter is bubbling, add the yogurt and about 1dl of water to the pan, and whisk or squash the yogurt with spatula to disperse in the water.  Allow this to start bubbling and add the rice in a heap in the center of the pan.

    Lower heat to medium-low (I use setting 4 out of 9) and cover the pan with a towel-wrapped lid.  Set timer to 15 minutes.

  • While rice is steaming in saffron and butter, make the garnish:  heat the garnish butter with a drop of oil in another pan on medium heat.  Add the onions and a tiny pinch of salt and cook slowly turning occasionally until onions are turning golden at the edges.  Add the soaked and drained zereshk berries if using and fry until berries are heated through and onions are a beautiful golden color.  Set aside.
  • Check the rice’s doneness by lifting the edge of rice with a spatula.  If the rice lifts up and has a nice crunchy golden crust on the bottom, it is done.  If the crust is not yet set and flexes and looks soft, cover it back up and let it sit another few minutes (pans and stoves vary).  You can also turn heat up to medium from medium-low and watch it closely so it doesn’t burn – this will crisp the bottom quicker.  Once done, the crust will look like the section in this photo:

Rice crust - ready

  • Once rice has acquired the golden crunchy bottom, take it off heat and transfer to a serving bowl, breaking up the crust into large chunks and mixing the yellow saffron-infused rice and the top steamed white rice somewhat, but not too much.
  • Top with the onion-zereshk mix (or just onions if no zereshk), pistachios (if using), pomegranate seeds and parsley and serve alongside lamb.
  • I also made a bit of garlic-yogurt sauce by mixing together a few tablespoons of Turkish yogurt, a drop of olive oil, pressed garlic, a tiny bit of chopped parsley and a pinch of salt.  It’s optional but lovely.

So there it is – beautiful, wonderfully opulent, and not that difficult to do.  But, like any slow food, it takes time by its very nature.  It isn’t a quick weeknight dinner – but it certainly makes for a beautiful weekend or celebratory one.  This will go well with either white or red wines, so drink whatever you like to drink with it (not sure about beer, I don’t think this is a beer-ey pairing dish but I am no expert!).

And lets you me use up some of those quinces you I bought too many of because I am greedy like that.

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7 thoughts on “Opulence of the East – Persian Jeweled Rice and Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Quinces

  1. Good God that lamb looks good Veronika. I have vegans coming next week or else I’d be jumping on it. Will have to try the rice for them, I wonder what I can replace the butter with…

    1. Ellie, hi and thanks for stopping by!

      If you would like to make the rice vegan, I’d suggest good-quality coconut oil (if you don’t dislike the flavor), or otherwise refined vegetable oil (not shortening) such as rapeseed or peanut oil (they stand up to heating rather well and have neutral flavor). Saffron is very flavorful, and while I Iove the butter here, the rice will probably be really good even without it.

      As to lamb – not much one can do about meat and vegans, but if you can get your hands on a couple of good aubergines, slice, grill or saute on high heat with little or no oil, sprinkle them with a bit of salt, and serve alongside the rice – they should go together with the rice awesomely well!

    1. Hahahaha! Well, it’s what I usually do (I’ve only ever met one non-judgemental vegan – but then she wasn’t ideologically vegan, either), but I can’t really pass judgements on people who want to keep their vegans! ;)

      1. Verily, that is so!

        I never try to get people to eat something I like to eat, like shrimp, for example. Because, if they don’t want it – more shrimp/wine/whatever for me and others like me! :D

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