Friday, October 14 –
How do you take a task like this, with crohn’s eating restrictions, and make it even more complicated? You add a good friend who is allergic to amines and also has other assorted food allergies. This friend, my wonderful Amine Chef, and I have cooked all kinds of different dishes and meals together so I knew we could figure it out, we just had to wait for the right country to come along. And – ta da! – Azerbaijan provided the right base of recipes for us to modify so that we could eat dinner together. Fortunately, the lamb recipe started out amine-friendly and the only things we had to substitute were the vinegar and the lemon juice for the asparagus and pilaf. We also had to make sure the broth was organic, but that was easy to buy at the store.
So I started on the lamb while she started on the asparagus and pilaf. Let me pause to say that the original recipe called for green beans instead of asparagus, but we couldn’t find any that were fresh and good quality. So we went with asparagus instead. The lamb was boiled in water (again, with the boiling meat thing…) until not pink. Then it was simmered in the sauce made by the onions, butter, pomegranates, and chestnuts. The smell of the sauce was intoxicating and all three of us (Amine Chef, Roommate Extraordinaire and I) kept stealing little bites out of the pan as we waited for it to simmer down and the rest of the food to finish cooking. The meat was tough and chewy (yet another example of why I think boiling meat is my least favorite way of cooking) but the sauce made up for it – in spades. I could put that sauce on chicken or pork and be just as happy to soak up the meat and sauce with naan or rice. If you’ve never opened a pomegranate before and would like to learn how, please check out this video, I promise that the method shown works perfectly.
Amine Chef started the asparagus and got the stalks blanched and into the modified marinade. (Here is her recipe for the low-amine asparagus as we had it. Delish!) Then she got to work on the pilaf, which we both agreed could be made in the rice cooker. Silliest idea I’ve had so far (on this cooking journey, anyway). She put all of the ingredients and part of the water into the rice cooker, which popped to say it was done while the rice was still a big, goopy mess. We figured that if we just put it into a hot pan and kept stirring it, some of the goopiness would go away. It did, kind of. We did still have sticky, lumpy rice-substance, but at least it wasn’t runny…
As the three of us dished up to eat and the smells were very exciting. We served up the lamb, pilaf-mess, asparagus, and plain Greek yogurt to dip the asparagus in. The lamb was just as chewy as I thought it would be, but the flavor more than made up for it. The pilaf largely got ignored, probably because of the texture. The asparagus was a sharp, tangy flavor that cut nicely into the other dishes and the yogurt was a perfect accompaniment to the vinegar/dill flavors.
Things I have learned: I am still convinced that boiling meat is NOT the way. I will do it if I have to in order to keep the recipes as close to the original form as I can… but I don’t have to like it. Also, not every rice recipe can go into a rice cooker – this one just taught me that. I’ll have to make another pilaf for one of these countries to do it the right way. And, a nice, deeply flavored red wine goes perfectly with lamb.
(recipes borrowed from the cooks at: www.azcookbook.com, www.ricegourmet.com, and www.news.az/recipes)
Braised Lamb with Pomegranates and Chestnuts (Nar Govurmasi)
Note: Typically, saffron infusion is added to jazz up the flavor of the dish, but if not available, use a generous pinch of turmeric powder instead (no need to dissolve in water).
- 2 pounds (900g) boneless or bone-in lamb (such as breast, shoulder or leg), cut into medium size serving pieces (substitute with veal)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, peeled, cut into half lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
- 4 cups blanched and shelled chestnuts
- salt, to taste
- ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 cups pomegranate seeds (preferably a tangy variety)
Directions: Put the meat in a medium saucepan and fill it with water, enough to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the meat is no more pink inside, about 20 minutes. During that time, with a slotted spoon, skim off the froth that may surface to top. Strain the meat through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the broth (you will need some of it later). Put the meat on a separate plate.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until light golden, about 10 minutes. Add the meat to the onion and cook together, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes (the onions will almost melt down).
Add the chestnuts to the meat. Using a mortar and pestle, powder saffron threads (you should obtain about a pinch of powder), then dissolve the powder in 2 tablespoons hot water. Add the saffron-water along with 1 cup reserved broth to the pan with the meat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Cover and cook stirring occasionally (too much stirring may break the chestnuts) for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is fully cooked and the chestnuts are tender (they must hold their shape). If you are going to serve immediately, add the pomegranate seeds, cover and simmer over for 5 more minutes. If you are going to serve later, add the pomegranates just before serving and cook briefly. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with bread or as a topping to rice pilaf. Nush Olsun! Enjoy! Serves 4.
- 2 cups of rice
- 3 T oil
- 4 cups beans
- 2 T margarine
- 1.5 cups water or meat broth
- 1 teaspoon flour
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 bunch of dill
Preparation: Boil a lot of water (about8 cups), a pinch of salt and a few drops of oil, add the rice and when tender pour out the excess water. Put the strained rice in a pot sprinkle some oil on the rice. Set aside. Melt the margarine and put into a saucepan with 1 1/2 glasses of water, flour, lemon juice, and a little salt, and mix. Pare the beans. Add to the saucepan, cover and simmer until cooked. Take a heavy pot , Add 1 cup of water and steam the rice and the beans which you layer on top of the rice. Cook on low until the rice is fully cooked. Chop the dill. Fold into the steaming rice and serve.
Sarımsaqla göy lobya – Green beans with garlic
- 400 g/1 lb green beans (runner beans or French beans)
- 25 g/1 oz garlic
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 75 g/3 oz grape vinegar
- a few sprigs of dill
- a few spoonfuls of plain yoghurt (optional)
Preparation: Cook the green beans in salted water for 6 to 10 minutes. Strain and set aside to cool. When chilled, add the crushed garlic, vinegar and vegetable and mix thoroughly. leave for 2 to 4 hours for the flavours to penetrate the beans. Sprinkle with finely chopped dill. Serve with plain yoghurt (optional).