Our latest project at Cook the Books Club was Funny in Farsi, A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, by Firoozeh Dumas. It was indeed funny, lively and insightful as well.
Moving to America at the age of 7, back in 1972, and popped right into public school, was an eye-opening experience for a small girl, especially for one who did not speak English. What she remembers from that first day - "The bathrooms were clean and the people were very, very kind." But you have to read the whole story to appreciate.
Dumas sprinkles mentions of delicious sounding Persian foods throughout her memoir, and I was tempted by many. However the lamb roast in my freezer did the final selection. That and my copy of an earlier Cook the Books Club selection: The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley. The section on Iran to be exact, with a fabulous sounding recipe for Lamb in a Pomegranate-Cardamom Sauce (Fesenjan). Oh boy. That sounded like something I'd like to try.
Lamb in Pomegranate-Cardamom Sauce
2-2 1/2 lbs. lamb roast
3 tablespoons light sesame or peanut oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, minced
4 hot, dried red chili peppers, diced (I used ancho)
1/2 teas. turmeric
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
4 tablespoons pomegranate syrup (concentrate)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teas. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teas. ground cardamom
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1. Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan and sear the roast over very high heat until it is browned on all sides. When roast is browned, lower heat and remove it from the pan and place it on a plate. Then, melt butter, sauté the onions until they begin to soften, and add the diced peppers and the turmeric. Stir well to blend and add the walnuts and stir again.
2. Add water, pomegranate juice and syrup, salt, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and lemon juice, and stir well. When sauce has warmed, place roast back into the saucepan and cook covered for 30 minutes. Stir and spoon the sauce over the meat occasionally. Add peeled and chopped squash around the roast and cook covered until the roast is done, about another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. When the roast is done, let sit, covered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then put roast on a serving plate and either place the squash around it or serve in a separate bowl. Serve with white rice or a simple pilaf.
Not everything in life lives up to expectations. Ordinarily I would oven roast lamb with rosemary and lots of garlic, which is absolutely delicious, but willing to go for an authentic Persian taste, did not alter the recipe.
This was not a roast, it was a braise, and there was a lot of sauce, very thin and acidic, masking the taste of lamb. Probably the method was developed in days without family ovens, and or for cooking up an older goat or sheep, partly to tenderize and to disguise the taste? Also, the walnuts, basically boiled, might have been better lightly toasted and tossed on top at the end. Not a dish I'll be making again any time soon.
As a P.S., I decided to whizz up some of the liquid in the blender, after straining, with the walnuts and bits of onion etc. added back in for thickening. This made for a more palatable sauce to serve with my left-over lamb.