Persian lamb and herb stew with dried limes, served with Persian rice

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  • For this comforting, slow-cooked stew, choose wizened little Persian limes from Middle Eastern food shops, otherwise use the pared zest of two limes

    Serves 4-6

    For the rice:
    300g basmati rice 50g butter Pinch of saffron threads

    For the lamb:
    800g boneless lamb
    shoulder or leg, cubed

    4 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, chopped 2 large leeks, trimmed, rinsed and sliced 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 1 tsp ground turmeric

    400g tin kidney beans, drained 

    1 litre good lamb stock 50g spinach, 1 large bunch
    flat-leaf parsley and 1⁄2 large bunch coriander, all chopped

    2 small bunches chives, finely snipped

    1 tbsp fenugreek seeds, crushed 4 dried Persian limes, pierced with a skewer Salt and ground black pepper

    Step 1) Rinse the rice in a colander under lots of cool running water, then soak in a saucepan of cool water while the lamb cooks. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C, Gas Mark 2.

    Step 2) In a large casserole with a tightly fitting lid, brown the lamb over a high heat in 2 tablespoons of oil. Do this in 2 batches so the meat fries rather than boils. Remove to a plate when browned all over. Reduce the heat slightly and add the onion, leeks, garlic and turmeric to the pan. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes until softened. Return the lamb to the pan with the kidney beans and lamb stock. Cover with a lid and slide into the oven for1 1⁄2 hours.

    Step 3) Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and add the spinach, herbs and fenugreek. Cook for a few minutes, stirring until fragrant and darker. Add to the casserole with the limes, season to taste, then return to the oven for a further 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours, until the lamb is extremely tender. Drain the rice, re-cover with lots of fresh water and add a good pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the rice.

    Step 4) Heat the butter in the saucepan with the saffron and 1 tablespoon of water. Spoon the rice on top, forming it into a mound. Make steam holes in the rice with a spoon handle, then cover with a folded tea towel and a lid. Place over a gentle heat for about 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked and a deep golden crust forms beneath. Turn the rice on to a serving plate, ensuring everyone has a good amount of the crisp “tahdig” base.

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