I just made one of the best meals I’ve had in a while.
The other day I reread a short story  set in ancient Alexandria. Back before the library was destroyed, when the city was at the height of its power. It opens with a magistrate feasting on roast rack of lamb dipped in butter-pomegranate sauce. My mouth watered just reading about it, and I knew I would have to try to make something similar in the near future.
I looked in my favourite cookbook  for inspiration, and found something called “Lahma Mahshi bil Karaz”, a Syrian roast shoulder of lamb with sour cherry (or apricot) sauce and rice stuffing. The supermarket didn’t have a large selection of lamb, but I was able to pick up a nice 1 kg chunk of boneless leg of lamb, which worked well. A full leg of lamb with the bone would be even better. The recipe was fairly plain, with the meat simply roasted, and the stuffing mildly seasoned. I of course opted to spice things up a bit.
I started by using a Tunisian inspired harissa-based marinade for the meat. I happened to have a container of pre-packaged Israeli harissa, but homemade would of course be better.
The recipe may seem a bit complex with the three parts, but they can be prepared in parallel so it’s not that bad. And otherwise you’d have to make a separate side dish anyway. I served it with fresh sourdough baguettes and a 2008 Galil Meron (69% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Petit Verdot. Currently on sale for $19.95 at Skyview, really good price). Was going to make some sautéed spinach, but ran out of time and energy. Will do it tomorrow with the leftovers.
- ½-1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground
- 1 tsp raw coriander seeds, roasted and ground
- 1 tsp hot paprika
- 1 tsp achiote (annatto), ground
- ½ -1 tsp black peppercorns (or freshly ground black pepper)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 TB harissa
- 2-3 TB lemon juice
- 2-3 TB olive oil
- 2-3 TB water
- 5 lb leg of lamb
- Roast the cumin and coriander seeds together in a small skillet over medium heat for several minutes, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and starting to brown. Allow to cool, then grind with other whole spices in spice grinder (or by hand with mortar & pestle)
- In a cup or small bowl, whisk together the harissa with liquids and spices. Adjust salt and seasonings to taste. Should be slightly hot and bitter and sour, strong but balanced. Consistency should be a paste thick enough to adhere to the meat without clumping or running off.
- Rub the marinade paste all over the lamb in a shallow layer. This can be done in advance (or even overnight) and left in fridge. If pressed for time, leave on counter for at least 30 minutes as lamb comes to room temperature while oven preheats.
- When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400F (convection roast) and roast on rack, fat side up. I forgot to add salt to the marinade before applying, so sprinkled the lamb with Goya Adobo seasoning before putting in oven.
- Roast until thermometer reads 140F in thickest part of lamb. Allow to rest for a few minutes before carving.
- ½ lb ground beef (I used a beef/veal mixture)
- 5 cups rice, long grain
- 2 cups water
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped fine
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-2 TB marinade (see above)
- 1 packet Goya sazón con cilantro y achiote (or salt)
- Finely chop onion, sauté in olive oil until translucent
- Add meat and stir well to mix in with onions
- Optional: Roast tomatoes over flame (or under broiler) until skin is black. Peel then chop.
- When meat is mostly not pink anymore, stir in rice and coat with oil.
- Add pepper and garlic, cook for a few minutes until rice loses its raw look.
- Add tomatoes and spices.
- Transfer rice-meat mixture to rice cooker. Deglaze pan with 2 cups hot water, add to rice.
- Cook in rice cooker per usual setting.
- ½ lb dried cranberries (original recipe called for sour cherries, pitted. Dried apricots are also a traditional variation)
- 4 TB butter
- Pomegranate molasses
- 1-2 TB marinade (see above)
- 2 oz elderberry honey wine (optional)
- Put dried fruit in saucepan. Cover with warm water and allow to soak for 30 min while prepping rice.
- Without draining, bring to boil over medium heat.
- Allow sauce to reduce and thicken, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add additional water if too dry.
- Stir in pomegranate molasses until desired sweetness/sourness is achieved (~3-4 TB)
- Deglaze with wine if desired.
- Stir in reserved marinade. If there isn’t any left, season with salt and pepper and hot paprika to taste.
- Cook a few minutes on low heat to incorporate flavours. Sauce should be balanced between sweet, sour, and bitter, with a hint of heat on the back of the throat.
- Remove from heat, and swirl in 3 TB butter.
- Transfer to blender (or possibly use an immersion blender if you have one. Try not to make a mess). Blend until smooth.
- Strain sauce through a mesh strainer into gravy boat. Swirl in remaining 1 TB butter.
- Serve drizzled over lamb and rice and as dipping sauce on side.
 The Weight of Gold by Thomas K. Carpenter
 The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York by Claudia Roden. Recipe appears on p. 392, marinade is on p. 385