Serves 6 to 8
Najmieh Batmanglij, author of New Food of Life (Mage, 1992), omits the lamb to make a meatless version of this dish. She recommends substituting frozen lima beans when fresh fava beans are out of season. To remove the bitter outer skin of fresh or frozen favas, blanch them in boiling water for about 20 seconds, drain, then chill in ice water, drain again, and pop the skin open at the indentation, squeezing the bean into a bowl.
• 3 to 3 1/4 pounds lamb shanks, cut in thirds
• 2 onions, thinly sliced
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 6 cups loosely packed fresh dill, finely chopped
• 1/2 cup water
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 1 teaspoon ground saffron threads, steeped in 1/4 cup boiling water
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
• 3 cups basmati rice
• 4 quarts water
• 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 1/2 pounds fresh or 1 pound frozen fava beans, shelled, or 1 pound frozen baby lima beans, thawed
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
• Reserved saffron water
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 4 tablespoons oil
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1/2 cup water
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2. In a 3-quart baking dish, combine the meat, onions, half the garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the chopped dill. Add 1/2 cup water, the salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of the saffron water, and the lime or lemon juice. Cover and bake for 2 hours.
3. Rinse the rice in warm water until the water runs clear; drain.
4. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a 6-quart or larger pot. Add 3 tablespoons salt, the rice, and the fava beans or limas. Stir in the turmeric. Boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes, then drain the rice and beans, rinse with lukewarm water, and drain again.
5. Combine 3/4 cup of the rice mixture with the yogurt and a teaspoon of the reserved saffron water.
6. Heat the butter and oil and pour half of the mixture into a large nonstick pot. Spread the yogurt rice over it to form the traditional rice crust. Place the pot over medium heat.
7. Mix the remaining garlic and dill with the cinnamon in a bowl. Layer the rice and beans on the yogurt rice alternately with the dill mixture in a loose pyramid, ending with rice. Combine the remaining butter mixture with the reserved saffron water, 1/2 cup warm water, and 1 teaspoon salt, and drizzle over the rice pyramid.
8. Cover the pot tightly with a lid wrapped in a tea towel and steam for 30 minutes over medium-low heat. The rice may be held over very low heat for 15 minutes while the meat finishes cooking.
9. To serve, reserve a few tablespoons of the top saffron-scented rice. Mound the rice in a loose pyramid on a large serving platter. Break up the crust and scatter it over the rice. Surround the rice with the meat and its juices. Sprinkle the reserved saffron rice over the platter.
Longtime Herb Companion contributor Carolyn Dille gardens, cooks, and is the author of several cookbooks. She writes in San Jose, California.
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