Pilafs are central to the cuisine of Central Asia and they enjoy a privileged place at the Azeri table. In Azerbaijan, they are only eaten at special occasions (weddings, funerals, birthday parties and the like) where they are served as the grand finale. There are over a hundred different kinds of pilafs, served with all types of meats and vegetables. Many seem to include dried fruits and nuts, which are plentiful in the country.
I chose to make this pilaf because I love the flavor resulting from combination of meats with fruits. In addition, it seemed fairly easy to make and I was able to find most of the necessary ingredients. I couldn't find the chestnuts it called for - they are not exactly plentiful during summer here in California - so I substituted them for walnuts, but everything else was as close as my pantry or my neighborhood supermarket. It proved to be a very good choice. I really enjoyed this pilaf, while it was not as beautiful as the Afhgani pilaf I made when I started this journey, it was easier to make and very tasty. I would certainly make it again.
I simply steamed the rice (in a rice steamer) for this pilaf. I did that to save myself time and because I wasn't absolutely sure of how Azeris cooked their rice. However, I suspect that their cooking method is similar to that used by Persians and other Central Asians (who steam and fry their rice so as to come up with a nice crust). If you want to make this pilaf in a more authentic way, you may want to cook the rice that way. In any case use basmati rice and make sure you thoroughly rinse it first.
Note that I served the pilaf by pouring the whole of the stew on top of the rice. The original recipe shows a very different and more elegant presentation. To make the yellow rice shown there, add some powdered saffron to the rice when you cook it. The recipe below is enough for 4-6 people, depending on how much other food you are serving.
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 2 lbs. lamb
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 1/2 cup beef broth
- 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
- a few threads of saffron, ground
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp. butter, melted
- 2 cups basmati or other long-grain rice
- Melt butter in a heavy pot. Brown lamb on butter. Remove from heat, take out the bones and cut lamb into bite-size pieces. Return lamb to the pot. Add onion, dried fruits, walnuts and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low and simmer uncovered for 1-2 hours.
- Separately, boil or steam the rice.
- Place rice on a serving plate. Top with the stew. Pour melted butter over the pilaf and sprinkle with cinammon.