Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lamb With Rhubarb--Traditional Afghan

Last time I saw my Afghan friend, all of a sudden we started talking about food that we often ate in our childhoods. And although we come from very distant countries and cultures, we discovered that in late spring both of us often and enjoyed fresh rhubarb.

Rhubarb was growing like a weed in my parents' yard. Next to radish it was the first spring vegetable. Broken off fresh from the bush we ate it raw. Just dipped in sugar we crunched this sweet and sour crispy snack. Sometimes, rhubarb was cooked with sugar to make a sweet beverage. Sometimes we made with it cakes or preserves. Either way we always added sugar to the rhubarb and because of that I considered it a fruit rather than a vegetable.

In Afghanistan rhubarb is used more as a vegetable. My friend also ate fresh rhubarb straight from the garden, but instead of sugar they dipped it in salt. Rhubarb was also used to prepare many dishes but savory and spicy. My friend's favorite dish was lamb cooked with rhubarb. I got so curious of such combination that right away I asked for a recipe and next day I made this dish, as in DC we are in full rhubarb season.

Traditionally, this dish is made with lamb,but it is also can be made with veal and actually my friend prefers such version as she does not like the strong smell of lamb meat. However, when I made that dish with lamb I noticed that a generous amount of onion, spices, and also rhubarb completely neutralized that aroma and the taste of meat turned very mild.

Lamb in Rhubarb
(Serves four to six)

2 lb boneless, lean lamb or veal, preferably from the shoulder.
4-6 rhubarb stalks,
2 large onions,
3 garlic cloves,
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped,
1 and 1/2 tbsp ground coriander seeds,
1/2 tbsp turmeric,
1 tsp red chili pepper,
3 tbsp grape seed oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Peel off the onions and chop them very finely. Heat the oil in a shallow medium frying pot and fry the onions slowly for about 10 minutes, until almost caramelized. Add chopped garlic, turmeric, and dried coriander and mix everything well.
2. Salt and pepper the lamb meat and add it to the pot. Let the meat get coated with onion. Cook until the meat is brown, stirring occasionally.

3. Add about a cup of water and simmer until the meat becomes soft. You may add extra water during the simmering if it evaporates but the meat is not yet soft. That may take 40-60 minutes depending on the quality of the meat.
4. Peel off rhubarb and cut into slices.

5. When the meat is soft, all the water evaporates, leaving only the thick onion sauce, put rhubarb on top of the meat and let it cook for about 5 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft but not mushy. Sprinkle chopped coriander leaves and chili pepper on top and let it cook for about 3 minutes.

Serve with basmati rice.