Rice Pilaf with Lamb and Cherries

One of my favorite dishes, combining comforting rice, warming lamb and cinnamon, cheerful cherries, and bright green pistachios. 

 

2.5c. white basmati rice – rinsed in cool water until the water is clear
1lb ground lamb (I am sure you could use another meat, but lamb is very very warming, and is perfect for the winter months and goes beautifully with the cherries)
1 large onion – grated (or put through the food processor to finely chop)
2c dried pitted cherries (preferably sour, but regular bing is fine) – soaked in water overnight, then strained
1tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
salt and pepper “to taste”
1/4c chopped pistachios
fresh mint and parsley
1 pinch saffron
Sesame oil or butter

Combine the lamb, onion, cinnamon, salt and pepper to make a smooth paste.  Roll into meatballs the size of walnuts, bake on a sheetpan in the oven for about 20mins.  Set aside to cool.

Par-boil the rice for 10 mins, strain.

Set a saute pan on the stovetop.  Add about 2TB of oil/butter to the bottom of the pan, and a small amount of water – heat through and add the saffron.  Turn the heat off.

Then, add 1/3 of the rice to the bottom of the pan.

Place half of the meatballs and 1/3 of the soaked cherries on top of the rice in a single layer.

Cover the meatballs and cherries with half of the rice that is left in your strainer.

Place the remaining meatballs and half of the cherries that are left on top of that rice layer.

Cover the meatballs and cherries with the remaining rice.

Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan, and turn the flame on to simmer.  When the rice is cooked (about 20 mins), place the bottom of the pan in some cold water to release the rice that may have stuck to the sides.  Remove the lid, and very carefully, invert the pan onto a serving dish.  If all goes well, you will have a “rice meatball cake” – with the different layers, and a nice crusty yellow top.

Serve with mint and parsley, the remaining soaked cherries*, and chopped pistachios.

*you can cook the remaining soaked cherries with the soaking liquid and turn them into a syrup/fruit compote if you are inclined to do so!

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