When does cosy habit become a rut? This is something I’m ruminating on at the moment. We are shin deep in survival mode and food has become a standard rotation of comfort food basics.
If this sounds like something that’s going on in your realm and you’re looking for a novel alternative to your default lamb/red wine stew on Friday nights, then I think I can help. This zippy, bright, tangy lamb and pomegranate braise is thickened with ground walnuts and delightful when served with quinoa or cauliflower cous cous (or rice). If you’re in a hurry for a recipe that can cook slowly and reward you with fork-gentle threads of meat and a piquant sauce, then skip to the image at the bottom. If you have the patience for some prattle and context, read on.
This week we’ve passed the half way mark of growing the next member of the brood. Hence we’re celebrating pomegranates. My thumping little instigator of migraines and heartburn has advanced to the size of one (though you’d never know it from the pronounced size of my bump). The more she enters public space, the more I feel it slip away. As many of my peers are returning to work and re engaging with the outside world in ways that are valiant and exciting I’m neck deep in negotiations. I’m in negotiations with my body about whether we can make it through the day without a tactical nap. But mostly mine are with a three year old who is not having an easy trot. He is sad – he will often tell me that he is – which breaks my heart (though he also has told me that he can’t sleep because he ‘needs a holiday’. HA). He is fighting sleep at every opportunity, which raising my ire, providing cruel flashback to the dark days of yore and burning my eyelids. He is retreating into himself, drawing determined lines in the sand over what he is and what he is not. ‘I am NOT’ is a phrase that often gets repeated, like a knee high Up-Down Descartes. He will not eat anything with a sauce mixed through. He will not eat sweet potato, capsicum, mushrooms, peas, cucumber or leaves. He will not wear a jumper. He will not get out of the bath (or in, depending on the whim of the day). He will not use the potty with any consistency (we declared a stalemate and ushered a retreat on that one after a few particularly wretched days). He will not go to Kindy. And then, on some days like yesterday, he will not leave there at the close of the day, because ‘I NOT LIKE YOU MUMMY’.
As I said; morale is high.
My first instinct is to hide away somewhere cosseted and warm with an enormous bowl of baked ragu before crawling into a carbohydrate cave so deep only Snow White’s dwarves could chisel me out. The second is to return to things that provide morale. Thumbing through cook books is good for morale. Experimenting with ingredients is good for morale. The smell of something blurbling on the stove, that isn’t time sensitive and can be reheated at a time when you finally corral your Jack in the Box offspring into bed (and he stays there) is good for morale.
Hence, we have this braise. My default options with pomegranates are to try not to stain a white top while removing the seeds, then sprinkle their crimson arils over hipster salads made with roasted sweet potato, kale, quinoa and red onion. Or else I’ll use them as a topping for a chickpea flour lahmacun- a Turkish twist on pizza that uses my favoured chickpea flour pizza base, topped with tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, slivers of red onion and lamb mince that’s spiced with cinnamon, cumin and coriander and some blobs of strained yoghurt.
Yet while perusing through one of the more beautiful cookbooks of the last few years (Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana) I paused over her recipe for Khoresh – e Fesenjan. A fesenjan is a stew comprised of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, which is most commonly found in Iran with duck, chicken or twee lamb meatballs. This is not Sabrina’s recipe. Hers relies on a great deal more walnuts a stunning 450 ml of pomegranate molasses and uses chicken thighs. Yet it was a cheerful jumping off point.
My only caveats when embarking on this recipe are to be careful when toasting the walnuts. I got distracted on the phone and burnt my first lot. Rookie error. Then have a gentle hand when adding your pomegranate molasses – depending on the brand it can vary in sweetness and piquancy. Add a little, then taste. You will already have sweetness from the pomegranate juice that the lamb has braised in, here you just want to add a little more zip. And lastly, stir once you’ve added the walnuts to ensure they don’t catch on the bottom.
We ate this out of bowls with plenty of chopped flat leaf parsley and quinoa in place of rice, but it would be just as lovely with cauliflower rice or flat breads on the side.
Some weeks having a new dish to add to the repertoire is enough to count as a win. This was one of them.
Here’s what else is going on
Eating: The request from my delightful Dad for his father’s day breakfast was simple; French Toast. It got gussied up a little bit, I used Bill’s Organic Sourdough– half was made up of their spelt bread and also a slice of the fruit toast for some sweetness. I served it with a coffee custard, sliced banana and roasted almonds. We sat out on his balcony and drank coffee and looked at the boats bobbing over Pittwater, then did a puzzle with Will. Another thing in the category of ‘good for morale’.
Ogling: Suppliers of whole legs of jamon in Sydney. Come January, I plan on gorging myself on cured meat once again, making use of The Hungry One’s Christmas present last year – a jamon stand. I plan on setting up my favourite tapas restaurant again – at my kitchen bench. Bring on the pink wine and charcuterie platters.
Watching: The latest season of Chef’s Table; France on Netflix. It’s such beautiful, soothing television. It’s not food porn, it’s more food romance, made by the same production team behind ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ (another one to add to the viewing queue if you’ve not seen it). The first episode on Alain Passard is just glorious (though all in French with subtitles). Makes me kick myself for not learning French and for not making it to L’Arpege when we were in Paris.
Reading: This piece on Anne-Marie Slaughter (author of the now famous Atlantic piece ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have it All’ and her change of heart over the last few years. Essentially we’re all a bit stuffed. But for anyone occasionally struggling with what to do with their ambition when a great part of their day is monopolized by the domestic drudge of being a lead parent, this phrase is worth sticking to a post it note where you stumble past it often ‘”When people say, ‘I’m home with my kids,’ I (now) say, ‘You’re doing really important work,’ and I mean it,” she says. “Whereas before I was the classic woman that said, ‘Oh, what a pity.’ Like, ‘You’re not doing the real thing.”
Lamb, Pomegranate and Walnut Fesejan
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
900 g lamb shoulder, diced into pieces the size of a matchbook ( could also substitute with chicken thighs, but cut the cooking time in half)
2 brown onions, peeled and sliced into slim half moons
150 g walnuts (can also substitute with almonds, or sunflower seeds if there is a nut allergy)
1 1/2 cups/ 375 ml pomegranate juice
1 1/2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
Fresh parsley, arils from half a pomegranate and quinoa/cous cous/ cauliflower rice
Here’s how we roll
1) Toss the lamb in the spices.
2 Heat a heavy bottom casserole pan/ Le Creuset and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Brown the lamb well in batches to ensure it develops a caramel crust, rather than stew (which it will if you add it all at once). Topping up with olive oil if needed between batches.
4 Return the lamb to the pan and add the pomegranate juice. Use a metal spoon to scrape up any flavour that’s clinging to the bottom of the pot. Bring the pomegranate to a simmer, then turn the heat down and cook for 2 – 2 1/2 hours on low, with the lid on. The lamb is cooked when it begins to fork apart.
5 While the lamb is cooking lay the walnuts out on a baking sheet and toast in a moderate (180C/350F) oven for 8 minutes, keeping watch. You want them brown, not scorched. Allow the nuts to cool completely then blitz in a food processor until you have small pebbles of nuts. 6 When the lamb is cooked taste the seasoning. Add the pomegranate molasses a little at a time, stirring, then tasting. Pomegranate molasses can vary in intensity, so go slowly. You want a balance of sweet and sour in sauce. Fold in the ground walnuts and stir to combine. Cook over a low heat for 20 minutes, with the lid off, stirring occasionally to allow the sauce to thicken further – careful- the nuts can catch on the bottom of the pan if you don’t check on it.
Previously in Poppyseed to Pumpkin
Each week mad websites and baby books will tell you how big your baby now is in comparison to a seed, fruit or vegetable. It starts as a poppy seed and goes from there. To make this process a little more palatable, join me as I bake my way through. Here’s the journey so far. (Nb, you can also see the poppy seed to pumpkin process in the app, or ebook from my first pregnancy with Will, or read about it on the blog here.)