Sour-cherry rice with lamb

Sour-cherry rice with lamb

Albaloo polow

Mark Roper

Sour cherries are abundant in Iran where they are eaten fresh, dried or as sheets of fruit paste. They have an exquisite sour–sweet flavour that marries brilliantly with lamb and the warm spices in this polow. If you are unable to find dried sour cherries, then fresh morello cherries will do.


Quantity Ingredient
50ml olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
250g lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 cm cubes, (from the leg)
125g dried sour cherries
or 250g fresh morello cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons caster sugar
300g basmati rice
70ml vegetable oil
40g unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons lightly toasted slivered almonds, (optional)
2 tablespoons Saffron liquid


  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Add the onion, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and ginger and fry gently for 4 minutes. Add the meat and fry for 2 minutes, turning it around in the spices. Add enough water to cover and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and simmer over a very low heat for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, soak the dried cherries in cold water for 1 hour, then drain. Combine the cherries, sugar and 100 ml water in a medium saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Simmer gently for a further 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside. When cool, strain the cherries and reserve the syrup separately.
  3. Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch.
  4. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water. Bring 2 litres water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.
  5. Return the rice saucepan to a medium heat and add the vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons water. As soon as the oil begins to sizzle, spoon in enough rice to cover the base of the pan in a thin layer. Spoon on a layer of lamb and scatter with cherries. Continue to layer the rice, lamb and cherries, building them up into a pyramid. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke 5 or 6 holes down through the rice to the base of the pan to help it steam. Pour on any residual meat juices. Mix 2 tablespoons warm water with the melted butter and saffron liquid and drizzle this over the rice. Wrap the saucepan lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pan as tightly as you can.
  6. Leave the pan on a medium–high heat for a 2–3 minutes until the rice is visibly steaming – you will see puffs of steam escaping from the edges of the pan. Turn the heat down to low and leave the pan alone for 40 minutes. Resist the temptation to peek, as this releases the steam and affects the cooking time. The rice can actually sit quite happily over the lowest possible heat for another 20 minutes or so.
  7. With 5 minutes of the cooking time to go, pour on the reserved cherry syrup and cover the pan again.
  8. When ready to serve, sit the saucepan in a little cold water in the sink; the sudden change in temperature creates a surge of steam that ‘shocks’ the rice and makes it shrink from the sides, which loosens the crusty bottom.
  9. To serve, invert the pan onto a warm serving platter so that the rice plops out as one glorious, golden-capped mound. Scatter on the almonds, if using.
Middle Eastern
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