Secret Aromatic Lamb Pilaf

Aromatic Lamb Pilaf, Gather and Graze

Do you have any secret family recipes? Ones that are so intrinsically special that you refuse to share them with anyone?

This wonderful Middle Eastern-style rice dish (or at least something rather similar) was presented to us one lovely evening, by friends who had invited our family to dinner. I was in absolute awe of the spices and flavours that came through with each and every mouthful and was quietly desperate to find out the recipe, to be able to cook it again… and again… in the future. This recipe would be an absolute keeper! Initially I thought the refusal to share said-recipe was a little joke (as you do… when dishes are appreciated by guests with such gusto), but alas our hostess was completely serious and only deigned to pass on the names of one or two extra ingredients that weren’t obvious from just looking at or tasting the dish.

So I’ve spent years adapting, researching and playing around in the kitchen trying to replicate what we tasted that evening… and I think it’s pretty close (though possibly only because the original is now very much a distant memory)!

Sharing favourite recipes and ideas is at the heart of Gather and Graze, so I certainly won’t be keeping this one a secret from you. 😉 Enjoy!

Aromatic Lamb Pilaf

  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 small Onion (finely chopped)
  • 700g Minced Lamb
  • 1 Tablespoon Ras El Hanout *
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Mint
  • Sea Salt and Black Pepper
  • 450g/2 Cups Basmati Rice (rinsed well under cold water)
  • 40g/4 Tablespoons Pine Nuts
  • 40g/½ Cup Dried Barberries * (rehydrated in cold water for 10 mins and drained)
  • Pinch of Saffron Threads (soaked in 1 Tbsp hot water for 10 mins)
  • 2 Tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses *
  • 1 Litre/4 Cups (Heated) Free-Range Chicken Stock
  • Handful of Fresh Mint Leaves (Sliced finely)
  • 35g/4 Tablespoons Roasted Unsalted Pistachio Nuts (Chopped)

In a large heavy-based saucepan, gently sauté the onion in olive oil until softened (about 10 minutes). Raise the heat a little, add the minced lamb and fry until browned. Now stir in the Ras El Hanout, the dried mint and season well with salt and pepper. Add the rice and stir for a minute or two, to coat the grains. Tip in the pine nuts, barberries, saffron threads (along with the water the saffron was soaking in), pomegranate molasses and chicken stock. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer, before covering the pot with a lid. Allow to simmer away gently for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the liquid has all been absorbed and the rice is tender (adding a little more stock or hot water if necessary).

When ready to serve, scatter the top with chopped pistachios and fresh mint. See below for a few ideas on accompaniments to serve alongside the pilaf.

Aromatic Lamb Pilaf, Gather and Graze

Notes on Cooking:

  • Suggested accompaniments for the Lamb Pilaf: Thinly sliced tomatoes and red onion, sprinkled with sumac on top. Chunks of cucumber, tossed with yoghurt, crushed garlic, lemon juice and S&P. Lightly dressed salad of rocket leaves.
  • Ras El Hanout is a classic North African mixed spice, usually containing between 10 – 30 different spices. It’s name means ‘Head of the Shop’ and is usually the very best spice mix to be found in the Souk. Some of the main spices it contains are paprika, cumin, ginger, coriander seed, cardamom seed, turmeric, fennel seed, black peppercorns and allspice.
  • Barberries are a prized Iranian ingredient – known as zereshk in Persian. They add a wonderful tart flavour to meat dishes, salads and sauces and look like little jewels dotted throughout the dish. I found dried barberries here in Australia (through The Essential Ingredient and also noticed that Herbies sells them in small packs). Advice online is to rehydrate them in cold water for approx 10 mins before using, though must say that I didn’t notice much of a change in their texture until they finally went into the hot stock. If you are unable to find barberries, feel free to use currants or sultanas instead. 
  • Pomegranate molasses is a tangy syrup made up of boiled pomegranate juice and can be found in some supermarkets or in specialist Middle-Eastern grocery shops. It adds a beautiful sweet/sour taste when used fairly sparingly, a little like balsamic vinegar in Italian cuisine.


23 thoughts on “Secret Aromatic Lamb Pilaf

  1. Fig & Quince

    Ha ha, so she really meant it when she said: it’s a secret! The ingredients you’ve used to replicate it sound amazing. I wish I could taste it, Margot! The photographs look simply beautiful. And hmmm, I must confess that there are a couple of recipes that I find myself not wanting to put on the blog just because they are … almost personal. If that makes any sense. But I would never refuse to share a recipe in real life interactions.

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      Thanks Azita, lovely to get your perspective on this. I’m not surprised that you have a few recipes so precious and close to your heart and understand completely that it would be a difficult thing to put them out there on the blog.

  2. lemongrovecakediaries

    Food is made to be shared and so are recipes although I have yet to be tested about sharing the cake recipes I use for the business 🙂 I can see why you spent so long perfecting this recipe it sounds amazing! No secret recipes in our family or if there are they are so secret even I don’t know about them 🙂

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      I’m sure it’s not the norm, to hold back on sharing recipes… I think that’s why it threw me a little when it happened 😕
      Your cake recipes should definitely remain your own, as it’s what your business is based on, though even if we could all replicate the cake mixture, we wouldn’t have a hope of replicating your gorgeous style of decorating and moulding figures and flowers etc! Gorgeous magnolia on top of your recent cake on FB Karen – so clever!

  3. jothetartqueen

    How lovely! Your lamb pilaf sounds really delicious!!

    I’ve been cooking a lot of pilaf recently and I’m beginning to think that it is a perfect one dish meal. Have been inspired by the Ottolenghi cookbook!

    I’m still unable to find barberries so I would substitute dried cranberries. What do you think of the substitution? Have never tried barberries before. Also, I can’t seem to find pomegranate molasses. Any advice on what to use in place of it?

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      Thanks Jo! I think you’d be fine to substitute with dried cranberries… the barberries are only tiny though, so perhaps use the cranberries a little more sparingly. Not sure if there’s an ‘Essential Ingredient’ shop near you – they had barberries in 75g containers for $6 and also smaller packs through the ‘Herbies’ brand that were only a few dollars each. I think they have an online shop too…
      For the pomegranate molasses, you could certainly make your own if you can find pomegranate juice – simmer it with caster sugar and a little lemon juice until reduced to a thick syrup. Otherwise a few websites recommend mixing honey and balsamic as a possible substitute… ‘Essential Ingredient’ also sells the molasses. Good luck Jo, hope you’re able to cook these Ottolenghi recipes soon!

      1. jothetartqueen

        Thanks for yr suggestions. Didn’t know barberries were tiny. Unfortunately there isn’t a essential ingredient-esq place around here. Not that I know of anyway.

        Just googled on making homemade pomegranate molasses. Would probably go for that. Thanks again for yr help.

  4. tinywhitecottage

    This is such beautiful food. This is wonderful and glad you shared it with us. I have to give the thumbs down to those who keep cooking secrets! 🙂 I love your photographs!

  5. Chica Andaluza

    Thank you for sharing – it is indeed a beautiful recipe! I’d happliy share a recipe if someone asked…I’d be flattered and happy that they had enjpyed it so much they wanted to recreate it themselves!

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      My thoughts exactly Tanya! It’s a lovely thing to be able to pass recipes on and know that they continue to be enjoyed by family and friends. I have a much stronger sense of attachment to dishes passed on by friends – I guess because of the memories linked to that shared evening of food, wine and conversation…

  6. ohlidia

    I really don’t understand those people who refuse to share a recipe. Unless they’re entering said recipe in a food contest of some kind, why not? That rice dish looks superb Margot. I love rice dishes that you can make a meal out of. Beautiful!

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      Thanks so much for your thoughts Lidia – the consensus really seems to be to share these treasured, tried and tested recipes. Well at least amongst my blogging friends anyway! It’s such a flavourful recipe and perfect if cooking for a crowd!

  7. limeandbarley

    No wonder you’ve spent so long trying to recreate this – it sounds incredible. I haven’t tried barberries yet but have a recipe by ottolenghi bookmarked for whenever I can get my hands on some. Thanks for not keeping this one a secret!

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      Thanks Becky! The barberries are a great little ingredient to have on hand – I think I’ll try them in a salad next. Hope very much that you post the Ottolenghi recipe when you’ve had a chance to test it out! He has some truly beautiful recipes in his books. Cheers, Margot

  8. Johnny Hepburn

    And I was wondering if I should bother to buy barberries! That’s pretty much what went through my mind on tasting the sour cherries (which are also Iranian). Maybe I did the wrong thing by using boiling water to hydrate them. I guess I was going along the lines of hydrating mushrooms. Anyway, I love pomegranate syrup. And would love this dish. Talking of which, your lead-in photo’s impressive – loving that DOF!
    Yes, isn’t it funny how odd people can be with their recipes. The Matriarch was like that. Oh, you know, I never weigh anything. Hmm…and the well used scales in the scullery were an ornament?!

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      I have the reverse problem… unfortunately (though perhaps you’ll disagree) I’ve never tried sour cherries, though can completely vouch for the barberries. I thought they were great and added a real zing to the dish! In the past, I’ve used dried currants or sultanas in lieu of the barberries, which obviously give a sweeter taste, though still completely delicious.
      Kind of you to comment on the photo – always feel the pressure to be quick taking photos of a hot dish, that’s going cold while I take time to photograph – often a little rushed and not enough time to toy around with props etc. Need to organise myself a little better perhaps before I start cooking!
      Sad to think of all those lost recipes from generations gone by who didn’t think it worthwhile to document them… 😦

  9. apuginthekitchen

    I think your pilaf sounds delicious It’s really similar to a biryani. It’s a lovely recipe and I bet it’s very close to what you had. Honestly, I don’t understand why people won’t share a recipe, are they afraid someone may make it better than they. Thats very strange. I am always delighted and honored when someone likes a dish I made well enough to want to replicate.

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      Me too Suzanne… it’s such a sweet thing to be asked for the recipe and quite a compliment! Thanks so much for your kind words – I think the dish probably is a little similar to a biryani (not that I’ve cooked one before), though I’m assuming with a slightly different spice base?
      How is the finger recovery going? Any updates on 2nd opinions etc? Hope you find a way forward to getting it back to normal!

  10. The Novice Gardener

    No, I don’t have any secret recipe! But I work with this person who also refuses to give a recipe, while bragging about it. I think it’s kind of mean. Unless you plan to make a business out of it, I don’t know why anybody would do that. Thank goodness for people like you, who share! Thank you, Margot. This sounds exceptional, by the way! XOXO

    1. Gather and Graze Post author

      Cheers Angie! People can be funny sometimes, can’t they!? It makes no sense to me either, unless (as you say) they hope to develop it into some kind of future enterprise. Life’s just too short to withhold knowledge from other people… especially when it relates to fabulous food! Have a great week Angie – I’m hoping to come and party with you all this week on Fiesta Friday! 🙂


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