Narenj Palaw by Durkhanai Ayubi

narenj palaw image

A delicate and fragrant rice dish topped with a mix of candied citrus peel and nuts, narenj palaw is popular in Afghan cuisine. Like kabuli palaw, it was often reserved for special occasions because of the delicacy of the ingredients and the time taken to prepare them.

In Afghanistan, the citrus peel comes from a fruit called narenj, which is a cross between an orange and a lemon, and more widely known as bitter orange. Here, where narenj isn’t available, it can be substituted with the peel from any orange variety. The peel is blanched to extract any bitterness, and then soaked in syrup with the nuts to create a tangy. sweet, and aesthetically beautiful topping for the palaw.

Serves 4-6

FOR THE PALAW

½ cup (125 ml) sunflower oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
1 lb 2 oz (500 g) diced boneless lamb leg
3 cups (1 lb 5 oz/600 g) sella basmati rice, soaked for 2-3 hours
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

FOR THE TOPPING

3 large navel or other oranges
1¾ cups (11 ½ oz/330 g) white sugar
Heaped 1 tablespoon slivered pistachios
Heaped 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
Salt

The Palaw

To prepare the palaw rice, add the oil and onion to a pressure cooker pan over high heat and fry for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the lamb and stir occasionally for 5 minutes, or until the meat is browned and sealed. Add 4¼ cups (1 liter) hot water and a heaped 1 tablespoon salt, place the lid on the pressure cooker, and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 15 minutes, then carefully release the pressure to remove the lid. Using a slotted spoon, take out the meat (which should be lovely and tender) and set aside. Reserve the stock to flavor the rice.

Bring 10 cups (2.5 liters) water to a boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, drain excess water from the rice, add it to the boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt, and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the rice is parboiled and the grains look like they have doubled in length.

Drain the rice in a colander and return to the pot. Pour the meat stock over the rice, then add the cumin, cardamom, and 1 tablespoon salt to the mix. Using a large, flat slotted spoon, known to Afghans as a kafgeer, mix gently. With the kafgeer, create a well in the center of the rice and place the lamb in the well. Cover the meat with rice and place the lid on the pot. Cook over high heat until steam escapes from under the lid, then reduce the heat to very low and cook for 20 minutes.

The topping

Using a small sharp knife, cut the peel from the oranges in long strips and slice off any white pith. Layer two or three strips of rind on a cutting board and slice them diagonally into thin strips. Repeat until all the peel is cut.

To remove any bitterness in the rind, bring 4¼ cups (1 liter) cold water, ½ teaspoon salt, and the rind to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the rind and blanch by boiling for 2 minutes, then drain in a colander. Rinse under cold running water, drain again, and return the rind to the saucepan with another 4¼ cups (1 liter) of cold water and ½ teaspoon salt. Repeat the blanching process three more times, and set the rind aside.

In a small saucepan, stir the sugar into 1½ cups (375 ml) water until dissolved. Place the saucepan over high heat and cook without stirring for 6-8 minutes, or until the temperature reaches 200° F (100°C) on a candy thermometer and the syrup thickens slightly. Add the orange rind to the syrup and boil for 5 minutes, or until it is translucent and sweet. Add the pistachios and almonds, and stir gently to combine. Store the topping in the syrup until you’re ready to use it.

To serve, gently layer the rice and lamb pieces onto the center of a large platter using a kafgeer, or large flat slotted spoon, creating a heap. Drain the narenj topping, discarding the syrup, and liberally spread over the rice to serve.

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Parwana: Recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen
£20, Murdoch Books 

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Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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Spicy roast parsnips with barley, raisins & walnuts by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Spicy roast parsnips

Parsnips are delicious with curry spices, particularly when roasted so that their thin, tapering ends turn delectably sweet and caramelised. Here, spicy roasted parsnips are tumbled with nutty whole grains, raisins and a scattering of walnuts to create a dish with lots of satisfying textures. I like to add some crisp leaves for contrast, too.

Serves 4
150g pearl barley, pearled spelt or whole spelt grain
500g parsnips
2 tbsp curry paste
3 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
75g raisins
A bunch of leaves, such as watercress, rocket or flat-leaf parsley
Juice of ½ orange or lemon Sea salt and black pepper

Soak the pearl barley or spelt in cold water for anything from 20 minutes to a couple of hours then drain and rinse well. Put the grain into a saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender. This will take about 20–25 minutes for spelt, more like 35–40 minutes for barley. Drain.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas 5. Peel the parsnips and trim the base and tip from each. Cut each parsnip in half lengthways then cut each half from top to bottom into long batons, no more than 2cm at the thick end. Don’t worry if they are  a bit wobbly and uneven – this all adds to their charm!

Put the curry paste and 2 tbsp of the oil into a large bowl and mix together. Add the parsnips with a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper and toss the parsnips in the curry spice so they are all coated – you may find a pastry brush helpful for this.

Scatter the parsnips in a large, shallow roasting tray. Roast for about 40 minutes, stirring once, until starting to caramelise. Add the chopped walnuts, raisins and cooked spelt or barley to the roasting tray, stir everything together and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly for 5 minutes then toss with the leaves and transfer to a platter or individual plates. Squeeze over a little citrus juice and trickle over a touch more olive oil before serving.

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Coming soon

Monkfish Masala with Red Lentils, Pickled Carrots and Coconut Garnish by Glynn Purnell

Monkfish masala
SERVES 4

FOR THE PICKLED CARROTS
3 CARROTS, PEELED AND SLICED
1 TABLESPOON FENUGREEK SEEDS
1 TEASPOON AJWAIN SEEDS
1 TEASPOON BLACK MUSTARD SEEDS
½ TEASPOON ONION SEEDS
1 TEASPOON CUMIN SEEDS
1/3 TEASPOON CHILLI FLAKES
1 TEASPOON SALT
VEGETABLE OIL – ENOUGH TO COVER THE CARROTS
1. Preheat the oven to 90˚c / gas mark ¼, or the lowest setting.
2. Spread the carrot slices out on a baking tray and put in the oven overnight, or for 8 hours, until dried out. Pack the carrot slices into a sterilised airtight jar.
3. Mix all the spices and salt with enough vegetable oil to cover the carrots, pour over the carrots in the jar and seal. Leave for a couple of weeks (longer if you can) in a cool place before serving.

FOR THE MONKFISH
300G ROCK SALT
4 X 130G MONKFISH FILLETS
4 TABLESPOONS MASALA SPICE MIX
25G BUTTER
4. Sprinkle the salt over the monkfish fillets and leave for 5-6 minutes to draw out the moisture.
5. Rinse the salt off thoroughly under cold running water. Wrap the monkfish in a clean tea towel and leave overnight in the fridge.
6. Spread out the spice mix on a plate and roll the monkfish fillets in the mixture. Seal each fillet in a vacuum food bag and cook for 11 minutes in a water bath at 63˚c. Alternatively, wrap each fillet in heatproof clingfilm. Heat a saucepan of water until it reaches 63˚c on a cooking thermometer, add the wrapped fillets and cook for 11 minutes, keeping the temperature constant.
7. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat until foaming. Remove the fish from the bags or clingfilm and then sear on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crisp all over.

FOR THE RED LENTILS
SPLASH OF VEGETABLE OIL
½ ONION, PEELED AND CHOPPED
1 TABLESPOON MILD CURRY POWDER
225G DRIED RED LENTILS
500ML CHICKEN STOCK
½ RED CHILLI, FINELY CHOPPED
2 HEAPED TABLESPOONS CHOPPED CORIANDER
JUICE OF ½ LIME
SALT
8. Heat a splash of vegetable oil in a saucepan and sweat the onion over a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes until softened. Stir in the curry powder, then add the lentils, stir well and cover with the stock. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
9. When the lentils are cooked, stir in the chilli, coriander and lime juice and season to taste with salt. Set aside.

FOR THE COCONUT GARNISH
400ML CAN FULL-FAT COCONUT MILK
1 KAFFIR LIME LEAF
PINCH OF SALT
½ FRESH COCONUT, FLESH ONLY, THINLY SLICED INTO STRIPS ON A MANDOLIN
10. Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan and add the lime leaf and salt. Simmer over a medium heat for about 15-20 minutes until reduced by half.
11. Heat a frying pan until hot and toast the coconut strips for about 2 minutes until golden brown and fragrant.

TO SERVE
CORIANDER SHOOTS (SPROUTED CORIANDER SEEDS), TO GARNISH
12. Spoon the lentils onto each serving plate. Carve each monkfish fillet in half and place one piece of monkfish on top of the lentils and the other piece next to them. Drizzle over a bit of the reduced coconut milk, then garnish with the toasted coconut strips, pickled carrots and coriander shoots.

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A Purnell’s Journey
£85, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon: There And Back Again: A Purnell’s Journey

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