Lamb soup with pulses
This is a rich and nutritious dish, suitable for cold winter days. It combines complex carbohydrates, protein and fat, and with side dishes of fresh herbs and yogurt it makes a healthy balanced meal. Traditionally a poor man’s dish, it has come into its own in recent years for informal family meals. It used to be made with the cheapest cuts of lamb and animal fat. In the old tea houses and caravanserai, specially made individual clay pots were used to make abgusht. All the ingredients were put into the pot, a small quantity of water added and the lid was then sealed with mud. The pots were buried in the ashes of the wood stove and left to cook slowly. Today, better-quality cuts of lamb such as leg or shoulder shanks are used. Traditionally, the broth is strained off and served as a soup with pieces of bread floating on the surface like croutons. The meat and pulses are pounded together and eaten with fresh herbs and warm flatbread.
The ingredients of abgusht vary from region to region. The most common version uses only chick peas and no tomato purée/ tomato paste. The recipe given here includes potatoes, red kidney beans and split peas, as well as tomato purée. It is a very easy dish to make, but it has to be cooked slowly in order for the flavours to develop. You can make it a day in advance to the stage of adding the red kidney beans; to serve, reheat it, then add the lemon juice and saffron just before serving.
Wash the split peas, put them in a bowl, pour boiling water over them and soak for 1 hour (or follow the instructions on the packet). Alternatively, soak the split peas in cold water overnight.
Wash the lamb shanks and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Cut off any skin, protruding tendon and fat with a sharp knife. Peel the onion and cut it into quarters. Peel the potatoes and cut each one into four. Place the potato pieces in a bowl and cover with cold water to avoid discoloration.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, preferably cast-iron, and toss the quartered onion in the oil for a couple of minutes, until lightly golden. Add the lamb shanks and turn to seal on all sides. The meat should not be browned at this stage.
Add the turmeric and stir to coat the shanks evenly. Drain the split peas and add to the pan, then add the dried limes.
Pour the boiling water into the pan and stir well. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Simmer gently for approximately 1½ hours until the shanks are nearly cooked (you should be able to separate the meat from the bone with a fork) and the split peas are al dente. Keep the heat low and keep the lid on the pan to retain as much of the liquid as possible.
Drain and add the potatoes and the tomato purée/tomato paste to the pan and stir to mix. Leave to simmer very gently until the potatoes are cooked, approximately 30 minutes. Season to taste.
Add the red kidney beans and simmer for a further 10–15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and simmer for another 5 minutes. Just before serving, add the liquid saffron and mix well.
Serve with warm flat bread such as pitta or lavash (very thin Persian bread) with a side dish of yogurt and fresh herbs.
Source: New Persian Cooking: A Fresh Approach to the Classic Cuisine of Iran by Jila Dana-Haeri
Preparation: approximately 30 minutes, plus soaking
Cooking: approximately 2½ hours
100 g/3½ oz split peas
4 lamb shoulder shanks (or 3 leg shanks)
1 large onion
3 medium potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 dried limes, washed, dried and pierced with a fork
1 litre/1¾ pints boiling water
2 heaped teaspoons tomato purée/tomato paste salt and black pepper
200 g/7 oz canned red kidney beans (drained weight)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons liquid saffron
The traditional way to serve abgusht is to strain the liquid into bowls to serve as a broth, then pound the cooked meat and other ingredients in a food processor or using a pestle and mortar or potato masher. You can pound the mixture until it is smooth or for a shorter period to retain the texture of the components. This is called Gusht-e koubideh: literally, pounded meat. Serve separately on a platter with peeled, quartered fresh onions and warm flat bread. The meat can also be eaten cold as a sandwich filling in pitta bread.