A Rekindled Friendship and a Gift of Saffron

Iranian saffron threads

Saffron is not commonly used in Armenian cuisine, so why
am I even writing about it? 

Here’s my story: In
1969 to 1970, I attended Chico State College, CA for one year as a domestic
exchange student. My roommate, Giety, was from Iran. We got along famously, but
went our separate ways at the end of that school year.

I’d been trying to find her, on-and-off, for the past 40
or so years, when I accidentally found her through Facebook. As I suspected,
she is married and has a different last name, but that, too was mentioned on
FB. So, through the miracle of modern technology, I was able to find her
address and send her a letter (the old-fashioned way).

Much to my delight, Giety called me a few days after I mailed the letter. We
laughed and cried for a few moments, attempting to make up for lost time. Giety
periodically returns to Iran, often shopping in the marketplaces in the Armenian
district of her hometown. She sometimes brings back spices, and offered to send me some
saffron – a truly generous gift. Upon the arrival of the saffron, I was bound
and determined to find a recipe to prepare. What I chose to make was Lamb
, which I adapted from a recipe found on www.allcooking.com.

Now that we’ve re-connected, Giety and I promise to do a better job of staying in touch.

For some interesting facts about saffron, please click here
For more information about tagine, click here.

Lamb Tagine
Lamb Tagine served over bulgur

Lamb Tagine        

Yield: 4 servings

    3 tablespoons
olive oil, divided
    2 pounds lamb
meat, trimmed and cut into 

    1 1/2 inch cubes (I used boneless lamb roast)
    2 teaspoons
    1/4 teaspoon
ground turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon
ground cumin
    1/4 teaspoon
cayenne pepper
    1 teaspoon
ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon
ground cloves
    1/2 teaspoon
ground cardamom
    1 teaspoon
kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon
ground ginger
    1 pinch saffron
(I dissolved it in 2 Tbsp. hot water before adding)
    3/4 teaspoon
garlic powder
    3/4 teaspoon
ground coriander
    2 medium
onions, cut into 1-inch cubes
    5 carrots,
peeled, cut into fourths, then sliced lengthwise into thin strips
    3 cloves
garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon
freshly grated ginger (Since I didn’t have fresh ginger, it was omitted)
    Zest of 1 lemon
(I also added the juice from that lemon)
    1 (14.5 ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth – or – 2 cups of homemade chicken stock  (I used 2 cups of homemade lamb stock
which I already had in the freezer)
    1 tablespoon
tomato paste (I used my old standby – red pepper paste instead)
    1 tablespoon
    1 tablespoon
cornstarch (optional) 
    1 tablespoon
water (optional)

Saffron dissolved in hot water
1. Place lamb cubes in a bowl, toss with 2 tablespoons of
the olive oil, and set aside. In a large resealable bag, toss together the
paprika, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, salt, ginger,
saffron, garlic powder, and coriander; mix well. Add the lamb to the bag, and
toss around to coat well. Refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight. (NOTE:
The saffron can be added to the sauce preparation – step #3 – rather than in
the marinade.)
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy
bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 1/3 of the lamb, and brown well. Remove
to a plate, and repeat with remaining lamb. (I omitted this step.)
3. Add onions and carrots to the pot and cook for 5
minutes. Stir in the fresh garlic and ginger; continue cooking for an
additional 5 minutes. Return the lamb to the pot and stir in the lemon zest,
chicken broth, tomato paste, and honey. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to
low, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the
meat is tender. (I cooked the lamb for 2 to 2 1/2 hrs so it would melt in your mouth!)
 4. If the
consistency of the tagine is too thin, you may thicken it with a mixture of
cornstarch and water during the last 5 minutes.
(I found no need to thicken the tagine, so the cornstarch
and water were not needed.)
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  1. Anonymous September 25, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    I have a friend of Armenian descent who was reminiscing about a favorite dish his mother made when he was a child. His mother died several years ago and he sincerely regrets her recipe had not been handed down. His regret touched my heart & inspired me to research recipes. In finding this recipe with the numerous spice ingredients, it seemed like a fail-safe formula. With my confidence bolstered, I invited my friend to dinner with a no-guarantee disclaimer that this dish could ever remotely resemble the dish his mother had made, but it would be my best effort tribute to her memory.

    From the moment he walked in the door, the mere aromas of this tangine brought tears of familiarity to his eyes. Miraculously, this meal was a fantastic success in living up to his childhood memories! Such a joy to all of us.

    It is now one of my favorite dishes and one my friend requests every chance he gets.

    I learned a lot about Armenian cooking and culture along the way. Thank you so very much for sharing this spectacular recipe! I encourage everyone to try it.

    1. Robyn Kalajian September 26, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      I am truly touched by your warm and moving comment! A million thanks!


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