Here at Shananigans base camp my head and my heart are teeming with memories of last Christmas which was very special. In Christmas week Shane arrived with Shan on her first visit to Ireland and it was also our first time to meet her. Claire and Mike came from Australia spending part of the holiday here and part with Mike’s parents in Wales. Christmas resembled a Six Nations convention as we were also joined by my young Italian teacher Solange and her Argentinian husband Agustin. With a bit of talent we could almost have fielded a rugby team between us.
What a difference a year makes. Last year around this time I was nervous about meeting Shan and wondering what it would be like to have a Chinese person staying in our home. Now she is my much-loved daughter-in-law and soon to be mother of my first grandchild.
It will be a quieter Christmas here this year. Claire and Mike are spending the holiday with friends in Melbourne, Solange and Agustin are visiting her family in Italy with their 4 month old twin boys. Meanwhile we are waiting with baited breath for Shane to arrive on Saturday from Beijing. He will be on his own this time and it will be a short visit as Shan is now over 30 weeks pregnant and can’t risk the long-haul journey. Still it will be fantastic to have this time with him as he takes a rare break from life in Beijng and gets ready to become a father.
Shan’s MaMa will be with her in his absence and Shan can be sure of a constant supply of regular and nourishing home-cooked meals. Like us the Chinese have all sorts of strictures on diets for pregnant women. They avoid overly spicy food for instance. As a result many of the meals Shane and Shan are eating these days are easy to replicate here in Ireland from readily available ingredients.
I know most of you are probably up to your eyes with last minute preparations for Christmas and cooking Chinese food is the last thing on your your minds but this recipe of MaMa’s for Lamb Rice is so straightforward that I was able to put it together in just a few minutes yesterday evening. What I like about it is that it is winter comfort food, similar in its appeal to Irish stew, but it can be on the table in about 45 minutes. So if you’re stuck for a quick meal to prepare during this busy week, give it a go.
Lamb is always on the menu in the Uighur restaurants in Xinjiang province and a similar rice dish was served at the first meal we ate out with Shan’s Mum in Urumqi at the restaurant attached to the This and That Satisfactory Chain Supermarket. In her simple and authentic version, MaMa makes this with lamb ribs, carrots, onion, tomato, rice and cumin. I’ve jazzed it up a bit below, adding in some of the ingredients I associate with the middle eastern influences of that region – dried apricots, dates which I brought back from Urumqi and a stick of cinnamon. I also took a notion and added in a half bottle of stout which is entirely optional. You could use a light chicken stock or, as MaMa does, simply water.
MaMa’s Lamb Rice
Serves 3 – 4 people
- 500- 600 g diced shoulder of lamb or stir-fry lamb strips
- 2 large carrots
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium tomato
- Sunflower oil
- A handful of dates, chopped*
- A handful of apricots, chopped*
- 1 cinnamon stick*
- 1/2 bottle of beer and/or chicken stock*
- 1 mug of long-grain rice
- A large pinch of cumin powder
*Optional, not in MaMa’s original recipe
- Peel and chop the carrots into small strips.
- Finely dice the onion and tomato.
- Heat the oil in a deep pot, once hot add the onion and lamb plus about 1 tsp of salt.
- Fry until the lamb is golden brown and cooked through and the onions have softened.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and carrots and stir-fry until the carrots are cooked “al dente”.
- Flatten the meat and vegetables on the base of the pot.
- Add the dates and apricots and a small cinnamon stick, if using, mixing well.
- Add a mug of rice spread flat and evenly over the lamb and carrots.
- Add sufficient water (and beer if using) to just cover the rice.
- Cover the rice with a layer of baking parchment or greaseproof paper.
- Cover with a tight-fitting lid, bring to the boil then reduce to the heat to a simmer.
- It will take about 25 -30 minutes to cook the rice (nearer to 40 if wholegrain rice is used). Don’t lift the lid until near the end of the cooking time.
- When cooked, and all the liquid has been absorbed, add a good pinch of cumin powder and mix well before serving to bring the lamb and carrots to the surface.
- Serve with any salad or green vegetable.
Shane says “If you’ve done it right, the lamb and carrot have been frying below and the flavour has come up through the rice and infused it nicely.
“Note – at least when we cooked on gas – some of the lamb can get a little charred, and some of the rice may stick to the edges. MaMa served this with a simple salad of tomatoes, onions and red peppers.”
Tonight I didn’t have the makings of a salad but I had some leeks which I shredded and stir-fried in a small wok in a little sunflower oil, adding in a good pinch of Chinese five-spice powder at the last minute. I ended up mixing the lightly cooked leeks into the rice dish as I was serving it which added a further dash of colour and flavour. All in all a simple and successful meal. Thank you for the recipe MaMa and happy Christmas from Ireland to you and Shan. 🙂