From an American perspective goat meat might not be the first protein you might think when it comes to picking a meal to put on the dinner table but in some parts of the world, it is a dietary staple. While not as plentiful as lamb, in Albania goat is often an item found on the menus of the better traditional restaurants. I had never tried the meat prior to coming here but once I did, I was a fan. When cooked correctly it is tender and meaty tasting but less gamey than lamb. I quickly decided I wanted to cook it at home but was just waiting for the right inspiration.
And I found that inspiration close to a year ago when Saveur magazine published an article on Pakistani cuisine that featured this goat pilaf. I was immediately enamored and knew I wanted to try the dish. But a problem arose. While the recipe said you could use beef as an alternative meat, I really wanted to make it authentic and use goat. Finally after a lot of asking around last month I found a butcher that could procure some fresh goat meat so I thought I was good to go. But then I couldn’t find cilantro, and with the recipe calling for two cups of the spicy leaves, it was a key ingredient in the spice paste that forms the base of the dish. Then I heard that the local Carrefour was now carrying the herb. I managed to buy what little they had in stock and supplemented parsley for the rest (grocery items are always hit or miss in Albania. I’ve learned that if I see something I want I need to buy it immediately because they might not carry it again) so now I was truly set.
This is definitely not a weeknight dinner. There are just too many steps and an extended cooking time to make the dish a practical option for an after work dinner. Plus the ingredient list, including all of the spices, is lengthy. Having a well stocked pantry that I am trying to cook down before we move, I actually had all of the spices already on hand! However, if you are looking for a weekend dinner that is flavorful and satisfying, give this dish a try. Use beef if you can’t find goat; mix in parsley if you don’t have enough cilantro. The results will be well worth your efforts. (And this dish just might inspire me to start growing my own cilantro).
SPICED GOAT & RICE PILAF
2 cups cilantro, coarsely chopped (or a combination of cilantro and flat leaf parsley)
1 cup mint leaves
10 garlic cloves
10 small green chiles, stemmed
1″ piece ginger, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups canola oil
5 medium onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 pounds goat shoulder or beef chuck, cut into 2″ cubes
3 tablespoons ground coriander
40 whole black peppercorns
16 whole cloves
12 whole black cardamom pods
10 whole bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
2 cups plain yogurt
6 dried apricots, quartered
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 cups basmati rice, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes then drained
10 drops orange food coloring
- Puree the cilantro, parsley, mint, garlic, chiles, ginger, and 1/4 cup of water in a food processor. Set the paste aside.
- Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add 2 of the sliced onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until caramelized, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a paper towel to drain.
- Heat the remaining oil in the Dutch oven. Add the remaining onions and cook until golden brown, 20-25 minutes.
- Season the goat with salt and pepper and add it to the pan with the onions. Cook until browned, approximately 10 minutes.
- Add the reserved paste, the ground coriander, and half each of the peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, until the paste is caramelized, approximately 6 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the yogurt. Continue to cook until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Add the apricots and cook until they are tender, about 10-15 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
- Place the remaining peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, and cinnamon in a 4-quart sauce pan and heat over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Add the rice, salt, pepper and 4 cups of water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the rice is al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain the rice and set it aside.
- Mix the food coloring with 1/2 cup of water.
- Transfer half of the goat mixture to a bowl. Spoon half of the rice mixture over the goat remaining in the pot.
- Drizzle half of the colored water over the rice then top with half of the reserved onions.
- Top with the remaining goat mixture, rice, food coloring and onions.
- Cover the pot and cook over low heat until the rice is tender, about 8-10 minutes.
- Mix the rice and meat together then serve.