October is the month of ripe, juicy and sweet pomegranates. Our food columnist Natalia Golumb shares her take on the traditional dish known as nargovurma, a celebration of lamb, pomegranates, chestnuts and onions
The Goychay region of Azerbaijan is famous for its pomegranates, and October is pomegranate season. Of course, you have pomegranate trees all over Azerbaijan, and you can even pick the fruit right from the tree in downtown Baku, but there is something special about those from Goychay. They have an absolutely different taste. It is in Goychay, then, that every October they celebrate the pomegranate, with a dish call nargovurma. This dish is found throughout the country, with each region putting its own twist on it.
Nargovurma is usually cooked with lamb, pomegranates, chestnuts and onions. This combination works well, because the acidity of the pomegranate balances out the fattiness of the lamb and second, this results in a wonderful caramelized flavour. However, it’s also common to use beef or chicken and, occasionally, duck.
I personally love to use lamb ribs, but you can use any tender parts of the lamb you like. This is a dish that is best served immediately, since the intensity of flavours means that, over time, it does have a tendency to become more sour.
You will need:
1.2 kilograms boneless lamb, chopped into large cubes
2-3 medium sized onions, finely chopped
2 cups peeled chestnuts
1 large pomegranate, juiced
6 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
Salt and black pepper
6-7 threads of saffron, ground to a powder (optional)
Place the lamb in a medium-sized pan and fill with just enough water to cover the lamb by about two centimetres. Bring to the boil, carefully skimming off the froth. Once boiling, turn down the heat to medium, and simmer until almost cooked through. This should take about 30 minutes. Strain the lamb, reserve the broth and set aside, and leave the meat to rest.
Mix the saffron powder with three tablespoons of hot water, cover and set aside.
Next, melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until lightly golden. Remove onions, leaving the butter in the pan, and set aside.
Add the lamb to the pan, into the butter, and fry until light brown. If needed, add more butter so it doesn’t stick. Then add your sautéed onions, the chestnuts and the saffron infusion, together with one cup of the lamb broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cover tightly with a lid and cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure everything is well incorporated.
Near the end of the cooking time, add the juice of the pomegranate and simmer for a further five minutes. If you like, you can add pomegranate seeds to the pomegranate juice for a more caramelized lamb.
Nargovurma goes perfectly with fluffy rice. Serve with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
Photography by Tom Parker