I can’t wait to share one special recipe with you today. Shami is the name of the great dish and it hails from one of the best culinary destinations in Azerbaijan, the region of Lenkeran in the southeast. Lenkeran is home to the best chay (black tea) that comes from vast tea plantations tucked along the region, exotic delicacies loved in every corner of Azerbaijan, hospitable and friendly people, and many more. The recipe was given to me by my buddy Sevda, one of the sweetest Lenkeranis I’ve met.
So, what is shami and what is so special about it. Shami is a lamb patty. But not your regular lamb patty made of ground raw meat. Shami is a patty made of cooked ground lamb and this is how the process goes. First, the lamb is boiled in water along with whole onions until tender. Then the meat is ground together with the onions, the eggs are added, the ingredients are blended together and the mixture is shaped into patties. The patties are then fried on both sides until golden. Boiling the lamb in the first stage removes its heavy taste and smell as well as mellows its taste. Precooking the lamb also allows for short frying times in the second stage and the patties do not absorb as much oil as their counterparts made of raw meat. Shami has a beautiful golden crust on the outside and is super soft and flavorful inside. It is absolutely delicious. Nush Olsun!
Lamb Patties from Lenkeran (Shami)
Makes 18-20 patties
2 pounds (1 kg) boneless lamb with no fat, cut into medium size pieces
2 medium onions, peeled
salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup vegetable oil, for frying
Put the meat and peeled whole onions in a medium saucepan. Fill the pan with enough water to cover the ingredients completely. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cook, maintaining a gentle boil, for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is cooked. It should be tender and should not be pink inside). Strain on a fine-mesh sieve (reserve the strained broth for other uses, such as for dushbere).
Pass the meat and the onions together through a meat grinder (the traditional way). Or, grind in a food processor. Put the mixture in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Knead thoroughly with your hand until well blended.
Shape the mixture into 18-20 oval or round patties (I made round), about 3/8-inch (0.9 cm) thick (you can make them thicker if you want to. They should be somewhat “chubby” and not too thin).
Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium frying pan. Brown the patties on one side, for 3-5 minutes, then turn to cook the other side. Do not turn until one side is ready. These patties are fragile and may easily break if you keep turning them. Remove from the heat and serve immediately with rice pilaf or bread (traditionally shami is served as an accompaniment to rice, but I like it with bread too).
Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Vegetables
The inspiration for this salad comes from kisir, my favorite Turkish salad, made of bulgur, fresh vegetables and lots of fresh herbs. In my salad, I roasted the vegetables and tossed them with cooked wheat berries and lots of fresh herbs. A splash of olive oil, lemon juice and pomegranate paste and you will not want anything else for the day. An ideal accompniament to any meat dish!
You can increase or decrease the amount of pretty much any ingredient in this salad, to your taste. I love my salad with lots of fresh herbs. And I use fewer zucchini squash as it tends to soften too much in the oven. So, play with the amounts to suit your palate. Using pomegranate paste (in Azeri -narsharab - a molasses-like syrup made of tart pomegranate) is optional, but I love the extra tartness it adds to the salad. Pomegranate paste is available in most Middle Eastern/Persian stores.
Serves 6 to 8
2 cup wheat berries
4 medium eggplants
1 medium zucchini squash
1 medium red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 medium yellow or orange bell pepper, cored and seeded
1/4 cup or to taste, olive oil
freshly squeezed juice of 1 medium lemon
1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup, optional
1/4 cup or to taste, chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup or to taste, chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup or to taste, chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup or to taste chopped green onions, white and green parts
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Put the wheat berries in a medium saucepan and fill the pan with enough water to cover the wheat berries by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil and cook until the wheat berries are tender but still slightly chewy. Check often to make sure the saucepan has enough water; add more as needed. The cooking may take 1 or 2 hours, and sometimes longer, depending on the variety of the wheat berries. To cut the cooking time, you can also presoak the wheat berries overnight in a bowl with cold water, and cook them the next day. Put the cooked wheat berries on a fine mesh sieve and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. Drain thoroughly.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F.
Cut the vegetables into medium-size dice. Place on a baking sheet. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Spread on the baking sheet. Roast the vegetables on the middle rack of the oven until they are nicely browned, stirring once or twice, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Put the cooked wheat berries in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and if using, pomegranate paste. Toss. Add the roasted vegetables and fresh herbs. Toss to mix. Adjust the amount of dressing to your taste.
Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Nush Olsun!