Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Rekindeled 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 Tagine, which I adapted from a recipe found on

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 paprika
    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 honey
    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.)


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