So I’ve had flu. That’s boring.
Being sick is like staying in a hotel, a really bad hotel where the room is airless, the bed contrives to be both too hot and too cold, the sheets are abominably scratchy despite what the lying bastard label might say about thread count. And nothing on the room service menu tempts, not even the gin and that never happens.
The thing about staying in hotels, even the very, very good ones, is that after about three days I miss cooking. I miss sniffing melons, squeezing avocados, chopping herbs, sautéing onions, simmering stock. Wandering around markets becomes almost unbearable – all that lovely produce and not a pot to put it in.
So on about Day Five of channelling of a consumptive Brontë on the sofa, I just couldn’t stand it. I needed to wash vegetables, fry stuff, stir things, season to taste. This soupy recipe sounded about right. Really very easy. Cook for two hours. Sprinkle with fried onions. Except my kofteh collapsed. You don’t brown them, just roll and poach in the soup. Perhaps I didn’t get the texture of the minced mixture fine enough, but they ended up like lamby crumbs surrounded by creamy, tomatoey, rice. Not so bad. In fact, pretty good for a sick girl.
Eat on a tray in front of an old movie, preferably Mildred Pierce. Blanket and gently snoring dog optional but beneficial. Repeat as necessary.
Soft rice meat dumplings
This recipe is from Margaret Shaida’s superlative The Legendary Cuisine of Persia and it was given to her by Mrs Pouran Ataie from Azarbaijan. In her recipe, Mrs Shaida uses 6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, but I hate peeling tomatoes at the best of times and I didn’t have any and I’m sick so I used a tin of chopped tomatoes. They’re Italian. And good. She also uses 30g dried oregano. I had one whole pot. That’s 5g. I can’t really imagine what adding another five pots would have tasted like and I admit I’m still a bit tastebud-challenged, so I stuck with my paltry, westernised, wimpy sick girl 5g and it tasted great.
Serves six to eight
300g short grain pudding rice
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsps groundnut or sunflower oil
2 litres chicken stock
1x400g chopped tomatoes, or 6 tomatoes, peeled and diced
3 tbsps tomato purée
5g dried oregano, or 30g if you’re being authentic
1 tsp paprika or ½ tsp red chilli powder
500g lean lamb or veal, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
Finely chopped parsley
Soak the rice in cold water for a few minutes.
Warm the oil over a medium-low heat, add the onions and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring from time to time, until soft and beginning to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Drain the rice and stir in with the onions. Add enough water to cover, raise the temperature and boil gently, covered, until the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove about 3tbsps of rice and set aside.
Add the stock to the rice along with the tomatoes, tomato purée, half the oregano and paprika, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently.
Chop the meat together with the reserved rice, remaining oregano and paprika, salt and pepper. Using wet hands, mould into about 10 evenly-sized meatballs. Carefully lower them into the slowly simmering soup. Cook very gently, partially covered, for two hours, stirring occasionally, especially during the last half hour when the dumplings and rice can stick to the bottom if you’re not careful (and even if you are).
While the soup’s cooking, prepare the onions. Warm the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat and sauté the onions until crisp and deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper while you finish the soup.
Serve the meat dumplings in warmed bowls with the soup ladled over the top and garnished with the parsley and the onions.