Baked layered rice with spinach and lamb

Baked layered rice with spinach and lamb

Tahcheen-e esfenaj

Mark Roper

‘Tahcheen’ means ‘spread over the bottom’ and the whole point of this dish is to end up with a lot of lovely golden crunch under the rice. Obviously, the wider and shallower the baking dish, the greater the crunch-to-rice ratio will be. On the other hand, if you bake the rice in a deeper, attractively curved or domed dish, it will look like a gorgeous golden cake when turned out, the secret filling revealed on cutting. The most important thing is that it be heavy duty to ensure even cooking all over – a Pyrex or heavy ovenproof porcelain dish would be ideal.

Tahcheen is a brilliant dish for entertaining, as once the preparation is done it just bakes away by itself for a couple of hours

In this recipe the lamb needs to be slow-cooked first, and then marinated for a minimum of 8 hours for the flavours to develop. Omit the prunes, if you like, but somehow I think they contribute to the essential ‘Persian-ness’ of the dish.


Quantity Ingredient
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
400g lamb (from the shoulder), trimmed of fat and cut into 2 cm cubes
200g thick natural yoghurt
2 egg yolks
250g spinach leaves
400g basmati rice
12 prunes, pitted and roughly chopped
60g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
thick natural yoghurt and pickles, to serve
80ml Saffron liquid


  1. Heat half the oil in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Add one of the onions to the pan with the garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and spices and fry gently for 4 minutes. Add the meat and enough water to cover, then bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and simmer gently for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  2. Beat the yoghurt with the egg yolks and saffron liquid in a shallow dish. Drain the cooled meat well and add it to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over a low heat. Add the remaining onion and fry gently until soft and lightly coloured. Add the spinach and turn it about in the pan until wilted. Cook over a medium heat to evaporate any excess liquid, then set aside. When cool, squeeze the spinach to remove any residual liquid and chop it roughly.
  4. Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch.
  5. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water. Bring 2 litres water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.
  6. Preheat the oven to 190ºC and butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish. Remove the lamb from the yoghurt marinade. Mix half the parboiled rice with the marinade and spoon it into the base and up the sides of the ovenproof dish. Arrange the lamb on top of the rice, then cover with the spinach. Dot the prunes over the spinach, then spoon in the remaining rice to cover and smooth the surface. Cover tightly with a sheet of lightly buttered foil and bake for 1½ hours.
  7. Remove the dish from the oven and dot the surface of the rice with bits of butter. Replace the foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter and serve with a bowl of creamy yoghurt and a selection of relishes or pickles.
Middle Eastern
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