This is a dish with an identity crisis. It's a kind of a Persian rice meets biryani meets late-night kebab meets the fuddled parts of my brain trying to put together a tasty yet convenient dinner. And I think I've done it. Regardless of how it came about, it relies on pantry staples and anything else you can get from the supermarket or the back of your freezer, and the greatest commitment here is a rifle through your spice collection and a bit of time while it cooks
1 small red onion, finely grated
2 cloves garlic cloves, crushed
500g lamb mince
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted, roughly crushed
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted, roughly crushed
pinch chilli flakes
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or balsamic glaze)
¼ cup cranberries, finely chopped
pinch all spice
For the mixed grain, date and falafel base
⅓ cup brown rice
⅓ cup pearl barley
⅓ cup whole freekeh
tiniest pinch of saffron threads
1½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp turmeric
⅓ cup dried cranberries (substitute sultanas)
400g falafel**, coarsely torn into large chunks
200g fresh dates, pitted (substitute dried dates or prunes)
1 cup white wine
1½ cups chicken stock
To top (all optional***)
1 tbsp roughly chopped coriander leaves
1 tbsp roughly chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
75g pomegranate arils (from about 1 pomegranate) or a few extra cranberries
drizzle of pomegranate molasses
1. Preheat oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional).
2. Combine all the kofta ingredients in a large bowl, and using your hands, work the mixture until everything is well combined and the meat feels sticky and tacky. You need to work it to this point or the koftas will just fall off the skewers as they bake. Shape the mixture around 5 or so metal skewers, place on a plate and set aside while you prepare the grains.
3. In a large baking dish (about 30cm x 25cm x 8cm) add the grains and stir to combine. Add the spices and stir again before adding the falafel pieces, dates and cranberries. Gently pour over the wine and stock. Pop in the oven, while you prepare the lamb. You want to give this part a 15-minute head start before adding the lamb.
4. Place a large frypan, big enough to accommodate the skewers, over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and once a sheen appears, add the lamb and briefly brown on all sides. You don't want to cook it through, but you want the lovely charred edges.
5. Working carefully, open the oven door and transfer the skewers on top of the grain mixture. Close the door and cook for a further 30-40 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and the grains are cooked through. Remove from the oven and drizzle the koftas with the additional pomegranate molasses. Season generously with salt and pepper. Top with the herbs and pomegranate arils (if using) and serve with some flatbreads and a dollop of yoghurt.
*If you don't have any skewers for the koftas, don't panic. Shape them into round meatballs instead – just make them fairly large to prevent them drying out in the oven.
**You'll find falafels in the deli or frozen section of most supermarkets.
***Given the lockdown status of many parts of the country, you can go as scant or as over the top as you like, throwing all manner of herbs at the end of the cook, but if you don't have them, this dish is still great sans adornments.