Timman bagila is an Iraqi dish, though it is originally from Iran, where it is called bagila pilaow. I would hesitate to call my version authentic, as I cook it to my own tastes, but the traditional components of dill, fava beans, rice and lamb are the stars of this dish. I cook it in a complex way, but once mastered, it is a no-brainer and a guaranteed feast!
Lamb Shanks- I used 3 lamb shanks, bone in, cut in half by the butcher
2 Cups Basmati Rice, soaked in water for at least an hour
1 Cup Dill, chopped
1 bag frozen fava beans (lima beans work as well)
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1 loomi Basra ( a dried lime, totally optional)
Start by rinsing the lamb shanks and patting dry. Place lamb shanks in a heavy oven safe pot with a lid. Pour a few tablespoons olive oil over the shanks and rub with cinnamon, salt and pepper. Sprinkle in a pinch or two of your dill, and place in a 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.
In the mean time, chop your onion and garlic. When the lamb starts to become fragrant, pull it out of the oven and cover with water. Reduce your oven to 300. Put half of the onion and both cloves of garlic in with the lamb, and pierce the dried lime and throw it in with the rest of the components. Cover, and place in oven. This lamb should cook at least 2 hours, but 3 hours will give you lamb that melts right off the bone!
When your lamb is starting to look quite delicious (or you are getting very hungry!) place a large pot on the stove, and sauté the rest of your onion in a little olive oil. Take the lamb out of the oven, and set up a platter, bowl or cutting board along side. Pull each shank out of the broth with tongs, and fork the meat off of the bone- after 3 ½ hours I didn’t even need a fork. The meat fell right off on its own! Reserve broth and discard the lime.
At the same time, pour wet rice and a few pinches of turmeric and 1 tablespoon of salt into another pot over medium-high heat and cover with water. Moving back to the onions- go ahead and throw your meatless shank bones in with the onions and sauté- this will really give the dish extra flavor! After about 5 minutes, pull out the bones and discard. Pour in your bag of fava beans, and sprinkle turmeric over them and stir to coat- the turmeric will help make your fava beans look really beautiful and green! Add the rest of the dill, and throw in your reserved lamb meat, and cook together for another few minutes, then add about ½ cup of water and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes more.
Pour the bean/onion/meat mixture into a bowl. At this point, you should have par-boiled rice with softening kernels that have absorbed most of the water. The rice should be wet, but there should not be much extra liquid. In your large onion pan, run a paper towel over the bottom to clean out any dill, and pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and place over medium heat. Spoon enough rice into the pan to coat the bottom in a layer of rice. Shake the pan a bit to make it a nice even layer and let it cook for a minute or two so it starts to brown on bottom.
Scoop a large spoonful of beans and meat and place over the rice. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Then, add another layer of rice. Repeat a few times, sprinkling each bean layer with cinnamon, and end with a top layer of rice. Ideally, you want to be mounding the rice and beans in a pyramid- if you form the rice in this way, it allows the steam to build nicely around the rice and it also helps create a nice crust on the bottom of the pan.
Poke a few holes in the rice with the back of your spoon, and ladle about 1 ½ cups over the rice, pouring it into those holes. This is not an exact science- you don’t want to cover the rice at all- it is more about pouring enough in that there is liquid about ¼ of the way up your rice pyramid.
Cover the pan, and turn the burner down as low as it goes. You should be ready to go in about 15 minutes! Pick up the lid, and stick a spoon down into the deeper layers of rice to make sure it is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed.
If the rice is done, scoop the rice onto a large serving platter without disturbing your bottom crust. Sometimes God is on your side and the crust will slip out. Other times you can stick your pan into the sink with some cool water underneath, and the crust will loosen. Usually, you have to scrape it out. What ever happens, arrange your golden crust on top of the platter, and you are ready to serve- unless you are me and refuse to eat any rice without a delicious sprinkling of nuts. Today, I sautéed up some almonds and pistachios and sprinkled them over the rice.
I know it sounds terrible and complicated, but once you start mastering the processes and learn that great rice dishes like this require simple but numerous steps, it becomes easy!