Right after I got back from Korea, I got sick with a cold, which didn’t surprise me, considering how burnt out I felt during the trip. I drank tons of quince tea, honey tea, pear and ginger molasses to ease a coughing fit. As soon as I felt I’d got over it, I found myself standing at the kitchen bench with a desire to cook up something nice and nourishing.
In autumn and winter, quinces are everywhere and Turkish people even eat them raw. Yeah, I know you’re wincing saying TART! But you know what? Apparently, there are different varieties and the Turkish variety isn’t that tart, as they were known as golden apple and enjoyed by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Persians.
So do I eat them raw? Yes, I do in Turkey but I’ve never done it in anywhere else. Koreans eat them for medicinal reasons and my mum makes a huge batch of quince preserves like in the picture every year as they’re good for cold symptoms.
Many Turkish cooks use the quince in different dishes, and Ayva Tatlisi(quince dessert) is the most common of all. If you’re lucky, you might also come across a savoury dish such as Gaziantep lamb stew made with quince and pomegranate molasses or Ayva Dolmasi(stuffed quince) but only aspired foodies’ homes or in special restaurants that specialise Ottoman cuisine.
My stuffed quince slightly differs from original Turkish Persian recipes, though leaning more towards Persian due to the spices used and the addition of lentils. Initially, I’d planned to replicate the lamb lentil stew I had in Reyhun Iranian Restaurant – so delicious!
I grounded coriander seeds, cloves, cardamons and peppercorns, and added turmeric, cinnamon stick, mace and saffron. However, you can omit cardamon and mace since they’re not a must.
Most recipes suggest scooping out the core before cooking them, but I found it a lot easier to work with when they are a bit soft. So, while I browned the meat and onion, I boiled the halved quinces as you can see in the photo for 20 mins, with seeds and all intact, since they’re good as well, and used the water for the stew later. Also, I fried chopped onion and spices with a couple of dried chilli and mace, which I discarded after adding the meat and water.
As for the meat, I used shoulder cuts, which is what I had in the freezer, and also, I’m not a fan of ground meat of any sort. After 2 hours in the oven, the meat is so tender that it falls off the bone and flakes off at the stab of a fork. You, then, stuff the quince and arrange them in the same crock pot or transfer them to a smaller pot you’ll serve them in, and cook further for 15-20 mins. I had only two quinces but you will need 3 quinces for this recipe.
It’s a hearty, healthy, and delicious dish, full of warm exotic aromas, and you can even go further and make a Persian saffron rice with tahdig or just serve it with basmati rice decorated with barberries, which will give a sharp tangy bite, whose flavour grows on you. I was introduced to dried barberries by my Iranian guests, and then I found them in my local spice store, and I’ve been using them in many dishes ever since.
We’re getting deeper into winter and Christmas is getting closer. I hope this yummy winter dish will enhance the festive spirit.
Lamb Stuffed Quince
600 g lamb shoulder or neck (with bones or boneless)
3 quinces, halved
2 medium size onions, chopped
1-2 Tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground mixed spices (coriander, clove, peppercorns)
2 dried chilli
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 up green lentils, washed (optional)
a pinch of saffron threads(optional)
1 balde of mace(optional)
2 tsp sea salt (adjust to your taste)
a handful of parsley
1. Heat the oven to 325’F(160’C) and trim&cut the meat into chunks or use as a whole.
2. First, prepare the quinces. Wash and cut them in half, and boil in water for 20 mins.
3. Heat ghee or oil in a large crock pot or casserole dish and brown the meat for 1-2 mins and set aside.
4. Add more oil and fry the onion and all spices until soft and fragrant, and discard the chilli and mace if using.
5. Return the meat to the pot and add the liquid from the quince pot and add more water till the meat is submerged. Add salt and cover and cook for 1 1/2 hour.
6. In the mean time, scoop out the quince, deeper and closer to the skin without breaking the shape, and save the flesh in a bowl. Set aside the hollowed quince.
7. Take out the pot and add lentils and the quince flesh you saved – scrape off the brown bits on the side.
7. Cover and return it to the oven and cook for 20-30 mins.
8. Flake the meat off the bone using a fork and break the chunks into smaller flakes if big. Stuff each quince with the stew and arrange them into another baking dish with a lid.
9. Return it to the oven and cook for 10-20 mins, and serve with rice sprinkled with barberries if you have them.