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One of my favourite Melbourne restaurants is Abla’s. Abla Amad herself is considered Melbourne’s Queen of Lebanese cooking, and her signature dish is Djaj a riz (chicken and rice cooked with lamb and spices). It’s a taste sensation! I cooked it once and it was divine, but too time-consuming for a midweek family meal.
Lamb and spinach pilaf with toasted pine nuts is my cheat’s version. It’s packed with veggies, and is super quick to throw together. I go through stages of making it once a week, and have been serving it up to my boys since they were toddlers. Mine doesn’t contain chicken so purists should avert their gaze, but leftover chopped roast chook can be stirred through before serving.
By doubling up on the spiced lamb mixture, and reserving half the toasted pine-nuts; you can whip up a batch of excellent Lamb and pine-nut sambusek (Lebanese pastries) for lunch or a light dinner later in the week. My boys adore these. Look for the orange diamonds in the recipe for instructions on how much to set aside as planned-overs. Enjoy!

Lamb and spinach pilaf. One Equals Two

[Recipe 1] Lamb and spinach pilaf with toasted pine nuts

Ingredients (serves 4 for 2 meals):
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (approx. 20g)
1 small red (purple/Spanish) onion, very finely chopped
750g (1½ lb) minced (ground) lamb
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
(Note: you’ll be reserving half the above ingredients, cooked, for Recipe 2)
1¼ cups (250g) uncooked long grain white rice (or basmati), rinsed and drained
3 small carrots, grated
3½ cups chicken stock, store-bought or home-made
3 cups (100g) baby spinach leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
1 cup (130g/4½ oz) pine nuts, toasted

Heat oil and butter in a heavy-based, deep-sided frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook onion for 3–4 minutes, until just soft. Add lamb and cook for 5 minutes, breaking up the lumps really well. Carefully drain off any pan juices.
Add spices and stir well. Cover and cook over a very low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until aromatic.
At this stage, scoop out half the spiced lamb mixture, about 1½ cups (250g/8 oz), and reserve for the Lamb and pine-nut sambusek (see recipe 2 below).
To the remaining spiced lamb mixture (in frying pan) add rice, carrot and stock. Stir and bring to the boil. Turn down heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add spinach and cook, uncovered, for a further 3–5 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid absorbed. Stir occasionally. Season well with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, toast your pine nuts
Reserve half (65g/2¼ oz) of the toasted pine nuts for the Lamb and pine nut sambusek.

Serve pilaf with pine nuts scattered on top.

  • To save time, the nuts can be toasted, and the spinach chopped, while the rice is cooking.
  • Half a 400g (15 oz) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or lentils; drained and rinsed, can be added with the rice for variety. Freeze the extra half can (drained and rinsed) in a small plastic container, for up to 3 months.
  • Leftover chopped roast chicken can be added with the spinach, for the ultimate meat fest!
  • Planned-overs (reserved spiced lamb mixture and reserved toasted pine nuts) can be stored separately in the fridge for 3 days; or frozen in sealed containers for up to 2 months.
  • If you purchase 1 kilo (2 lb) of minced lamb, you can use the leftover 250g (½ lb) to make mini lamb parmesan burgers for the kid’s lunchboxes. Add 1 small finely grated carrot, ¼ cup (25g) grated parmesan, 1 egg and ¼ cup dried breadcrumbs. Mix well and shape into 6 little burgers. Fry, allow to cool, and freeze until required. Defrost overnight, and serve in dinner rolls with tomato sauce. Kids will happily devour these cold.

Lamb and pinenut sambusek

[Recipe 2] Lamb and pine-nut sambusek (Lebanese pastries)

Ingredients (makes 12):
1 quantity wholemeal (wholewheat) sambusek dough

1½ cups (250g/8 oz) reserved spiced lamb mixture

65g/2¼ oz) reserved toasted pinenuts, lightly crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 large tomato, seeds and liquid scooped out, chopped
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (replace with lemon juice if unavailable)
Vegetable oil for brushing
Tahini sauce, to serve

Preheat oven to 200°C (390ºF).
Prepare wholemeal sambusek dough. While dough is resting, make the filling.
Place reserved spiced lamb mixture and reserved toasted pinenuts (crushed) into a bowl. Add tomato and pomegranate molasses. Mix well and set aside.
Line two large baking trays with baking paper.
Divide the pastry dough into two balls. Roll out one ball of dough (leaving the other in the covered bowl) on a lightly floured surface until quite thin, about 2–3mm (⅛-inch).
Using a 15cm (6-inch) round cutter (or tea-cup plate), cut out 6 circles from the dough.
Moisten dough edges with a little water. Place 1 tablespoon of lamb filling into the centre of each circle. Take two sides of the circle and pinch together to make a triangle. Lift the bottom of the circle towards the centre and pinch all three edges firmly together. Photo instructions below. Gather up scraps of dough and knead together as required.
Transfer sambusek to one baking tray, and brush each lightly with oil.
Repeat process with remaining dough and transfer to the other baking tray.
Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
Serve with tahini sauce.

  • Swap trays part-way through cooking if your oven is not wide enough to accommodate the 2 trays next to each other. Or bake one tray of sambusek, while you prepare the other!
  • Cooked sambusek can be frozen, for up to 3 months. Place baking paper between the layers. When serving, allow to defrost overnight in the fridge. Reheat in a hot oven, covered with foil, for about 5 minutes.
  • Pomegranate molasses is available from specialist food stores, large supermarkets and Middle-Eastern grocers (such as Gourmet Grocer, A1-bakery, Simon Johnson, Essential Ingredient or Oasis bakery).

Folding sambousek

12 thoughts on “Bam-ba-lamb

  1. Hi Sas, it’s the husband here with my first ever comment! Its not too many people who get to have a look at what they’ve just eaten (in a good way). It’s like ‘A HISTORY OF DINNER’. My mouth is watering as I scroll through remembering. Thanks so much for all your effort and amazing creativity. (Really good photos too!)

  2. Done for dinner – with planned overs. Your recipes are fabulous Sas. And photography magazine worthy. I’m also loving this bloggy format with links to all your tips and tricks – so practical and accessible on the iPad in the kitchen!
    If you could see me now- iPad propped before bubbling pilaf on stove. Thank you!

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