Charles Siskin: Preparing Lamb With Rose Water

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - by Charles Siskin

OMG, I was listening to talk radio on my way to work recently and heard that the latest fad is a Butter Churning Party. No, honestly I could never make that up. It’s the party where you bring your own cream rather than a Chick-fil-A cow.

Seems some people are buying a butter churner and want to share the experience with their friends and their friend’s children. I’m really an olive oil man myself but I don’t plan to have a party to squeeze olives. Or for that matter have you over to a “make your own fake butter” soirée. Besides I recently read that “I can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” ranks right up there with margarine which is also “not so good for you”.

At this rate I will not need a list to grocery shop, just a small sack to carry home my wet tissues since I will have shed some serious tears over all the things that have become verboten on a daily basis. Better yet I need to switch to the country music station where the songs are heartfelt and no one sings about your bad cholesterol. It’s more about your bad choice in a wife, husband or maybe the Chick-fil-A cow.

We were inundated with rain this summer, so much in fact that over the Fourth of July week we had 22” of the wet stuff and 40” over a two month period. The gloomy weather can put you in a mood, murderous if you have children cooped up in your one bedroom rental. That is not the case for us as our grandchildren came down to visit earlier in the summer which was lucky for all of us. When they come for sleepover at our house I try to serve them something special their mom cannot bring home from Whole Foods, Fresh Market or Trader Joe’s.

Those are big shoes to fill or should I say, big “to go” boxes to fill? However I have learned over the years that they don’t want homemade mac and cheese but rather the stuff that comes in the box from Annie’s Organic. I cannot tell you how much time and money I put into making this awesome three cheese macaroni tossed with real butter and moistened with half and half. Even Paula Deen would have been proud of the calorie count in that sucker.

I recently read another bizarre story about the capture by a Middle Eastern country of a kestrel, a sparrow hawk, which was suspected of being an Israeli spy. We get some pretty bizarre news over here in the Panhandle, but this could be maybe a 3 on the Absurdist Scale. Imagine questioning the captured spy. O.K., you little sparrow, sing!

With the Jewish New Year recently being celebrated, one of my childhood friends, all grown up but we still reminisce about what happened too many years ago, sent me one of  his wife’s recipe’s for a Persian chicken dishes. It calls for saffron, raisins and among other ingredients rose water. My first experience with rose water came on my first visit to San Francisco.

I went to a very famous now defunct restaurant that specialized in Middle Eastern dishes, lamb primarily. The décor of the restaurant, especially for a country boy from Tennessee, was transporting. I choose the lamb because it was a favorite of my family especially during Jewish holidays sacrificial undertones aside. I remember thinking this was the best lamb ever and In a fit of gourmet passion purchased a bottle of the rose water and brought it back home where it sat unused for several years on a shelf in my mother’s home.

After all what would a girl raised on a farm in Alabama know about rose water? Not much for cooking only the kind from Woolworth’s you would likely put behind each ear. This particular Rose Water was one of those superfluous gifts that people thank you for then after a time hand off to a distant cousin of which there are plenty out in the countryside of Alabama.  As for sweet Cousin Pearl she will take the foreign vessel of liquid wrap it carefully and give it to another cousin and so on and so forth until it might well turn up in my mother’s house again.  And that is how regifting came about in northern Alabama.

As the weather begins to turn a bit cooler with less humidity, we are once again taking meals on our patio that I am preparing on my gas grill. It’s a natural gas grill I should add, and that makes lighting a fire less cumbersome. Just a simple click of the starter and we are off to the proverbial races. Here on the Gulf Coast it can be pretty gruesome in the summer to try and cook out of doors no matter how much bug spray you douse yourself as opposed to rose water.

Grilling butterflied leg of lamb prepared in a Middle Eastern style is one great meal done on the grill. It pairs great with saffron rice cooked in our rice cooker which turns out perfect rice and should be a must on everybody’s list of appliances. I like to toss the rice with grilled asparagus tips or a dice of cooked broccoli or rapini. The slightly bitter taste of the rapini is a good counterpoint to the richness of the lamb. Since weather-wise no matter what the calendar says, it is not fall here till the temperature reaches into the low 60’s usually in October.

I like to keep drinking rose wines as well into the fall. With its light fruity flavor it seems a natural selection for lamb.  Of course Pinot Noir is perfect any season. I should mention that on a recent trip to California and the Sonoma vineyard I had some great wines. My personal feeling is that any wine with the Russian River included in its description should not be passed up as well.

As for my cousins in northern Alabama, MD 20/20 is best chilled and sipped during a full harvest moon. Moonshine however is always appropriate preceding, during and after an Alabama SEC game. That’s true tailgaiting!


NOTE: Rose water is used extensively in Persian and Middle Eastern Cuisines. Use sparingly as Rose Water can have an overpowering effect. Rose Water is available at Persian or Middle Eastern grocery stores but sometimes available at your pharmacy.

You can make your own rose water by steeping several rose petals in hot water several hours or overnight. Discard petals and you are in business.


3 Lbs butterflied leg-of-lamb trimmed of as much fat as possible

10-12 baby carrots

½ cup diced sweet onion

½ cup diced sweet red or yellow peppers

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Zest of1 lemon + juice

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons Rose Water

½ cup Olive Oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Rub cinnamon into lamb then add chopped garlic, onions and peppers. Drizzle rose water, honey and lemon juice over lamb along with olive oil plus salt and pepper. Cover lamb and let sit for several hours or overnight. Before roasting add carrots. Bake at 325 for 45 minutes but check often to be sure it does not overcook. You want nice rosy pieces.


I use my “never fail to make great rice’  cooker. Flick the switch and check back after 20 or so minutes. Stir occasionally while cooking to be sure rice does not stick to bottom. Because I cook my lamb first and let it rest, I use some of the juice from the lamb as part of the liquid for my rice. I also steep my saffron threads in the liquid as well.

Finally I reduce whatever liquid I have left not used for the rice and pass at the dinner table.

I cup brown rice

2 cups liquid

Several saffron threads crushed and placed in liquid to steep

Note: Not everyone is a fan of saffron and because it is so expensive go light on the threads first time out. Saffron can overwhelm the rice as well.

Cook rice according to your cooker directions

Put rice in center of plate then slices of lamb on top and a few carrots atop that and add some parsley or mint for color.

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