Iraqi Quzi is a dish to impress a gathering; tender lamb served over yellow rice, with crispy almonds and sweet raisins. It's such a grand meal, served at feasts and to honour guests. But I'm here to tell you that it is actually an easy meal to make with only 30 minutes of hands on time.
What is Iraqi Quzi?
Quzi is a traditional Iraqi dish that's very grand, but actually quite simple to make. It is meat and rice - the two things that will likely please everyone around the table. It's a family favorite in my house and generally made for guests, along with Iraqi Dolma and Chicken Mandi. A rice dish is always a crowd pleaser and crowd feeder!
Typically, a lamb shoulder is cooked until it's fall off the bone tender, and it's served on a bed of yellow rice, jewelled with fried raisins and almonds. It's served with a side of Arabic salad, plain yogurt (or jajik), or a tomato based stew like Fasolia or Okra.
The unique thing about Iraqi quzi is the fact that the seasoning is very subtle using whole spices while boiling the lamb. We don't add a lot of seasoning because we want to truly savour the meat flavour. Also - the secret step is cooking the rice in the lamb broth which makes it extra special and full of umami! That's why the lamb is boiled first rather than roasted straight away. If you love lamb by the way, you have to try my Lamb Kabsa which is a much more seasoned lamb dish!
Ingredients you will need
Lamb - the star of the show! Traditionally, a full lamb shoulder or lamb leg is used, and serving it as a whole adds to the grandness of this dish (but its less practical to cook). Lamb shoulder is a less expensive cut than lamb leg, and in my opinion it works best for this dish because it has a lot of fat which helps the lamb handle slow cooking better. The lamb should have some fat on it, but nothing too excessive. The fat from the lamb is what adds a lot of flavour, but too much of it can also give off that "gamey" smell. More on tackling that further in the post.
To cook a full lamb leg or lamb shoulder, you would need a large pot and you'll end up rotating the meat throughout the cooking time to ensure it all gets cooked evenly. So it's definitely harder compared to smaller pieces.
Also you won't be able to use a pressure cooker if you're using the full shoulder. I recommend using smaller pieces of bone-in lamb shoulder or lamb shanks for an easier and more practical cooking process (and same taste). This is what I often do because its much easier, especially because I like to use a pressure cooker or Instant Pot.
Whole spices - using whole spices is crucial in this dish because it not only imparts a subtle but delicious flavour, it also helps to diminish that "gamey" lamb flavour. I typically use cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and bay leaves at a minimum. But if I have the others I would definitely add those as well.
And the other ingredients you'll need are of course rice (I use basmati), almonds, raisins and parsley for garnish.
How to make this recipe
Buying and preparing the lamb
It's really important to use high quality fresh lamb. Make sure its from a tried and tested local butcher. Lamb has a tendency to smell and taste "gamey" so quality is important!
You can ask your butcher for a full lamb shoulder, or ask them to cut it into medium sized pieces. I usually cut it into pieces because it's a lot easier to handle and cook. I also make this recipe using lamb shanks, which work really well and they're very pretty when served.
To clean the lamb, you just need to wash it with water and rub it with salt, which helps to get rid of that gamey-ness. Some people also like to rub lemon all over it, but I don't find that it's necessary - the key is the quality of the lamb you're using.
Wash the salt off and place the lamb in a large pot as shown below. If you are using a full shoulder, you will likely have to rotate it and cook it on the other side as well unless you have a really large pot. This doubles your cooking time, so stick to smaller lamb pieces.
Stove top method
If you're using the stove top method, place your lamb in the pot and cover with water. Bring it to a boil for about 10 minutes, and skim off the foam that starts to form on the surface. This is a really important step and part of diminishing that "gamey" flavour. Once you have skimmed all of the foam, you can then add in all of the whole spices and salt.
Cover the pot and boil for 2-3 hours or until you test it with a fork and find that it is tender. It will cook for another few hours in the oven after that so it doesn't need to be completely falling off the bone.
Pressure cooker / Instant Pot
If you're using smaller pieces and can cook them in a pressure cooker or the instant pot, start with adding them to the pressure cooker, covering with water, and allowing it to come to a boil. Once it does, skim off any of the foam on the surface and discard, add all of the whole spices and salt, then pressure cook for 45 minutes.
Roasting the lamb
Once the lamb is cooked and fork tender, remove from the pressure cooker or pot and place in an oven save dish. Strain the broth from the whole spices. Add 2-3 ladles of the broth to the bottom of the lamb in the oven dish, and set the rest aside.
If you like your lamb spicy or with a lot of extra seasoning, I recommend adding a spice rub all over the lamb at this point. You can use the middle eastern seven spice blend, or use your own blend. I don't do this personally but I've tried it and it's really tasty. It's all up to your preference.
Cover the lamb tightly with foil and roast in the oven at 400F for 3-5 hours, depending on the cut of meat you have and the quality. If its a full shoulder, you'll need closer to 5 hours, but if it is pieces, you need 2-3 hours. You want to ensure that it is fall off the bone tender before moving on to the next step, so make sure you test it.
Once the lamb is really tender, uncover the dish and broil it for 3-7 minutes to get a nice colour. Do this step right before serving.
Cooking the rice and garnish
Cook the rice using the reserved lamb broth. Simply measure out how much broth you need for the amount of rice you're cooking. If using Basmati rice, I use a 1:1.5 rice to water ratio. Place the broth in your rice pot and add turmeric (to make it yellow) as well as adjust the salt. The broth should be salty. I also add in more oil, but this also depends on how oily your lamb broth is, so feel free to adjust that.
Add the washed and drained rice (no need to soak) to the boiling broth. Cover it with a well sealed lid, allow it to continue boiling for a few minutes on high heat to build up steam, then decrease the heat to low and leave it covered undisturbed for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn the heat off and leave it to rest another 10 minutes.
Fry the almonds in some olive oil on medium heat, continuously stirring to avoid burning it (it burns really quickly so keep an eye on it). Once it is golden brown, remove it and add the raisins which only need a few minutes to warm up and soften.
Assembling the Quzi
When you are ready to serve, assemble by adding a layer of yellow rice to to a large serving platter. Place the broiled lamb pieces on top, then sprinkle with almonds, raisins, and finely chopped parsley. Serve with yogurt, salad, or a stew on the side.
FAQs and Expert Tips
What is Iraqi Quzi? Iraqi quzi is a simple dish consisting of rice with roasted, tender lamb on top, garnished with almonds and raisins. It is typically served for gatherings and celebrations.
What kind of lamb can I use for Quzi? Traditionally, a whole lamb shoulder or leg is used. But smaller bone-in lamb pieces are used for a more practical way of cooking and serving the dish. It's important to choose high quality fresh lamb, with bone-in, and with most of the fat still on in order to get the most flavour.
How do you get the gamey taste out of lamb? In order to get rid of the gamey taste, it's important to choose fresh and high quality lamb. Clean the lamb by rubbing it with salt and water. The next step which is the most crucial is to use a lot of whole spices to compensate for the natural lamb smell. That's why in this recipe, the lamb is first boiled with whole spices which will infuse into the lamb, then it's roasted for added flavour.
What is the cooking time for lamb? This depends on the size of your lamb. If you are cooking a full shoulder, you need to boil it for 2 hours (or pressure cook for 1 hour). Then, roast the lamb for 4-5 hours if it is a full shoulder, and 2-3 hours if it is smaller pieces.
For more middle eastern rice recipes, check out:
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Quzi (Authentic Iraqi Recipe)
For the Lamb
- 6 Lamb shanks bone-in, (or lamb shoulder cut into smaller pieces), approx. 2kg
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 6 whole cardamom pods (green)
- 3 Bay leaves
- 8 whole cloves
- 8 whole allspice berries optional
- 8 whole black peppercorns optional
- 2 teaspoons salt
For the Rice
- 4 cups basmati rice
- 6 cups lamb broth
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
For the Garnish:
- ¾ cup slivered almonds
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ½ cup raisins gold or brown
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
For the Lamb
- Start by washing the lamb and rubbing it with salt. Wash off the salt and place on the stove top and cover with water. Allow it to come to a boil for 10 minutes and skim off any foam that forms.
- Once the foam is skimmed off, add the whole spices and salt, cover the pot and allow it to cook at a low rolling boil for 1-2 hours. Check the water periodically and add more as needed to ensure the lamb is fully covered.
- If you are using a full lamb shoulder, you will need to rotate it (since it won't fit fully in an average sized pot) and this will double the cooking time.
- If you are using a pressure cooker, place the lamb in the pressure cooker (or instant pot) and cover with water. Boil for 10 minutes, skim off the foam, then add the salt and whole spices. Pressure cook for 45 minutes.
- For both methods, ensure the lamb is tender before moving to the next step. It will continue to roast so it doesn't need to be falling off the bone, but sufficiently tender.
- Remove the lamb and place it in an oven safe dish. Strain the broth from the whole spices and set aside. Add 2 ladles of it to the bottom of the oven dish with the lamb.
- At this point, if you want a more seasoned tasting lamb, rub it with your favourite spice blend such as the middle eastern seven spice blend.
- Cover the lamb tightly with foil and roast it in the oven at 400F for 2-3 hours until it is falling off the bone tender. Be sure to check it with a fork. During the last 10 minutes, remove the foil and broil the top to get some colour.
For the Rice
- Wash the rice well until the water runs clear and drain it. You can adjust the amount of rice as long as you maintain a 1:1.5 ratio of rice:liquid. You will also need to adjust the salt.
- In a pot, add the required amount of lamb broth (6 cups) along with the salt, oil and turmeric. Taste the broth to ensure it tastes visibly salt.
- Add the rice to the pot, mix, then allow it to come to a rolling boil on medium heat. Once boiling for 3 minutes, cover it, turn the heat to low, and allow it to cook for 20 minutes undisturbed.
- After 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let it rest for a further 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
For the Garnish
- Finely chop the parsley
- Fry the almonds with the oil, stirring constantly because they burn easily. Once golden brown, remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl
- In the same pan using the residual oil, add the raisins and toast them for a few minutes until they're soft
- Start by adding the rice to a large serving dish, then top with the lamb shanks
- Sprinkle the almonds, raisins and parsley on top. Serve with a stew or salad.
- This recipe is for 6 lamb shanks which are approximately 2kg. You can also use bone-in lamb shoulder that is cut up into medium sized pieces (ask your butcher to do this for you).
- You can increase or decrease the amount of lamb in this recipe, but keep the amount whole spices roughly the same. Adjust the rice quantity and the salt level.
- You can use a whole shoulder, but it is harder to cook because it won't fit into an average sized pot so you'd have to rotate it and double the cooking time for the boiling portion.