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Zad in Casa de Oro introduced me to quzi

Stuffed lamb cooked for three days

The slow-roasted lamb dish quzi, served over biryani rice with toasted almonds, picked vegetables, raisins, okra stew, and fresh-from-the-oven tanour flatbread.
The slow-roasted lamb dish quzi, served over biryani rice with toasted almonds, picked vegetables, raisins, okra stew, and fresh-from-the-oven tanour flatbread.

As a longtime food writer, I’d love to pretend that I have tried all the great traditional dishes of the world. But as I eat my way around San Diego every year, I inevitably meet a dish that reminds me I haven’t even tried all the great traditional dishes of the county! This year, it was a dish they’ve eaten in the cradle of civilization since who knows how far back: the slow-cooked lamb dish, quziQuzi (pronounced koo-zee) actually means lamb in Arabic, and as I learned while Googling it on my phone at the restaurant, it’s cooked throughout the Middle East, and considered a national dish of Iraq.

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I spotted it on the menu at Zad Mediterranean Cuisine, a Casa de Oro area eatery I first visited last February for shawarma and kebabs. It came as no surprise when owner Hassan Frankol told me these dishes are Zad’s most popular. However, when Frankol, who is originally from Baghdad, opened Zad Mediterranean in 2018, his aim was to introduce the neighborhood to “authentic flavor from overseas.” So occasionally, the restaurant’s social media channels highlight the quzi, encouraging customers to “try something new, something you’ve never had.” I was glad to hear I’m not the only one taken by the dish: Frankol says one regular customer now returns to order the quzi a couple times a week.

Place

Zad Mediterranean Cuisine

3515 Sweetwater Springs Boulevard #1, Spring Valley

What makes it so good? Originally, quzi denoted a lamb stuffed with rice, spices, and vegetables, then whole-roasted in a pit oven. Though still cooked this way for special occasions, in modern times, chefs in Iraq and elsewhere have made it an everyday dish: slow roasted butchered lamb cuts served over rice, with vegetables, roasted nuts, and raisins. That’s how Zad approaches quzi. And, just like the chefs back in Iraq, Frankol stresses the quality of the lamb. “The most important thing,” he says, is that “it’s fresh, not frozen.”

Zad sources his lamb from local butchers, and any given quzi order may consist of shank, shoulder, ribs, neck, or legs. Still, matching local meat to the authentic flavors of Iraq requires a bit of adaptation. The grass-fed lambs of the Middle East differ from what we have access to: for thousands of years, they’ve raised what are called fat-tailed sheep. Roughly a quarter of the world’s sheep are fat-tailed, meaning that rather than the animal’s fat gathering throughout the body, theirs accumulates in pouches in or around the tail, leaving their meat relatively lean. By contrast, local lamb is greasier and gamier.

So as Frankol explained, the Zad kitchen puts in extra time to help the lamb taste right: “The procedure of cooking this plate takes three days.” The first day, the lamb is put on ice, to drain any blood and tenderize the meat. Day two, it’s boiled — with tomato, onions, black pepper, Anaheim pepper (another adaptation), bay leaves, and other spices — while the fat is continually skimmed off the top. Finally, on the third day, it’s oven-roasted, and is then ready to be served over rice with raisins, toasted almond slivers, and pickled vegetables. Per tradition, it’s accompanied by a stew of either white beans or okra. And I’m here to tell you, the sumptuous lamb meat has no hint of gaminess or grease, and it’s tender enough to cut with a spoon.

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The slow-roasted lamb dish quzi, served over biryani rice with toasted almonds, picked vegetables, raisins, okra stew, and fresh-from-the-oven tanour flatbread.
The slow-roasted lamb dish quzi, served over biryani rice with toasted almonds, picked vegetables, raisins, okra stew, and fresh-from-the-oven tanour flatbread.

As a longtime food writer, I’d love to pretend that I have tried all the great traditional dishes of the world. But as I eat my way around San Diego every year, I inevitably meet a dish that reminds me I haven’t even tried all the great traditional dishes of the county! This year, it was a dish they’ve eaten in the cradle of civilization since who knows how far back: the slow-cooked lamb dish, quziQuzi (pronounced koo-zee) actually means lamb in Arabic, and as I learned while Googling it on my phone at the restaurant, it’s cooked throughout the Middle East, and considered a national dish of Iraq.

Sponsored
Sponsored

I spotted it on the menu at Zad Mediterranean Cuisine, a Casa de Oro area eatery I first visited last February for shawarma and kebabs. It came as no surprise when owner Hassan Frankol told me these dishes are Zad’s most popular. However, when Frankol, who is originally from Baghdad, opened Zad Mediterranean in 2018, his aim was to introduce the neighborhood to “authentic flavor from overseas.” So occasionally, the restaurant’s social media channels highlight the quzi, encouraging customers to “try something new, something you’ve never had.” I was glad to hear I’m not the only one taken by the dish: Frankol says one regular customer now returns to order the quzi a couple times a week.

Place

Zad Mediterranean Cuisine

3515 Sweetwater Springs Boulevard #1, Spring Valley

What makes it so good? Originally, quzi denoted a lamb stuffed with rice, spices, and vegetables, then whole-roasted in a pit oven. Though still cooked this way for special occasions, in modern times, chefs in Iraq and elsewhere have made it an everyday dish: slow roasted butchered lamb cuts served over rice, with vegetables, roasted nuts, and raisins. That’s how Zad approaches quzi. And, just like the chefs back in Iraq, Frankol stresses the quality of the lamb. “The most important thing,” he says, is that “it’s fresh, not frozen.”

Zad sources his lamb from local butchers, and any given quzi order may consist of shank, shoulder, ribs, neck, or legs. Still, matching local meat to the authentic flavors of Iraq requires a bit of adaptation. The grass-fed lambs of the Middle East differ from what we have access to: for thousands of years, they’ve raised what are called fat-tailed sheep. Roughly a quarter of the world’s sheep are fat-tailed, meaning that rather than the animal’s fat gathering throughout the body, theirs accumulates in pouches in or around the tail, leaving their meat relatively lean. By contrast, local lamb is greasier and gamier.

So as Frankol explained, the Zad kitchen puts in extra time to help the lamb taste right: “The procedure of cooking this plate takes three days.” The first day, the lamb is put on ice, to drain any blood and tenderize the meat. Day two, it’s boiled — with tomato, onions, black pepper, Anaheim pepper (another adaptation), bay leaves, and other spices — while the fat is continually skimmed off the top. Finally, on the third day, it’s oven-roasted, and is then ready to be served over rice with raisins, toasted almond slivers, and pickled vegetables. Per tradition, it’s accompanied by a stew of either white beans or okra. And I’m here to tell you, the sumptuous lamb meat has no hint of gaminess or grease, and it’s tender enough to cut with a spoon.

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