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Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Toss the carrot chunks, sweet potato and parsnip with 2 tbsp of the oil on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until golden and tender – about 20-25 mins.
Meanwhile put the last tbsp of oil in a deep frying or sauté pan with the onion, and cook gently for around 8-10 mins to soften. Stir in the saffron and rice, then stir in the stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat so the rice is gently simmering and cook, stirring occasionally for 25 mins or until the rice is tender and stock just absorbed – like a paella. Stir in the cinnamon, coriander and both types of cumin, plus the chopped apricots and take off the heat. Leave to cool with the roasted veg while you get the rest of the ingredients and tins ready.
Roughly chop the pistachios. Grease 8 small loaf tins with a little oil, then cut long strips of baking parchment to line the base and ends of each tin – with overhangs to help you lift out the loaves when they’re done.
Scrape the cooled rice into a big mixing bowl and stir through the beaten eggs with salt and pepper. Scatter over chickpeas if using, plus the roasted veg and 100g of the pistachios and fold through. Divide the mixture between the loaf tins, and use your hands to neatly round the tops. The loaves can be chilled for up to 2 days before baking now.
Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients with a little salt and pepper in a saucepan. Simmer for 20 mins until thickened and rich. Again, this can sit in the fridge for up to 2 days.
An hour before you want to serve, heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. For the roasted pomegranate roots, mix the carrots, beetroot, shallots and oil in a big roasting tin with some seasoning. Roast on the top shelf for 15 mins, with an empty tray heating on the bottom shelf.
Stir the cumin seeds, pomegranate molasses, orange juice and zest through the veg and put back on the top shelf. Sit the Persian rice loaves on the preheated tray, and bake for another 30 mins together. Finally, stir the pomegranate seeds through the veg, and swap the shelves – so the loaves sit on the top, for a last 5 mins of cooking. Meanwhile gently reheat the sauce.
Carefully lift the loaves out of their tins onto a platter, and scatter with the last 50g of chopped pistachios plus some coriander leaves. Let guests help themselves, sitting the Persian loaves in a pool of tangy tomato sauce – with spoonfuls of the roasted pomegranate roots, couscous, salad leaves and Greek yogurt alongside.
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