“The preparation of this dish is similar to red-cooked pork. Add shelled walnuts while braising to cut the mutton’s strong odour. This is an old recipe .”
Sure, it’s basically red-cooked pork with the meat substituted with lamb, and yes, it’s an old recipe, but what the hell is a “ciyenhetao” (刺眼核桃)?
Since the term translates literally to “pierced eye walnut”, most sources have concluded that they are basically whole walnuts with holes punched into the shell. Despite my relative ignorance, I have decided to get rid of the hole-punching, eye-piercing part and translate them as just “shelled walnuts”. Since let’s face it, braising whole walnuts with shell on, even if they have holes in them, is just a tad ridiculous. And indeed, there are quite a few recipes online for lamb and walnut soup (核桃羊肉湯) that are eaten as a restorative for the cold winter months. And all are without walnut shells.
Another intriguing possibility is that the “pierced eye” (刺眼) part was actually transcribed wrongly from “來服”, which is an alternate way of writing an archaic Chinese term for radish (莱菔). I actually read this explanation somewhere online but can’t seem to find the site again. What this would mean is that ciyenhetao may actually call for “radish and walnuts”，which would not be totally out of the ordinary since lamb is often braised with radish.
Going off on a tangent, the latin word for radish is “Raphanus”. This sounds tantalizingly close to the pronunciation for “莱菔” (laifu/raifu). I wonder if there is a connection here?