Lamb. I crave it. It’s musky aroma and gamey taste drives me crazy. If I had my way, I would splurge on it every night. Grilled on kebabs, simmered in a stew, or roasted with mustard and herbs, it’s always delicious and never boring. It has personality and plays well with robust spices, fragrant herbs, and big flavored vegetables. Delicious on its own, lamb also lets the cook have a little fun.
Which is why I love this North African Lamb Stew. It’s fun to make. It has diverse ingredients, smells awesome when it’s cooking, and tastes so good that second helpings won’t be enough. It’s exotic comfort food that is just as perfect for eating on the couch on a cold rainy night as it for serving at a Saturday dinner party with friends. And, sealing the deal, it freezes well.
I serve this hearty stew over couscous with a light salad of mixed greens. A glass of red wine, while optional, makes the meal that much better. For those who look with disgust on the dried prunes in the ingredient list, give them a try. The dried fruit melts into the sauce and adds a touch of sweetness that is delightful with the savory elements of the stew.
Be sure to give yourself enough time to make this stew. This is one of those recipes where it helps to read it all the way through or you might find yourself eating dinner at 10:30 p.m. While it requires a little work on the front end, once the stew is in the oven you get to sit back and relax. I poured myself a glass of red wine, sat down with a magazine, and reveled in the intoxicating aroma of lamb, cinnamon, and coriander cooking together. Not bad for a week night!
On a slightly different note, I’m always being asked for cookbook recommendations. Consequently, I’ve decided to start including a little blurb on the cookbooks that I get my recipes from. Hopefully you’ll find it useful and will even suggest some of your own favorites. Because really, is there such a thing as too many cookbooks?
I adapted this recipe for North African lamb stew from a recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. My parents gave me the cookbook for Christmas a year ago and it’s become one of the cookbooks I most often recommend to others. The recipes themselves are straightforward and simple. You won’t find anything exotic or overly complicated between its pages. You will however find a great resource for learning cooking technique and an endless supply of useful tips. It has great pictures and offers variations to recipes which lets you master a technique without having to cook the same thing over and over. In short, it’s a keeper for anyone who wants to be a better cook.
North African Lamb Stew
Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
2 lbs boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1 ½” chunks
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons coriander seeds, ground in a coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups chicken broth, reduced-sodium
1 can (15.5 oz) diced tomatoes, with their juices
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/3 cup prunes, chopped
1 can (19.5 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup fresh chopped cilantro
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and place an oven rack in the middle position.
Dry the pieces of lamb with a paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large, oven-proof Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Brown the meat (in two batches if necessary) and then transfer to a plate.
Add the onions and carrots to the oil and sauté until just soft, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon. Cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add in the flour. Stirring constantly, cook the flour for 1 minute before slowly stirring in the broth. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot when you are adding the stock. Add the tomatoes with their juices, the prunes, and the apricots to the pot. Stir in the browned meat with any juices. Bring to a simmer.
Once the stew has begun to simmer, cover the Dutch oven and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for 1 ½ hours.
Remove the pot from the oven and add in the rinsed chickpeas. Stir to combine, then cover the pot and return it to the oven. Cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve over couscous and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro.