17 March 2009

something that tastes of adventures

As long as I can think back, I have always loved lamb. Not the cuddly animals, but the meat.

Lamb roast with lemon, generous amounts of garlic and very British mint sauce was a common sight in my childhood home. (Actually, that was what we had on my mother's birthday, and it was lovely as ever.)

Later, there was lamb curry. Hot and darkly spicy in its Indian version, hot and fragrant in the Thai variety. Love it both.

It took me a while to figure out that there was another way of lamb I really loved, bridging the the two (or rather three) cuisines I had covered before. Spicy and hot, yet bright and lemony, exotic but not Asian.

We call this recipe 'lamb couscous', though the proper name ought to be 'stew of lamb we serve with couscous' or better even 'delicious oriental lamb'.

It's very simple in preparation, nothing fancy, but over the years I have gathered up many ideas I liked from various Turkish, Middle Eastern and Moroccan recipes, and ended up with this personal blend. It's a lamb stew that is heavily fragrant with bright lemon zest, a lineup of spices that leads from the lemony coriander seeds to the dark comfort of cinnamon, with just enough chili to make your mouth tingle.

Short, it is what you cook when your stomach needs some filling, your soul some inspiration, and your mouth something that tastes of adventures in faraway lands.

lamb couscous
(serves four, generously)

one lamb shank, about 1,5 to 2 kg
3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons ground coriander seeds
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili flakes
3 teaspoons salt
ground pepper
garlic to taste

juice and zest of one lemon
2 cans whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon honey

1 medium zucchini
1 small can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bundle cilantro (coriander green)

Debone the lamb shank and clean the meat of eventual sinews, cut into roughly walnut-sized chunks.
We get frozen lamb shanks of very good quality here, but it works with any cut of lamb that isn't too dry.

In a large cast-iron pot, heat the olive oil and sear the meat until well browned.

Add the spices and leave to roast for a moment, until fragrant. Deglaze with the lemon juice.
The amount of spices is merely a guesstimate. The proportions are right, but you might need a little more or a little less of each depending on the taste of the lamb and the tomatoes.
Generally, I try to have enough coriander in it to bridge the taste of the lemon with the tomatoes, and enough pepper to have something hot to balance the chilies.

Add the tomatoes, the lemon peel and the honey. Add the peeled garlic, if you want.
Once again, use only the yellow part of the lemon peel, not the white pith, it would make the whole stew bitter. I try to peel it off the lemon in one large curl, which apart from looking nice is much easier to get out again. But you might just as well chop it very fine and leave it in, the lemony taste will just be more pronounced then.

Simmer on low heat or in the oven at about 160°C until the meat is tender, approximately 90 minutes.

10 Minutes before serving, add the chopped cilantro and the chickpeas. Cut the zucchini into slices (or cubes, whatever you like) and brown with a little olive oil in a separate pan. Add to the stew right before serving.
You can, of course, also use eggplant here, and put both into the stew at the very beginning. But I prefer the different tastes, so I take the little extra effort of using another pan.

Garnish with a little chopped cilantro and serve with steamed couscous.

The lamb couscous freezes well, but will need serious re-seasoning once warmed up.

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