By now you know that my mother was a phenomenal cook. Her dishes were varied, creative and very flavorful. Mom introduced me to a wide range of foods, for which I'm grateful. She introduced me to lamb. Mom cooked during the time when classic French cuisine and Julia Child were in ascendancy. So my early exposure to lamb was in the form of classic lamb with mint jelly. Or very well-prepared, tender lamb chops seasoned with lots of rosemary and garlic. I still enjoy these classic takes on lamb, but have expanded my horizons.
The expansion is geographical and in terms of seasonings. As you have figured out by now if you've read even just a few of my blog entries, I love the cuisines of the global South. Lamb figures prominently in the cuisines of the Middle East/North Africa, South and Southeast Asia. What I especially enjoy about these regions is that they are able to take tougher cuts of meat and turn them into succulent, tender, and very flavorful dishes. Many Western dishes require tender cuts of lamb. I actually prefer the stew meat because it takes seasonings and long cooking well.
One of my favorite lamb dishes is called harira. It's a Moroccan lamb/lentils/chickpea dish that Muslims often use to break their fast during Ramadan. I've made this particular version at least five times. It's a soup or a stew, depending on the tastes and preferences of the cooks. There are many versions of it.
I especially enjoy it during the winter, when I tend to eat more stews and soups anyway. You can use leg of lamb, which the recipe calls for. Or you could also use lamb stew meat, which is what I usually use. I just cook the lamb longer. It absorbs seasonings and spices so well! I use dried chickpeas and cook them first and then add them to the pot. The other modifications that I make are using spaghetti or linguine in place of angel hair pasta (I don't really like super thin/light pastas), adding more lemon juice (see my blog entry on glorious lemons and you'll understand) and cilantro. You can never add too much cilantro. I serve the harira with a simple salad dressed with a homemade vinaigrette.
1 1/4 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups water
1 cup drained canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 cups chopped tomato
1/2 cup dried small red or brown lentils
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup hot cooked angel hair (about 1 ounce uncooked pasta)
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Sprinkle the lamb with salt and black pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add lamb; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Add onion; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in water, chickpeas, cinnamon, and ground red pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.
Stir in tomato, lentils, and bell pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. Stir in pasta, cilantro, and juice; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated.