Monday, June 20, 2011

Tunisian Lamb & Eggplant Stew with Farro, Parsley, & Harissa

I have so much more to tell you about our Paris trip, but I have to pause that story line for a moment, so that I can tell you about our Father's Day meal. Truthfully, I've been itching to write about cooking again too.

I bought a lamb shoulder the other day at Whole Foods with no real plan. I figured some sort of long slow cook would produce a scrumptious meal and I knew that hiding somewhere within the hundreds of cookbooks I have lining my shelves I would find the perfect inspiration.

My mom came over later in the day and we realized the best option for Father's Day would be to gather the gang over here at my house for dinner. Lamb shoulder to the rescue! I flipped through a few French cookbooks, but I wasn't finding what I was searching for. When I came across Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers At Lucques, I had a hunch my Father's Day recipe was inside.

Right I was!

On page 223 was just the thing, a recipe for Tunisian lamb and eggplant stew with farro, parsley, and harissa. It looked exotic and homey, but exciting and like something that would appeal to the two important fathers in my life. The recipe was in the fall portion of the book, but with all this miserable June Gloom, a stew seemed appropriate.

This was Thursday, so I had to get started immediately. Suzanne Goin's food is deceptive in its honest, straightforward appeal. It seems simple, but it is not. At all. Her recipes tend to take a few days or at least one entire day to complete. Almost every recipe contains three or four recipes that come together to produce an enticing and marvelous whole.

Needless to say they are rather time-consuming and I haven't bothered with the book since Fe. was born. Since I was starting well in advance the Tunisian lamb seemed manageable and kind of thrilling. An exciting food project that I could share with you!

The effort was absolutely worth it. Dinner was a smash hit and I felt deeply satisfied with the results. Plus I have plenty of tender lamb left over for another dinner and a crock of dark, smoky harissa in the refrigerator that I have been sneaking nips of all day.

You need to marinate the lamb the night before you plan to cook it. You can cook the lamb one to two days before you intend to eat the stew, because as with most braises this one tastes even better after a day or two of rest. My plan of attack was to marinate Thursday, cook Friday, and prepare the harissa on Saturday. That left me with only the farro to wrangle with on Father's Day. It isn't necessary to spend this many days on this menu, but I had to do most of the cooking during Fe.'s naps.

The lamb is seasoned with toasted caraway and coriander seeds, chiles de árbol, paprika and cayenne (I cut it in half, so as not to punish my parents), garlic and olive oil. The overnight marinade penetrates the meat giving it a spicy Tunisian flavor. The smell of the caraway and coriander toasting was fantastic. In fact ever aspect of cooking this dish fills the house with extraordinary aromas.

The marinating is the easy part. Browning all of that lamb is another story. Have you noticed when a cookbook suggests that you might have to brown the meat in two batches that they actually mean four? And when you multiply the twenty minutes alloted for this project by four batches you are actually getting hot oil spattered on your face for closer to an hour? I don't mind browning a large cut of meat, but when it comes to searing two-inch cubes of meat, I find that it gives me a real pain-in-the-ass. Sorry, but it's the truth.

After the browning, the rest of the braise is no problem. You cook the onions, scrape up the crispy bits, add the stocks (Goin asks for veal and chicken, but I used chicken exclusively) and spices and then you cover tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. This step is crucial.

Cover that pot tightly, because otherwise you'll lose more of the precious broth then you'd like. I was careful with the plastic wrap, but a tiny bit lazy with the foil. I also let the lamb braise for closer to three and three-quarters hours than the required three (what can I say? we had a Birthday party to attend). When I uncovered the pot, the meat was perfectly cooked, but there was far less broth than I would have wanted and far less than Goin suggested there would be.

This wasn't grave. I added chicken stock to soup up the dish a bit when I reheated the stew on Father's Day. Just keep these things in mind if you tend towards being a perfectionist (which Goin clearly does).

Frying the eggplant is another grease facial that took many batches. Five, I believe. Not a big deal, but it does mean that you are using substantially more olive oil than the recipe indicates. You'll need to adjust to keep the pan oiled. It's possible too, that my eggplants were larger than the medium-sized nightshades that Goin requests. Honestly, you don't mind all this frying because the house is already smelling so divine that you're feeling quite good about yourself and your culinary prowess.

After the lamb has braised, a good portion of the braising juices are removed, and the Dutch oven full of lamb is then popped back into an even hotter oven to caramelize the meat. Finally the luscious little cubes of eggplant are folded into the lamb. Goin asks you to reduce the braising juices, but since I was so short on broth, I omitted this step entirely. I also didn't do much of the straining she requires, because I was happy with the soft vegetable matter.

I returned the broth to the pot and happily tucked the stew into the refrigerator, once it had cooled. I was enthused, but also rather relieved to be done for the day.

Saturday brought the harissa preparation. This was far less complicated than I had anticipated and the reward was far greater. I'd make this smoky and warming North African spice paste again in a heartbeat. It's the kind of thing that I'd like to have in the refrigerator all the time. In fact, I do routinely have harissa in the fridge all the time, but this is different in a smokier and slightly less spicy way than the more vegetal condiment I buy in the tube or the fancier and spicier paste I purchase in the jar.

The ancho chiles are seeded and toasted in a pan. While they are soaking in hot water, you cook a third of a cup of tomatoes for a spell to deepen their flavor. There's more seed toasting and pounding. This time it's cumin. And after that, all the ingredients are given a whiz in the food processor. Slowly add olive oil and then a squeeze of lemon and perhaps a pinch more salt.

And just like that, you have homemade harissa. It's well worth having this recipe for harissa in your arsenal. Dip raw vegetables in it. Or jazz up the flank steak you meant to marinate and grill. I can't wait to try it on chicken tonight.

My mom had agreed to bring the appetizers, dessert and a salad, so Sunday was really a cinch. I actually got to spend some time with the fathers. Making farro is not hard. You just need time to cook the grain to your liking. It is a bit of a crunchy sucker. Farro has lots of texture. A. said something about how chewing it was like bouncing tiny basketballs off his teeth. Not sure if that's good or bad, but I'm a fan. It is far more interesting, healthier and nuttier than rice.

Goin's recipe for farro includes onion, thyme, cinnamon, chiles de árbol, bay, parsley, and butter. This portion of the menu also smells heavenly as it cooks. I'd give yourself at least forty minutes to bring the grain to tender.

The recipe suggests plating all of the farro on a large platter and spooning the lamb and eggplant on top, then dolloping the harissa over the meat and serving the braising juices and the rest of the harissa on the side. I didn't bother with this presentation. I served each portion individually with the broth poured over. I also kept the harissa in a dish on the side, respecting those who couldn't really hack any more heat.

I don't think it matters at all which way you choose to plate the dish. I'm certain your guests will be very pleased to receive the piping hot, spicy and earthy stew anyway they can get it.

Tunisian Lamb & Eggplant Stew

1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-to-2-inch chunks
6 cloves garlic, smashed
3 chiles de árbol, crumbled
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onion
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible
3/4 cup San Marzano canned tomatoes, crushed
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 1/2 cups veal stock
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon allspice berries, tied in cheesecloth
2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast the caraway seeds in a small pan, until fragrant and slightly darkened. Pound the seeds coarsely using a mortar and pestle. Do the same with the coriander.

Mix the lamb in a large bowl with the caraway, coriander, garlic, chiles, paprika, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix with your hands until the lamb is well coated with the oil and spices. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator about 45 minutes prior to cooking. After 15 minutes season all over with 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of salt and plenty of pepper. Reserve the garlic.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat for 3 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the pot and let it warm for 2 minutes, until the pot is very hot, nearly smoking. Add the meat to the pot. Do not crowd the pan. This will take at least two, likely three or four batches. Brown the meat until it is well seared on all sides. As each batch is completed, place the meat on a large platter.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, bay leaves, and garlic. Stir with a wooden spoon, being certain to scrape up all the browned bits. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, until the onions are caramelized. Add the tomatoes and lemon juice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.

Stir in the stocks, cinnamon, and allspice. Bring to a boil.

Remove the pot from the heat. Add the lamb and the accumulated juices to the pot. Cover with plastic wrap, aluminum foil and a tight lid. Braise in the oven for 3 hours.

While the meat is braising, cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Place the eggplant in a large colander and toss with salt. Allow to drain for 10 minutes. Dry the eggplant with paper towels. Heat a large pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, and let warm for 1 minute. Add the eggplant and allow to brown for a couple of minutes. Again, do not crowd the pan. This will take 3 or 4 batches to complete. Stir the eggplant to achieve a golden brown color on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet.

When the 3 hours is up, check the meat for tenderness, being exceptionally careful of the hot steam that will come wafting out of the pot. If it is not nearly falling apart, cook for a bit longer.

When done, remove the meat from the oven and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Ladle most of the braising liquid into a strainer set over a saucepan, leaving an inch or two of juices in the pot with the lamb. Press down on the vegetables with the ladle to extract all the juices. Discard the cinnamon and allspice.

Return the lamb to the oven for 15 minutes, in order to caramelize it.

Skim the fat from the braising liquid. Reduce the broth over medium-high heat to thicken it, if necessary. Taste for salt and pepper.

Mix in the eggplant with the lamb and pour the hot broth over the top, stirring.

Transfer the farro onto a large warm platter. Spoon the lamb and eggplant over the farro. Dollop the harissa over the meat, scatter the parsley on top, and serve the remaining harissa and braising juices on the side.


6 dried ancho chiles, seeded, membranes removed
1/3 cup San Marzano canned tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
A healthy pinch cayene pepper
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/2 lemon, for juicing
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add the chiles and dry-toast them for a few minutes until blistered and slightly darkened. Place them in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let soak for 15 minutes.

Return the pan to the burner and add the tomato. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes until slightly darkened and juices are reduced.

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan, until aromatic and slightly darkened. Pound coarsely using a mortar and pestle.

Drain the chiles well and put them in a food processor with the garlic, tomatoes, paprika, cumin, cayenne, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Purée. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and blend until incorporated. Season with a good squeeze of lemon juice and more salt if needed.

Farro with Parsley and Butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 chiles de árbol, crumbled
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1 1/2 cups farro (spelt)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a medium saucepan over high heat for 1 minute. Pour in the olive oil and add the diced onion, thyme, cinnamon stick, chiles, and bay leaf. Cook for 4 minutes stirring, until the onion is translucent.

Add the farro, stirring to coat it with oil, and toast it slightly. Add 8 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, until tender and just cooked through. Drain the farro, and discard the cinnamon stick, chiles, and bay leaf. Toss the farro with the butter. When the butter has melted, stir in the parsley and a few grindings of black pepper. Taste for salt.

Serves 6

1 comment:

Nichola said...

This looks absolutely heavenly. All my favorite things in one big, comforting pot. Gotta make this one.