Lamb gets an exotic treatment
This cold-weather entree features dates, fresh gingerroot, pungent spices such as cumin and coriander, and zinfandel — reminiscent of an exotic Middle Eastern lamb stew. You can make it two days ahead of time; in fact, it will taste even better if you do, as the flavors have time to meld. Both the stew and the cooking vessel such recipes traditionally cook in are known as a tagine. Luckily for you, you can just use a Dutch oven.
Dates offer a unique, sweet flavor. What do they taste like? I guess I would describe them as a cross between a prune and a fig, but they really have a unique flavor, and each variety has its own characteristics. Even though they are dried, it's best to keep the dates refrigerated. There are many date varieties, but I am partial to the Medjool for its sweet, soft, creamy flesh.
Serve this slightly sweet, aromatic stew on a chilly night along with couscous. Zinfandels from the Paso Robles region of California would be a good choice.
Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks and a James Beard award-winning radio-show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.
Lamb Stew With Dates and Zinfandel
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 1⁄2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1⁄2-inch cubes
1⁄2 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1⁄8 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon minced gingerroot
1 cup red wine like Zinfandel
1 1⁄2 cups beef stock
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup pitted, chopped dates, Medjool preferred
Juice and grated zest of an orange
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, for garnish
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, ovenproof casserole over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until softened, for about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and saute for another 3 minutes or until slightly softened. Transfer to a side bowl and set aside.
Pat the meat dry. Place the flour in a zip-top plastic bag and add salt and pepper. Shake it. Place the lamb in the bag and seal it. Shake the bag around until the lamb is lightly coated with the flour.
Add 2 more tablespoons of the oil to the casserole on medium-high heat. Add half of the meat and brown on all sides, for 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the meat to the vegetables as it browns. Add the remaining oil, if necessary, and brown the remaining meat. Return the onion-meat mixture to the casserole.
Add the garlic, cumin, coriander and gingerroot, and stir to coat the meat and vegetables, for about 1 minute. Add the wine, broth and tomatoes to the casserole and bring to boil, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the dates, orange zest and juice, and bring to a boil on high heat.
Cover the casserole, place in the oven and bake for 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours or until the meat is tender.
If the sauce is very thin, remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and boil the sauce to thicken it. Return the meat and vegetables to the casserole. Taste for seasoning. Place in a serving bowl and garnish with fresh parsley and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Advance preparation: This may be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat gently. Taste for seasoning.