Thursday, March 17, 2011

Afghan Lamb with Spinach

There's green and it's lamb, and that's about as Irish as it's going to get. This is a bit of a stretch, I fully admit it. When I started thinking about St. Patrick's Day, and what I could make, I was not particularly inspired to find anything Irish to make. It's not because I don't appreciate Irish cuisine. It's because we had a St. Patrick's Day potluck at work and for various reasons I ended up making my Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup, and I've already written about that and I forgot to make the soda bread I had planned to make for this post. Maybe if I set a reminder now I will remember to do that next year, heh heh.

But I did make this lamb dish the week before last and it was truly delicious. The spices are fragrant, but not at all overpowering. They lend a rich warmth to the lamb that is both flavorful and satisfying. The yogurt adds a tangy creaminess that holds up to the spices better than sour cream would. And the wilted spinach provided a velvet dimension to the warm spicy flavor. In a word: YUM.

I originally found this recipe posted to the newsgroup, which is now pretty much defunct. As a rule, the recipes posted to this site are unattributed. This is where the GIYF (Google Is Your Friend) rule applies. I googled the recipe and discovered that it came from a cookbook published back in 2000, when Afghanistan was just another exotic Middle Eastern Country and there was no stigma attached to eating their food.

I had originally bought the lamb to make Lamb and Cabbage Stew with Fresh Shell Beans, but I had also bought lamb chops and the butcher mis-labeled the packages so I defrosted the chops instead of the stew meat, so I had Lamb Chops with Cabbage and Shell Beans, and it was disappointing enough that I didn't even want to think about the stew meat, so it sat in the freezer for a few months until I knew I had to do something with it, but didn't want to make Irish Stew. So I went searching through my untried recipe database and saw this and knew the time was right.

There were two Afghan restaurants in my neighborhood before 9/11. Unfortunately, they both disappeared not long after that sad day. I miss them, but now that I have dipped my wooden spoon into the pot, I plan to explore this cuisine more. It is more subtle than its Arab counterparts, with a warmth that spreads slowly from the center, rather than exploding on the tongue. It's quite lovely, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Home Cookin Chapter: Untried Recipes

4 to 6 servings

2-1/2 lb lamb stew meat
1/3 cup olive oil
3/4 pound onions, diced large
4 tsp chopped garlic
tsp turmeric
tsp nutmeg
tsp ground cardamom
tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
tsp cinnamon
1 24.5-oz can tomatoes, drain & chop
1 cup rich brown veal stock or 1 cup rich beef stock
1/3 lb fresh spinach, wash & drain
1/2 cup yogurt
1 Tbsp grated lemon peel
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts, roasted at 350 F for about 3 minutes

Sear lamb in the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven. Add the onions; saute them for 2 minutes; then add the garlic and sauté it for 1 minute. Put in the turmeric, nutmeg, cardamom, crushed red pepper and cinnamon and sauté the mixture for 1 to 2 minutes more, being careful not to burn the onions or garlic. Add the tomatoes and veal stock and stir.

Cover the dish and bake at 350 F for about 1 hour, until the meat is tender and begins to break up. Remove the dish from the oven and add the spinach, stirring until the spinach is wilted and blended in. Allow the stew to cool slightly.

Add the yogurt, lemon peel and salt to taste. Sprinkle with roasted pine nuts.

Serve over rice pilaf.

from Afghan Food & Cookery, by Helen Saberi (Hippocrene Books, 2000)

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