What's better than a cool mid-fall evening, great friends, copious amounts of red wine from said friends who have home wine cellars, and a delicious lamb stew? If you guessed nothing you would be correct! Last Sunday was the perfect night for some serious over-indulgence, and besides I'd been dying to make this particular braised deliciousness since w and I first had it last year. I did a blog post then, but with several thousand new readers, it seems worth sharing again, because this is so easy and completely over-delivers for the effort expended.
There is nothing better than braises when the weather cools. It's the main reason I don't mind seeing summer ending. No really, it is...kind of lame I know, but I bet I'm not the only food obsessive who feels this way! And this takes full advantage of the b-season. Grab some lamb shoulder from your butcher, which usually runs around $5-$7 a pound, chop it up, brown it off, add the proper flavoring agents (like the steeped saffron threads at right) and in about two hours you'll be ready for some serious swooning. I actually made this mid-day, let it cool to allow for some extra flavor melding, and then reheated it right before serving. With some couscous (is there anything easier than couscous? It's like Dinner Starch for Dummies!) and a green salad alongside, this nailed it. Especially good with a nice 2000 Produttori "Montestefano" Barbaresco, a 2000 Burle Gigondas, a 1991 Muga Rioja Reserva, and a 2003 Cameron Pinot Noir. And pre-dinner cocktails...and a couple of whites with apps...yikes!...can you say waking up slowly the next day?! But that night, for the six of us, it was all good, and the perfect antidote to election season overdose!
*** *** *** *** ***
Lamb Stew with Lemon and Figs
adapted from epicurious.com
makes 6 servings.
1 1/2 cups plain Greek-style yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 2 1/2- to 3-pound boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons (or more) olive oil
2 onions (about 1 pound), thinly sliced
1 small lemon (preferably Meyer), ends trimmed, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 rounded teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup dried figs, stems trimmed, quartered lengthwise (about 4 ounces)
2 1/2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
Transfer yogurt to small bowl. Stir in mint; season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill.)
Place 1/2 cup warm water and saffron in small bowl; let stand at least 20 minutes to infuse.
Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook lamb until brown on all sides, adding more oil as needed, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to large bowl. Pour all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot (or add 1 tablespoon oil if dry); heat pot over medium heat. Add onions; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add lemon, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. Stir 1 minute. Add saffron mixture; stir, scraping up browned bits. Add tomatoes with juice, figs, and lamb with any juices to pot. Stir to coat. Add 2 1/2 cups broth.
Bring stew to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer until meat is tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed if dry, about 1 1/2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and chill.)
Bring stew to simmer, thinning with more chicken broth if necessary. Divide stew among 6 plates; top each serving with dollop of minted yogurt.