Moroccan Lamb Stew with Figs and Chickpeas

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Figs and Chickpeas

It’s the time of year when I have an urge to travel. Call it cabin fever, restlessness, or simply the craving to be somewhere different, where it’s warm, spicy and balmy. The sights, smells and sounds of new cultures are revitalizing. Time slows down, and the smallest details are observed and savored  amidst a kaleidescope of impressions. It just so happens that this is also the time of year when my urge to travel collides with real life. It’s the middle of the school year, I have work deadlines, and the contents of my piggy bank were spent at Christmas. So I improvise, and my travels occur in the kitchen, where I replace my passport with the jars in my spice drawer and concoct recipes inspired by the exotic flavors, heat and aromas of far flung destinations.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

The secret ingredient in this North African inspired stew is ras el hanout. Ras el hanout is a  spice blend which may include upwards of 50 spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, clove, turmeric and cayenne. The name, translated, means head of the shop, meaning the best on offer. Like many spice blends, there is no one way to make it, and variations exist from home to home, merchant to merchant. You can find ras el hanout in the spice section of your supermarket or specialty stores. If you cannot locate it, then I encourage you to try to make your own version. It’s easy to do, and I’ve included a recipe below.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

Serves 6 to 8.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to  3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 (14 ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
12 dried Calimyrna or Turkish figs, halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout (recipe below)
1 (14 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Harissa or red chili paste
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Mix to form a paste. Place the lamb in a large bowl and rub the paste all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate covered for up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the lamb to a plate or bowl.
Add the onion and carrot to the same pot. Saute until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up any brown bits. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, figs, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot, submerging it in the stock. (Add additional chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot. Transfer to oven and bake until lamb is falling apart tender, about 2 hours.
Transfer pot to stove. Remove lamb and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Bring stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil uncovered until sauce is reduced by about half and thickened, skimming any fat.  Stir in the chickpeas and taste to check for seasoning. If necessary add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the stock. Return the lamb and vegetables to the pot. Serve warm spooned over couscous. Pass bowls of harissa and fresh cilantro around the table as condiments.

Ras El Hanout
adapted from The Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos

Be sure to use very fresh spices, or grind the whole dried spices.

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Combine all the spices together. Store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.
(Recipe may be halved.)

Homemade Merguez

Homemade Merguez

For this month’s Charcutepalooza event, we were challenged  to make our own bulk sausage, either as breakfast sausage, merguez or chorizo. This one had my full attention. If it’s possible to express sentiment over a sausage, then the merguez would be considered my first true love in the charcuterie department.

I first ate merguez when I lived in Paris.  They were unlike any sausage I ever tasted. Finger-thin, lean in fat and fiery red hot, these North African sausages were the wizened angry little men of sausages – taut, feisty and not to be underestimated. They were easily found in the myriad couscous restaurants sprinkled throughout the city, from street vendors and specialty markets. Eaten alone, with couscous, or in a bun with frites and sauce – merguez were the essence of Morocco. Fragrant with cumin, coriander and sumac, dry and hot like the desert heat, and fiery red with harissa – one bite and you were transported.

Since then, and following moves further north in Europe and to the U.S., those merguez have become a food memory, frequently reminisced at the dinner table and used as a point of comparison (without success) when encountering other sausages calling themselves merguez. So far, nothing I have eaten replicates the North African merguez I tasted in France.

So, this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was particularly exciting. Why not try to make my own merguez? While I had no illusion of immediately recreating my distant memory of perfection, I would use the bulk sausage challenge as an opportunity to tinker with flavor, spice and heat before any fussing with stuffing the casings. I would form simple patties which I would stuff in pita bread. While the patties may be the lazy oafish cousin to the taut, skinny merguez sausage, the hope was that the taste would be undeniably related.

Merguez Bulk Sausage

I followed the technique for making bulk sausage from Charcuterie and formed the meat into small patties, or keftas. As for the spices, I concocted a heady mix of harissa, coriander, cumin, fennel and sumac. If needed, I planned to add lamb fat rather than pork fat, since the merguez I ate in France were Halaal. This proved unnecessary, however, since lamb shoulder provided enough fat for my taste.

1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons harissa paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound ground lamb shoulder
Olive oil

Toast fennel, coriander and cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat until fragrant, 1 minute. Transfer to a mortar with pestle or spice grinder, and grind until fine. Combine in a bowl with all of the remaining ingredients except the lamb. Stir to form a paste. Add lamb and thoroughly mix together with your hands. Form into 1 1/2 inch patties. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add patties, without overcrowding, in batches. Cook, turning once, until brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and keep warm. Repeat with remaining patties.
Serve with pita bread, harissa sauce, Greek style yogurt and fresh mint leaves.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.

Moroccan Lamb Stew and a recipe for Ras el Hanout

Moroccan Lamb Stew and a recipe for Ras el Hanout

Still fixated on warming stews, I recently prepared this lamb stew which not only has heat but the heady aroma of exotic spice. Its secret ingredient is ras el hanout. Ras el hanout is a north African spice blend which may include upwards of 50 spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, clove, turmeric and cayenne. The name, translated, means head of the shop, meaning the best on offer. Like many spice blends, there is no one way to make it, and variations exist from home to home, merchant to merchant.

At first, I made a version of this stew without the addition of ras el hanout, and it was very good. When I added ras el hanout to the recipe, the stew was excellent. You can find ras el hanout in the spice section of your supermarket or specialty stores. If you cannot locate it, then I encourage you to try to make your own version – it’s easy to do.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

The lamb is coated and marinated in a spice paste. As the meat browns in the pot, the spices will also brown and cook, adding a rich flavor and color to the stew.

Serves 6-8.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 – 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut in 2 inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 – 14 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
12 dried Calimyrna or Turkish figs, halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout (recipe below)
1 – 14 ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Harissa or red chili paste
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, coriander, cumin, paprika, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Mix to form a paste. Place lamb in a large bowl. Rub paste all over lamb. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate covered up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer lamb to a plate or bowl.
Add onion and carrot to the same pot. Saute, stirring up the brown bits, for 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and continue to saute 1 minute. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, figs, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.  Return lamb and any collected juices to the pot, submerging it in the stock. (Add additional chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot. Transfer to oven and bake until lamb is falling apart tender, about 2 hours.
Transfer pot to stove. Remove lamb and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Bring stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil uncovered until sauce is reduced by about half and thickened, skimming fat.  Stir in chickpeas. Taste to check for seasoning. If necessary add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the stock. Return lamb and vegetables to pot. (May be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate. To serve, skim any collected fat from surface. Rewarm over medium-low heat or in a 325 F. oven.)
Serve with prepared couscous. Pass bowls of harissa and fresh cilantro around the table as condiments.

Ras El Hanout
adapted from The Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos

Be sure to use very fresh spices, or grind the whole dried spices.

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Combine all the spices together. Store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.
(Recipe may be halved.)