Tag Archives: stew

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley

bison chili tastefood

Winter and the Superbowl demand a hefty bowl of chili, and this recipe will surely do the trick. Loaded with beef, black beans and barley, the key to this thick and rich stew is a heady tomato stock fortified with chipotles and stout beer. While you shouldn’t tinker too much with the aromatics, do feel free to adjust the meat and grains. The beef chuck can easily be switched out with turkey, chicken, or pork – or entirely omitted for a vegetarian option (just double up on the beans instead). I like to add barley to the mix – it adds great texture and extra nutrients. Other whole grains such as farro or freekah can be substituted as well.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 chiles in adobo, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1 cup pre-cooked barley (I used purple heritage) – optional

Optional garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and saute until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.

Comfort Food Necessities: Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine

short-rib-braise-tastefood

It’s the time of year when we need a recipe like this: A pot of slow cooked, melt-in-your mouth, braised short ribs, blanketed in a rich, fortified, and deeply spiced sauce, evoking warmth, heat, and comfort. You can say it’s due to the climate, the holiday season, or even current events, but this braise will satisfy your craving and smooth your mood, focusing your attention solely on the task of digging into this heart (and belly) warming stew, one spoonful at a time.

I make variations of this recipe under the guise of other comfort-food terms, such as Beef Bourguignon and Irish Stew. The ingredients shift slightly, but the principle is the same: Braising chunks of meat by first thoroughly browning them in a pan, then submerging the pieces into an aromatic stock of broth and wine, before banishing the whole lot to the oven for a couple of hours to simmer, marinate, and acquiesce into fork tender morsels swimming in a heady concoction of heat and spirits. The key is time and patience, which, frankly, is a rewarding exercise in itself. Ideally, you will exert even more time and patience in this process, and begin making this dish one day in advance of serving. This way, the stew can chill overnight, further intensifying the flavor, while allowing the persnickety fat to rise to the top of the stew so that it can be deftly removed the following day before rewarming.

This short rib recipe is a favorite, with a rich and smoky sauce  spiked with the heat of chipotle, and balanced by nuggets of sweet carrot, onion, and baby turnips. I made it recently and captured the photo with my iPhone – we were too famished and greedy to wait for me to fiddle with a camera before tucking in.

Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Short Ribs

Serves 4 to 6.

Dry rub:
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 pounds short ribs, cut into 3-inch pieces

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (750 ml) bottle heavy-bodied red wine
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, chopped with juices
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef stock (or chicken stock)

2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch slices
8 ounces pearl or small cippoline onions, peeled
1 bunch baby (Tokyo) turnips, trimmed and scrubbed (optional)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoon light brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Braise:
1. Combine the dry rub spices in a small bowl. Arrange the ribs on a rimmed baking tray. Rub the spices all over the ribs. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour (or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before browning).
2. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches without crowding the pan, brown the ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes. (This step is very important, so take the time to do it well). Transfer to a plate or bowl and repeat with the remaining ribs.
4. Drain off the fat from the pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, the onion, and garlic and sauté over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes, stirring up the brown bits in the pan with a wooden spoon.
5. Add the cumin, paprika, and coriander and cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste and stir to create a nice slurry.
6. Add the wine, chipotles, and bay leaf and return the ribs and any collected juices to the pot. Pour in the stock. If the ribs are not completely covered with the liquid, add more stock or wine to top off the ribs. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven and braise until the ribs are very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring every hour or so.
7. Remove the pot from the oven. Uncover and let the braise cool slightly. At this point you can remove the bones and cut away any gristle from the ribs or proceed with the bones intact – it’s up to you and how you like to serve the ribs. Return the meat to the pot, then cover and refrigerate overnight. (This step is helpful because it will allow the fat to congeal on the top of the stew, which can be easily removed the next day, while allowing the flavors to develop overnight. Alternatively, proceed with Step 2 of the finishing process and skim fat with a spoon while the sauce reduces.)

Finish:
1. At least 1 hour before serving, remove the pot from the refrigerator and lift off the layer of fat on the surface of the stew.
2. Sauté the carrots, onions, and turnips (if using) in 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until they are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Lightly season with salt.
3. Gently reheat the braise over medium-low heat until the stock is liquid enough to remove the ribs. Carefully remove the ribs from the sauce and arrange in a baking dish.
4. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer over medium heat until reduced by about half and thickened to a rich sauce consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Return the beef to the pot and add the vegetables, vinegar, and sugar. Simmer until thoroughly heated, 5 to 7 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or keep warm until serving.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

lamb tagine

This lamb stew is inspired by a traditional Moroccan meat and vegetable tagine and Mrouzia, a rich celebratory stew sweetened with fruit and honey. I have scaled the sweetness back, reducing the honey (or brown sugar in this case) and relying on dried apricots, which  melt into the stock while simmering to provide subtle sweetness. The meat can be rubbed with the spices and cooked straight away, but if you have the time, rub the meat the night before preparing and refrigerate. The longer the meat can sit with the spices, the deeper the flavor.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

This recipe includes ras el hanout, which is an important spice blend in North African cuisine. It means “top of the shop” and includes a laundry list of aromatic and piquant spices, a combination which will vary from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. You can purchase ras el hanout in specialty stores or well-stocked supermarkets. Serves 6.

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 (14-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
12 dried unsulphured apricots (or dried figs), halved
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
Harissa or red chili paste, optional
Fresh cilantro sprigs

1. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl and 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 for up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat the 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 and repeat with remaining lamb.
3. Pour off the fat and add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot. Sauté the onion over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up the brown bits. Add the garlic, ginger, and red chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups chicken stock, the apricots, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot and submerge in the stock. (Add more chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven and cook until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours, stirring once or twice.
4. Transfer the pot to the stovetop and stir in the carrots and chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the carrots are tender and the sauce reduces and thickens to a stew consistency, about 20 minutes, skimming the fat as much as possible. Stir in the brown sugar and taste for seasoning. If more heat is desired, stir in a few teaspoons of harissa.
5. Serve warm, ladled over couscous and garnish with cilantro.

Clam Chowder

Memorial Day is fast approaching – the sunny holiday which ushers in the summer season, lots of grilling, time at the seashore, and – for me – clam chowder. Blame it on my New England roots, but slurping down a bowl of steaming hot, buttery rich chowder is right up there with building sand castles and smearing on sunscreen when I think of summer. Chowders are actually quite easy to make, a simple concoction of milk and cream, potatoes, and clams. If you are not feeling the clams, you can add firm fleshed fish such as salmon and halibut and call it a fish chowder. The key is to get a smoky base to the soup with bacon (or in fish chowders, I’ll add warm-smoked salmon), and a little thickness with a roux (which is simply a little flour mixed into the fat from the bacon) and have fun with your vegetables. Potatoes and onion are standard, and I often add leeks or mild root vegetables, such as celery root, or even spinach. When you are selecting clams be sure to choose the smallest you can get your hands on, such as little necks, middle necks, or, if you are on the U.S. west coast, manila clams.

Clam Chowder
Serves 4

2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock, divided
1/2 pound small fingerling potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch coins
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
12 manila or middle neck clams or 24 little neck clams
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the bacon in the oil in a large pot over medium heat until the fat is nearly rendered. Add the onion and leek and sauté until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the flour into the pot, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until very lightly colored, stirring constantly. Whisk in 1 cup of the stock, stirring to blend the flour. Add the remaining stock, the potatoes, milk, cream, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the clams, partially cover the pot and simmer over medium heat until the clams open, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any unopened clam shells. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot garnished with fresh thyme.

Hearty Chili with Bison, Black Beans, and Barley

bison chili tastefood

This is a chili template. You can follow it and substitute your favorite meat or even make a vegetarian version by skipping the meat step. In this chili I went all in, combining bison, black beans, and barley. If you haven’t tried bison I encourage you to try it. Bison is leaner, lower in cholesterol, and more rich in protein and Omega 3’s than beef. Other proteins such as beef chuck, pork, chicken or turkey can be substituted. If you prefer a vegetarian option, you can double up on the beans instead. Then there is the barley – I had a bag of gorgeous purple heritage barley from the farmers market I couldn’t resist adding to the stew. It adds heft and extra nutrients to this already hearty stew. You can omit the grains and add more beans. You get the idea!

Bison, Black Bean and Barley Chili
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds bison meat, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 chiles in adobo, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1 cup pre-cooked barley (I used purple heritage)

Garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and saute until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.

Coconut Chicken and Vegetable Curry

coconut curry tastefood

Move over turkey. It’s time for a holiday dinner time-out. This easy curry is a one-pot wonder – warming and spiced, creamy and filling, and simply prepared in 30 minutes. It’s perfect fare for a cold winter day and a welcome dinner option following an afternoon of cookie-baking.

Coconut Chicken Vegetable Curry

The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility. Feel free to switch up the vegetables to your taste. Chicken thighs may also be used in place of the breast meat – just adjust the cooking time accordingly. Serves 4.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, sliced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
1/2 bunch lacinato kale, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 red jalapeño pepper, sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide pot or deep skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot in one layer without overcrowding. Cook until the chicken colors on all sides, turning as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside on a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot, then add the onion and carrot and saute until the carrot brightens in color and the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the poblano and saute 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, to coat the vegetables and lightly toast the spice. Pour in the tomatoes and coconut milk and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Partially cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Return the chicken to the pot and stir in the kale. Continue to simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through and the leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes.
4. Serve the curry in bowls with basmati rice. Garnish with the jalapeño slices and fresh cilantro.

Quick-Braised Chicken with White Wine and Vegetables

Braised Chicken Wine

White Wine Braised Chicken with Leeks, Carrots, Mushrooms, Thyme

Humble stews are quintessential comfort food. Braised and slow cooked, they are one-pot wonders infused with deep flavors coaxed from hearty vegetables and meat. These long simmering concoctions are often left for the weekend with stretches of time for cooking. So what to do during the week when we crave equally satisfying and nourishing meals in less than an hour? Quick braising is the answer. This chicken recipe can be quickly prepped and popped in the oven for 30 minutes of hands-free braising. Light yet rich, this flavorful meal will address any cravings for a hearty dinner. Weeknight food never tasted so slow.

Wine-Braised Chicken with Vegetables and Thyme

Keeping the chicken skin exposed while braising ensures that the skin will remain crisp and golden.

Serves 4.

4 large chicken breast halves, with skin and ribs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 pound white or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup dry white wine
2 to 3 cups chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Season the chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep skillet or wide Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, skin side down, in batches. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, 4 to 5 minutes, then turn the chicken and cook 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken.

Drain off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pot and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add the leeks to the pot and saute over medium heat, about 1 minute. Add the carrots, mushrooms and garlic. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften and brighten in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the white wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits. Add the bay leaf, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Return the chicken to the pot and nestle, skin-side up, into the vegetables. Pour in enough chicken stock, without splashing the skin, to nearly cover the chicken but not submerge it. The skin should remain exposed. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover pot and transfer to oven. Bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts. Serve in bowls with rice, farro or couscous.

Lamb, Bulgur and Chickpea Stew with Roasted Eggplant

lamb bulgur stew tastefood

The other day, for the first time I made kibbeh, the Lebanese version of kefta or croquettes. A key ingredient in kibbeh is bulgur (cracked wheat), which was a revelation to me. I was afraid the bulgur would add a mealiness to the croquettes, but in fact it remained firm, adding a satisfying bite (and crunch when pan fried) to the ground meat. I liked this combination so much I decided to try it in a stew with tomatoes, white wine and plenty of spices. The bulgur slurped up the liquid producing a thick and dense ragout. While it could easily have been served in bowls as a hearty stew, I spooned it over roasted eggplant to lighten it up a bit. The results resembled a deconstructed dolma or vegetable stuffed with ground meat and grains, typically served in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. All that was needed was a bit of crumbled feta and fresh mint to freshen up this lovely dish, and I know I’ll be making it again.

Lamb, Bulgur and Chickpea Stew with Roasted Eggplant

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup bulgur
1 cup white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juices
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzos) drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage

1 medium eggplant, sliced crosswise 3/8-inch thick
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crumbled feta cheese
Fresh mint leaves, torn

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic and lamb. Cook until the onion softens and the lamb browns, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes, stock, bulgur, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and coriander. Simmer, partially covered, until the bulgur is tender, about 20 minutes. The stew will have thickened at this point. If desired, add more water or stock to thin to desired consistency. Add the salt and black pepper and taste for seasoning. Stir in the chickpeas and cabbage and cook over medium-low heat until the cabbage is wilted, 10 to 12 minutes.

While the stew is simmering, arrange the eggplant slices in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil on the top rack of the oven until golden brown on both sides, turning once.

To serve, spoon the ragout over the eggplant. Sprinkle with feta and garnish with mint. Serve warm.

Salmon and Spinach Chowder

It’s the time of year for bowl-food. When the weather is grey, wintry and cold, there’s nothing more satisfying then a big bowl of dinner. Steaming hot and full of hearty healthy flavors and ingredients, it’s meant to be eaten with big spoons and napkins to catch the dribbles.

I love to eat chowders year round, especially in the winter when creamy dishes hit the spot. I often add a number of ingredients to my chowder in addition to the requisite fish. While most firm fleshed fish work in chowders, my favorite is salmon. Its buttery oil-rich flesh shines in a creamy stock and is a perfect accompaniment to earthy vegetables, crucifers and greens.

We don’t usually have left-over salmon in our house, since it’s often gobbled up the moment it hits our dinner plates. In the rare occurrence when there is some filets left, I’ll often add them to the next day’s chowder. While this recipe starts with the premise of using raw fish, pre-cooked leftovers work just as well. Considering how expensive salmon can be, this is a great way to get two fabulous meals from one purchase. You just need to be lucky enough to have the leftovers.

Salmon and Spinach Chowder

Feel free to improvise with your greens. Kale or chard may be substituted for the spinach. If you are cauliflower-averse, you can omit it and add extra spinach.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups water
2 medium yukon gold potatoes, about 3/4 pound, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 cups bite-sized cauliflower florets
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 cup heavy cream
1 to 1 1/4 pounds salmon filet, skin and pin-bones removed, cut in 3/4-inch chunks
1 bunch fresh spinach leaves, stems removed, torn into large pieces
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh chopped dill

Heat the oil and melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the water and whisk to blend the flour. Add the potatoes and cauliflower. There should be enough water to cover the vegetables. If not, add more water to cover. Simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the paprika, Tabasco, and cream. Bring to a simmer. Add the salmon and simmer until cooked (or heated) through. Stir in the spinach and briefly cook until bright green in color and wilted, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with fresh dill and serve immediately.

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.)