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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lamb and Walnut Stew

Lamb and Walnut stew over Israeli couscous

I love pomegranate molasses. It's highly reduced pomegranate juice and it is intense and syrupy. Like molasses, but it has a tart-sweet flavor that is totally unique. You can find it in ethnic grocery stores (ones with a good selection of Middle Eastern products are a good bet) or high-end supermarkets, like Whole Foods.

A little of this stuff goes a long way, given its intensity. Which means that a bottle of it lasts a long, long time. It does keep forever but I'm always on the look-out for recipes that use it effectively.

This is a richly flavored stew perfect for winter. Though the pomegranate molasses is sweet, it is not overly sweet. A perfect balance of sweet, tart, and spicy. Not hot spicy but exotic spicy.

This recipe is from Sephardic Cooking by Copeland Marks (Primus, 1994), an incredible collection of Sephardic recipes from Europe, Africa, and Asia. Sephardic Jewish cooking retains more of its Middle Eastern roots and is normally associated with the Mediterranean. But, Sephardic cooking comes from such unexpected places as India and Central Asia. This recipe is Persian, what is now known as Iran. I used lamb but you could make this with any meat: chicken parts, turkey thighs, beef, or veal.

Like most stews, this tastes even better after it's chilled overnight and reheated. It freezes great too.

Fesenjan: Meat Stew in Pomegranate and Walnut Sauce
(serves 6)

1 ½ pounds of stew lamb (shoulder, leg, or sirloin), cut into ½" cubes
salt and pepper
3 Tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 ½ cups toasted walnuts, ground fine in a food processor
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
1 ½ cups water
⅓ cup tomato paste
¾ cup dried apricots or dried plums, soaked in 1 cup of hot water for 30 minutes
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
a large pinch of ground cardamom
a large pinch of ground cloves
a large pinch of ground ginger

Season lamb cubes with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or large deep skillet. Brown ½ the lamb and remove to a plate. Add another tablespoon of oil and brown the remaining lamb. Remove to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the chopped onions. Saute the onions until very soft and browned. Add back the lamb and the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 1 hour until the sauce is reduced and the lamb is tender. Stir a couple of times while it's cooking to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

If the sauce gets really thick before the meat is tender, add a bit more water.

Serve over rice or couscous.

Adapted from Sephardic Cooking by Copeland Marks