Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Walnut and Fig Braised Lamb


I guess my elation at the lamb shanks my mum-in-law gave us must have been very obvious because we received a second package of lamb shanks not too long ago. Yay! Ok, I might have been a bit sheepish, wondering if she thought I was hinting around for a second serving (I swear up, down, and round and round that I wasn’t!)…but I was shamelessly thrilled nonetheless.

The first batch of shanks she gave us I made into Lamb Youvetsi, a hearty Greek dish which remains one of my staunch favorites. For this batch, I wanted to move south to Morocco, famous for its tagines, those aromatic stews smelling of cinnamon and scattered with dried fruit and nuts.

Despite having a book on Arab cooking (filled with luscious-sounding recipes I hope to share here someday) I ended up settling on a recipe from Alastair Hendy in The Accidental Foodie. With figs and walnuts among the ingredients, I was absolutely sold. Much as I did here, I decided to substitute the dried spices with my Egyptian baharat. Baharat is an Arabic spice blend, of which there are many different varieties depending on the country of origin. I know I have totally crossed borders here, but I figured that since Morocco and Egypt are both in Northern Africa I wasn’t straying that far off course.

Walnut and Fig Braised Lamb
(adapted from Alastair Hendy’s recipe in The Accidental Foodie by Neale Whitaker)

  • 700 grams lamb shank (the lamb shank my mum-in-law brought me is cut up widthways so they look like little osso buco…see here)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 onions, each sliced into 4 thick discs
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons Egyptian baharat (use 1 tablespoon first, then check seasoning and adjust when you check the water level halfway through cooking…I used almost 2 tablespoons total)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 strips orange rind
  • 500 ml water (or as needed)
  • 5 dried figs
  • 12 walnut halves
  • Salt and pepper

- Heat oil in a wide casserole and brown lamb all over, adding salt and pepper.
- Remove from the heat and take lamb out of the pot. Line the bottom of the pot with the onion slices, then place lamb back in, over the onions.
- Sprinkle baharat over everything. Tuck the orange rind and cinnamon sticks around the lamb.
- Pour water in, just enough so the meat sits in a shallow puddle. Season again and return to the hob. Allow to boil, and then transfer immediately to an 180C oven and leave it to slowly braise for about 2 1/2 – 3 hours (until meat is very tender).
- Halfway through cooking, check the water level to make sure it hasn’t dried up. At this point check seasoning and adjust as needed. Add figs and nuts during the last hour.

I made some couscous, tossed with chopped parsley, to go with it. I also made a salad of chickpeas and roasted peppers, a simplified version of this one (I didn’t add the goat’s cheese since I didn’t have any on hand). Right now everything is resting in the kitchen (Alastair did advise to make it in advance as the flavors “get happier as the get to know each other”) waiting for dinner. I must admit though, I did take a tiny taste! I couldn’t help it…the fragrance wafting up from the casserole was just too good to resist.

I know this sounds painfully obvious, but it tastes just like it smells! One minute you are entranced by this delicious aroma, the next it is exploding in your mouth…each scent with its corresponding taste, and you find yourself trying to match each scent with a particular spice. But it’s difficult as the baharat is a mysterious blend and there are nuances that are teasing and taunting and keeping themselves hidden. All this is touched by the sticky sweetness of the figs. The lamb is falling of the bone tender, and whole thing is rich and unctuous.

This is just the thing to have now that it’s gloomy and wet outside…and just the thing to comfort me after getting soaked in the rain yesterday…I must remember to keep my umbrella handy these days!

***If you’d like to try the original, Mr. Hendy uses 1 teaspoon each ground ginger, cinnamon, coriander and cumin (instead of the baharat) for 1 kilo of lamb or 4 lamb shanks. You can also use lamb stock instead of water if you have it.


valentinA said...

Hi Joey, what a great walnut & fig braised lamb you've whipped out!
I've got the Accidental foodie too but never thought about trying this dish!
And wow, you've got wonderful in-laws I must say;) *two thumbs up*

Pille said...

The braised lamb looks absolutely delicious, and I'm bookmarking it for the slightly cooler days. It's 25C outside at the moment, so I'm very much into salads and ice creams at the moment, you see:)

Katrina said...

Yum, yum! As I've said before, Felipe is the lamb-lover...but there are a few dishes that win me over. I think that I would like this one, because it reminds me of a lamb dish I love in Ziggurat.

katiez said...

I do like the idea of "happy flavors"
And I love lamb and beans/chickpeas... the whole dish sounds marvelous! What time did you say dinner is...?

v_perez11@yahoo.com said...

oh joey, joey...why does thou tempt me so. That looks super delicious. Figs and walnuts are sinful together. I wonder what will happen if you grind part of the walnuts and add it to the braise...

aria said...

holy kawabunga joey! this looks amazing! i would gladly give over the contents of my wallet anytime of day for this WOW~

christine said...

Oh my my! If I saw the name of this dish on a restaurant menu I wouldn't even think twice about ordering it. Everything about it sounds (and looks!) too good! So my type! :)

ChichaJo said...

Hi Valentina! Thank you :) There are other recipes from that book I want to try as well! And yes, I'm lucky my in-laws are very thoughtful :)

Hi Pille! Lucky you :) I wish our summers would stay at 25C...sometimes it can be seriously blazing! Well, it's raining here now, so time for soups and stews and cozying up with a good book and a coffee :)

Hi Katrina! Are you sure the figs have nothing to do with it? ;)

Hi KatieZ! Hehe :) Dinner is anytime hunger strikes! I also love lamb and beans...you know, I'm going to have to make a stew with them both!

Hi V Perez! Hey, that's a good idea about grinding some of the walnuts...might try that next time :)

Hi Aria! Thank you! Now, I wouldn't ask for everything in your wallet...heehee :)

Hi Nens! I knew you would like this Moroccan-ish, walnut-fig-lamb dish! :)

Marvin said...

Mmmm. I do love a veal osso-buco and then scraping and eating the marrow out of the bone. Do you do the same with the marrow in the lamb shanks?

Jerry said...

Oh it sounds wonderful. I love lamb. It is one of best meats in the world. I think I need to go to the market to get some!

Anh said...

Joey, this sounds so good! I love any lamb stew, and this sounds really wonderful! :)

Barbara said...

What a wonderful recipe Joey.It looks fabulous.

Belinda said...

Figs and walnuts, what a heavenly combination,and the texture of the couscous really comes through in your photo beautifully. And don't fret about your mother-in-law's gift...you know how moms are, always looking for excuses to give us things! :-)

ChichaJo said...

Hi Marvin! I am a huge lover of bone marrow, so YES, I did eat the marrow of these little shanks and they were incredible! What I couldn't sip out I scraped out using a small cocktail fork ;)

Hi Jerry! I agree! I love lamb...so flavorful! I find it more exciting than beef :)

Hi Anh! Thank you :) I'm with you...most all lamb stews leave me a happy gal :)

Thanks Barbara! :)

Hi Belinda! Thanks! It's a wonderful combination but I'm thinking of trying others too...like dried apricots and pistachios! MIL is a great shopper and always thinks of people along the way :) She's a sweetie :)

Joan said...

hi joey :-)

i would like to ask where did u buy your couscous? i long wanted to buy some.i admire your photos and how you narrate every new dish u made.

ginny said...

It looks so good Joey. Am salivating! Just like I did when I saw your gambas.

ChichaJo said...

Thank Joan! I buy couscous in Santi's or Rustans :)

Thanks Ginny! Maybe we can have a Moroccan/North African dinner sometime like the Balinese one :)

katrina said...

Oh, I'm quite sure the figs had A LOT to do with it! ;-) The Ziggurat lamb dish didn't have figs, though. If I remember right, it had sultanas. But it was definitely sweet, just as this dish is. I am in love with the addition of fruit and nuts in savory dishes!

Be@rbrick Lover: said...

This picture looks like it belongs in a classy culinary magazine. Superb!

Stephen said...

Yum. The lamb looks amazing. I love lamb shanks. Often the best parts are the tougher more undesirable parts. All they need is some love and care. ;)

Jen Tan said...

Joey--that looks great!!! I like lamb and definitely love walnuts figs and couscous!!! I've never tried having couscous at home. =)

ChichaJo said...

Haha! I knew it Katrina! :) Like you, I too love fruit and nuts in savory dishes (except for raisins in arroz a la cubana). Especially figs. I also like tarts. Do you like dark meat or white meat? I would hate to see us in a food fight! ;)

Hello Be@rbrick Lover! Thank you so much! Coming from you that is indeed high praise...I'm thrilled :) :) :)

Hi Stephen! So so true...I couldm't have put it better :) I love coaxing goodness out of food's more ogre-esque elements ;)

Hi Jen! You should try it! It is so easy and you can eat it in loads of different ways :) Go to Gypsysoul's for a great mushroom and couscous dish!

*kel said...

Thanks for letting me know that you love my Barcelona writings. I'm going again end of the month and perhaps i can try out those places you've mentioned. Those lamb and gambas looks fabulous! Love the pictures they're gorgeous.


Franco said...

Hi Joey,

I love eating lamb in all shapes and forms.:) Love the recipe and your picture.


veron said...

I keep coming back to this yummy post. I wish the weather will cool down soon enough so I can make this!

Helen said...

Love lamb and your recipe is very timely too. Just bought some lamb shanks and thought I would do a casserole but... I'll try your recipe instead.

ChichaJo said...

Hi *kel! Thanks :) Lucky you! Back to Barcelona :) Let me know if you try any of them out...have fun!!!

Hi Franco! Me too...really love lamb...it's so tasty! I especially love shank :)

Hi Veron! I hope you get some cool winds soon...but until then enjoy the summer :)

Hi Helen! Hope you enjoy it :) Let me know how it turns out :)

Jen Tan said...

Thanks for the heads up Joey...I'm on my way now to Christine's post on that!!! hehhe =)

Kelly-Jane said...

That looks wonderful, I'm a big fan of meat and fruit, mmm.

SteamyKitchen said...

Wow. This is definitely a recipe I'm bookmarking. I love love love lamb - and to pair it with walnuts and figs may just put it over the top for me.

I'll let u know when I've tried the recipe.

p.s. wish i had a mum in law like yours!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Jen! You're welcome! :) It looks fantastic!

Hi Kelly-jane! Me too :)

Hi Jaden! I know what you mean...I love lamb too and when I saw this recipe with figs and walnuts I knew I had to try it :)

Brilynn said...

I love lamb and this combination sounds fantastic, I want some!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Brilynn! It's a really great combination! Maybe I can email you some? ;)

Farmgirl Susan said...

Oh, wow. Since we raise sheep, I can never have enough lamb recipes, and this one sounds wonderful! : )

ChichaJo said...

Hi Susan! Wow! I am totally city-locked and farm-starved! What I wouldn't give to raise my own livestock and produce!