Monday, February 25, 2008

Lamb Stew with Creamy Eggplant Sauce

I love sitting at the table, eating a meal I’ve just cooked and saying, “If this is what I ordered at a restaurant, I’d be really happy.” I’m not suggesting I cook things that would be at home in a Michelin three-star establishment. They are usually more along the lines of dishes I would find in good Turkish restaurant or our favorite neighborhood Greek place. It’s the hearty, satisfying, often peasant-style dishes that I sometimes pull off really well.

With the help of Claudia Roden’s wonderful Middle Eastern cookbook, I made a simple lamb stew with a creamy eggplant sauce that tasted like some of the delicious dishes we’ve eaten at good Persian restaurants. It was the eggplant béchamel sauce that did it. All I did was roast a couple of eggplants, mash up the flesh and whisk it into a quick béchamel, the creamy white sauce made by whisking hot milk into a roux, or a mixture of butter and flour. Actually, Mike mashed up the eggplant while I made the béchamel. But even without two cooks, it’s easy enough to manage.

The lamb stew was just cubes of lamb leg, gently simmered with tomato and spices for about an hour and a half. The eggplant sauce is so much richer than just mashed eggplant (as in baba ghanouj), and you could also serve it as a dip or spread with pita bread. It would be a great addition to any lamb dish like grilled kebabs, but with buttery basmati rice it added a special component to this otherwise basic stew.

I may not be recreating dishes from The French Laundry or Alinea, but I’m plenty happy with meals like this.

If you liked this, you'll love:
Phyllo Triangles with Lamb, Onions and Pine Nuts
Herb-Marinated Lamb Kabobs with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
Hummus, Baba Ghanouj and Yogurt Dip with Mint and Shredded Carrots
Curried Lamb and Lentil Stew
Spiced Lamb Patties with Minty Yogurt Sauce
Ana Sortun's Red Lentil Kofte and Pomegranate Salsa

Lamb Stew with Creamy Eggplant Sauce
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Though this dish originally comes from the Ottoman Place kitchens (the Turkish name translates to “Sultan’s Delight”), I think it’s very homey, just gussied up a little by the indulgently creamy, but incredibly simple, eggplant sauce. Roden’s stew does not include the dry spices, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to add more flavor. The allspice especially is a good mate for lamb and eggplant. Have your butcher cut you piece from a leg of lamb (you want 1 1/2 lbs. of meat, so buy more if the bone is still in), or use shoulder or other stew meat. Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Serves 4 (You can make half this recipe to serve 2 generously.)

For the Stew:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 pounds lamb, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes

For the Eggplant Sauce:
3 1/2 pounds eggplant (about 3 medium Italian eggplants)
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk, heated in the microwave
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Steamed basmati rice and fresh parsley for serving

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Make the stew: Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add the lamb, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until browned all over. Add the garlic, allspice, cinnamon and cayenne and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes with their juice. Add just enough water to barely cover the lamb. Bring stew to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour stirring once or twice. Remove the lid and simmer for 30 minutes more, or until lamb is very tender and stew is slightly thickened. You can simmer longer if necessary to reduce the liquid to the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more spices, salt and pepper as needed.

Meanwhile, make the eggplant sauce: Trim off the top and bottom ends and cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Place the eggplants cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil and coated with nonstick spray. Roast until the eggplants feel very soft and cut side is browned, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

When cool enough to handle, scrape the eggplant flesh into a fine colander and discard the skins. Squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop the eggplant and mash it with a fork to make a paste.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour, whisking constantly for about 2 minutes until smooth. Remove from heat and gradually add the hot milk, whisking constantly as you go. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and return the sauce to low heat. Whisk continuously until the sauce thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the eggplant to the béchamel sauce, whisking vigorously until well blended. Taste for seasoning and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon some stew over a portion of basmati rice on each plate with the eggplant sauce on the side. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

That's my test too; would I be happy if I were served this in a restaurant? Most of the time, we don't go out to eat for the food, but to relax with good food and great service. Still, when I'm paying good money to eat out, I want the food to be pretty good. And when I can match or exceed that standard at home, I'm thrilled.

Julie said...

Lydia: I hear ya! So often I'd rather eat my own food, but it's so nice to have someone else do the shopping and cleaning.

Farmgirl Susan said...

Oh, this looks so good! I'm always looking for new ways to serve our homegrown lamb and can't wait to try this recipe. The eggplant sauce sounds wonderful. I knew I should have started some eggplant seeds in my kitchen garden this year! :)