The word “lamb” was your first warning. This is not a vegetarian recipe.
I’m assuming you own a slow cooker. If you threw your Crock Pot out in a vale of tears after watching Jack die on This Is Us, this is your trigger warning. If you don’t have a slow cooker, there is a way to do this, but I’m not enabling you any further. Go back out and buy one again. Crock Pot have reassured us:
“For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible”
You may have looked at the title and assumed that this blog post will be a recipe. It is… and it isn’t. I have a recipe book. It has taken many forms over my lifetime:
- Handwritten on cue cards in a box (1980s);
- Printed (dot-matrix), three-hole punched, and put in a binder with those coloured index tabs (1990s);
- A single gigantic MS Word document with an index (2000-2014); and
- A notebook in Evernote (my current solution, and hands-down my favourite solution since February 6th, 2014, especially when I’m out grocery shopping).
Those recipes are all written in the same format. Picture of target state. List of ingredients as checkboxes. Directions as numbered bullets. I’m not a complete heathen. See the picture for beet pickled eggs above as proof. I know how it’s supposed to be done.
What you’re about to read is the way recipes actually sound in my head. If my rambling makes your orderly soul uneasy, I have no idea how you landed on this blog, ’cause it’s like this almost all the time. This is what you’re going to hear if you’re in the kitchen with me while I am preparing food. If you find yourself with questions when making this, you can send them to me, but since prep takes about 10 minutes and then you aren’t doing anything the whole rest of the time, I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of time for questions.
I learned to make Moroccan Lamb Stew about twenty years ago. I am sure that the first time I made it, there was a recipe. There hasn’t been a recipe in a long time. That doesn’t mean I don’t think you shouldn’t learn to make it, which is why after all of this time, I’m writing this down.
The base of my stew has always been a kilo of grass-fed New Zealand spring lamb. Why that much? I can find a frozen bag of it about once every three months or so, so that’s what I buy. While I can occasionally get fresh lamb at farms nearby, I usually want this stew while it’s cold outside, so I rarely have occasion to start with fresh lamb. If that’s what you have… congrats! Mine’s thawing right now.
Please bear with me. This is going to sound like a choose-your-own-adventure, because that’s pretty much how all of my longtime recipes feel like once I’ve learned how they work. There are a few bits that are fixed, and the rest of it needs to flex based on what you have left in your fridge, in your budget, or what you are drawn to in the moment. The picture on the right is directional advice at best.
Let’s tackle the non-negotiable bits first.
- 1 kg. boneless spring lamb. Try not to exceed 1″ cubes. They’re more challenging to eat and make it a bit too chunky. Don’t get cute and try to cut up a leg of mutton. There’s a reason that no one has ever written reams of poetry about the joys of mutton.
- Carrots. At least one cup chopped up (circles, trapezoids, or halved baby carrots, whatever shape floats your boat). You can go up to two cups, but not more.
- Dried apricots. Cut them in halves or thirds depending on how big they are. 1/2 cup minimum to get on the ride, I like about 3/4 cup.
Are you troubled by the fact that my measurements aren’t precise? It’s only going to get worse from here. Baking requires precision. Making stew is something you can train children with short attention spans to do.
As we work through the next bundle of ingredients, I’m willing to let you adjust some ingredients, but if you fail to include all three three above, I’m not going to let you call it Moroccan Lamb Stew. Add more, less, or none of any of the following. I’m not the boss of you.
- Dark fruit, dried. 1/4 to 1/2 cup. Prunes, raisins, cherries, or cranberries are fair game. I’ve tried all four, and prunes remain my favourite. They’re just plain richer in taste. If you flinched at the idea of the apricots above, this is probably making you less comfortable. Just try it… fruit and meat is why this stew is incredible.
- Additional vegetables to add interest and volume. You can go from zero to up to two cups. Once you start getting past that point, you’re going to end up with “Moroccan Stew With Lamb” which is is still a legit outcome, but not what I am aiming for. Here are some options:
- Parsnips are great;
- Potatoes are meh;
- Tomatoes are good (stewed, diced, paste, whatever);
- Celery is something that needs to be snuck past my spouse, who refers to them as “bug sticks”. I like it fine;
- Onions are good, but don’t exceed a 3/4 cup or they’ll overcome the fruit. In descending order of preference: yellow, sweet, white. I love red onions, but if you put one in this stew, take my name off the recipe; and
- Sweet potatoes. I haven’t tried this yet, but I can’t think of a reason in the world why this wouldn’t work. I just wouldn’t put them in until about 4 hours before the end, or they’d probably turn to mush.
- Beans. I was dreading this part of the conversation. The original recipe was very authentic and included a cup of chickpeas, which is when I learned that while I might enjoy chickpeas in other contexts, I find the fact that they retain a round shape and decidedly chickpea texture when we’re done offensive. I want the ingredients in my stew to meld together and stop having individual identities. I have substituted in navy beans (which aren’t as rigidly insistent in maintaining la société distincte) and can live with them, but most of the time, I leave beans out entirely.
Next up are spices:
- Bare minimum: 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon pre-mixed curry (if you’re the kind of person who actually knows how to compound your own, please, just go do your own thang here… you’ve probably already cooked this stew and things more complex), and a half-teaspoon of cinnamon;
- Options for your consideration:
- Ras el hanout instead of curry (makes a super-mild, sweet stew) or in addition to the curry;
- More curry (I tend to wait until half an hour before it’s done to add more. If you love curry, you know what you like… lift the lid, take a whiff, and adjust)
- 2 cloves of garlic. I don’t like to go more than this, or I lose the fruit taste;
- Fennel, coriander, allspice, or cardamon. All fair game. If you know what they are, you probably know what you’re doing. You can always wait until about 4 hours into cooking and adjust with these if you don’t like the way it is trending; and
- Lemon. Squeeze some over the stew and stir just before serving. It brightens the taste.
- Put the stuff in a slow cooker. Stir enough to make sure it’s mixed up. Did I mention that this is the kind of stuff you can teach little children to do?
- Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. I used to put in the slow cooker in the morning, and it would be ready for me when I get home from work. My commute is currently about thirty-five feet, so mostly by mid-afternoon I can smell it and it is starting to drive me crazy, because I’m supposed to wait until dinner time.
- [Optional step] If you got wild and want to tinker with the spices, you can add some about half-way through, and the rest about half an hour before it is done.
- [Optional step] Some people sprinkle cilantro over the top. Some people can’t bear cilantro, claiming it tastes like soap. Hopefully, by now you know what kind of person you are, but if you’re not sure… leave this out. Seriously, if you stopped only a little bit after the three base ingredients and the first two directions, you were going to be happy at the end of this process anyways.
Serve it in a bowl. With bread. Or couscous. Or Rice. Or all on its own. I like crusty bread, because I can soak it in the stew. The original recipe had me drizzle honey over it (totally unnecessary). I have, on occasion, put a small dollop of sour cream in the bowl.
If you come up with a great way to adjust this, I’d be happy to hear it!
Seriously? You want me to tell you how many calories, how much fat, and how much of assorted vitamins and minerals? Honey, I don’t even know what you threw in the slow cooker.