A Stew and an Oath

Moroccan lamb stew

We had a cold snap in New York a few weeks ago — you know, the kind where it feels like the wind is demanding satisfaction from you. What made it worse, though, was the teasing intimation of spring that came right before it, a few days of sunny, cloudless skies and light-jacket weather.

I felt had, personally. Especially on the first day of the snap, when I underdressed pretty woefully for the weather. I hunched and shivered all day, downing mugfuls of tea at work and depressively thinking back to winter. That night, a quintet of us had plans to cook at R’s again. I was tasked with finding something that pleased everyone, which I decided meant that I’d find something that pleased me and then coax the rest of them into agreeing.


I kept thinking about a small can of harissa I’d picked up at Fairway — in no small part due to the can’s appealingly retro design, if I’m being honest — and how it might work in dinner. That would be so delicious and comforting, I mused, all that smoky Aleppo chili powder and coriander flavor coating winter vegetables and thick, fat-striped chunks of meat. (I’m not being precious here. As B can attest, this is actually how I talk and think about food, sad as it may seem.)


Feeling quite the bloodhound, I then found an old recipe (from ancient 1999!) in The New York Times Magazine by Molly O’Neill for lamb stew with squash and preserved lemon.


Unfortunately, I didn’t have preserved lemons on hand. Neither did R. I gnashed my teeth for a while, recognizing how important preserved lemons were to the taste of the dish, and then decided to compromise. I’d roast the lemons on low heat after spackling them in an opaque crust of salt, and dice them finely before using them in the dish with their pulp. If the dish wasn’t delicious (and even if it was), I’d preserve my own lemons to teach myself a thing or two about jumping the gun.

Moroccan lamb stew

The stew was totally delicious, though.

Still, I feel the need to post the recipe as originally devised — preserved lemons are such a common ingredient in Moroccan cuisine, and as such, their bright, “primary” flavor is integral to the dish. I’ll just have to make a batch of my own citrons confits like I promised, won’t I?

Lamb Stew With Squash and Preserved Lemon
From The New York Times Magazine, Mar. 7, 1999

1 1/2 pounds lean shoulder of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons harissa sauce (recipe follows), plus more for serving
4 cups peeled, uncooked butternut squash in 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium-size ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/2 preserved lemon, rind and pulp finely diced, plus additional pulp from 1 preserved lemon
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint for garnish
Cooked couscous or bulgur for serving.

Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large kettle set over medium-high heat and cook the lamb, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the onion is soft. Add the harissa sauce and cook another 5 minutes.

Add 2 cups water, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, until the lamb is tender, about 45 minutes. Add the squash, tomatoes, chickpeas and water to almost cover the ingredients. Simmer, uncovered, until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the preserved lemon and raisins and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, garnish with mint and serve with couscous or bulgur and more harissa on the side.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Harissa Sauce
[Note: I used canned harissa, which was fine, but I’ve made my own before, and I think everyone should. It’s a snap to make, and tastes so much finer. Most importantly, it is fantastic with fries]

1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper (see note)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Let sit at least an hour before serving with lamb stew.

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