Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Lamb and Date Stew for Sukkot
I could not be happier. October is here, we are celebrating Sukkot this week and the sun continues to shine every day.
Each year, the sounds of drilling, hammering and music on the radio (or sometimes a football game) ring out from the back yard as Bob, Sam and Isaac construct our sukkah. I cut branches from bushes around the yard for the sukkah’s roof, we string lights to decorate, and the picnic table is set for dinner.
Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest and we gather together to welcome guests into the sukkah. Sukkot also signals the time when I open my arms to fall cooking and embrace the warming soups and stews of the season.
Lamb stew is a favorite on our menu during Sukkot. Hearty and cozy, it is a bowl full of rich flavor, spiced with ginger and cinnamon. I like to include dates and honey since their flavors melt into the lamb and evoke the sweetness of the holiday. This year I used date paste brought to us by our lovely friends, Galit and Roni, when they visited from Israel in August. An extra sweet treat!
The stew is best made a day or two ahead of time, giving time for the flavors to marry. This makes it ideal to entertain with since you only need to pop it in the oven to warm while you pour wine and chat with your guests.
For the next week, we’ll have dinner every night in our sukkah. With the wonderful extended summer we’re having, we’ll be able to linger around the table and I am grateful for this gift. And later in the evening, I love seeing the twinkling sukkah lights through the kitchen door as I call the dogs in and head out to close the chicken coop up for the night. Happy autumn.
Lamb and Date Stew
2 onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces date paste (purée pitted dates with a bit of water in the food processor or use packaged date paste, usually found in a Middle Eastern market)
3 tablespoons honey
5 pounds boneless lamb, cubed
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup sesame seeds, plus more for garnish
Chopped parsley for garnish
In a Dutch oven or large, heavy soup pot, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper and stir.
Add the date paste and break into small chunks to begin softening it. It will be sticky - don’t worry about getting it smooth, it will melt and blend as the stew simmers. Add the honey, lamb cubes, red wine and sesame seeds and stir gently to combine. Increase the heat to medium high until the stew begins to bubble, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for about 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. During the last half hour, remove the lid and let simmer uncovered to thicken and reduce the liquid.
Let the stew cool to room temperature, cover and pop in the fridge. It can be made a day or two ahead. On the day you want to serve it, remove and scrape any congealed fat off the top. Cover and warm in a low oven until ready to eat. Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds and a bit of parsley. It’s very good served with whole wheat Israeli couscous.