I remember the first time I had lamb and lemons together. It was actually on a pizza, and it was one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted. To this day, I still crave the “lamb and lemon pizza” from that tiny pizza parlor in Manhattan. This stew combines lamb and lemons and the sweetness of figs all in one pot. It’s comfort food at its best. It’s easy to make, but it takes some time to cook, so make it on a cold winter day when you want a good excuse to stay indoors. The house will smell delicious; everyone walking by the simmering pot will taste some of the stew, so you may want to make extra.
A lot of lamb stew recipes call for shoulder meat. I used leg of lamb in this recipe; it’s leaner and I like the texture better. I buy grass fed organic leg of lamb. If you buy yours from the butcher, ask for it to be deboned and trimmed.
Searing the cubes of meat in a very hot pan, without overcrowding the cubes, is the key to moist stew meat. If the meat is crowded, it steams instead of sears. A good sear on the cubes will help hold the moisture inside the meat.
If you stir the onions over high heat in the hot pan, they will caramelize quickly. Caramelizing them makes them extra sweet tasting.
Lemon and ginger are great aromatics. They infuse a wonderfully fresh flavor into the stew. And, leaving the peel on the lemon gives it a really bright flavor. If you are worried about the whole lemon peel thing, don’t. The rind softens while the stew cooks so that when you are eating it, you won’t realize you are eating a rind at all. And the rind contains a lot of calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.
Next, add the figs, tomatoes and spices. Figs have the highest amount of calcium of any fruit and are a good source of fiber. They also secrete their natural sugars into the broth, making this stew uniquely sweet.
As the stew cooks, if too much of the liquid evaporates, just add more broth. This is where I add whatever fresh Chinese herbs I want to infuse in the soup. In this batch I added a few herbs to boost the immune system.
Finally, the broccoli rabe…
Moroccan Lamb Stew With Figs And Lemons
3 lb boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
pinch of saffron
2 -to 3- Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, slices
2 small lemons, cut in half and then very thinly sliced crosswise
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of cayenne
1-1/2 cups dried figs, quartered
15 oz can diced tomatoes
about 3 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper
1 large bunch broccoli rabe
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Heat 2-Tbs of the oil in a large heavy pot over high heat. Do not use a nonstick pot; if you have a cast iron one, use it. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Add the lamb cubes to the pot in one layer, making sure they are not touching each other. You will probably have to do this in a few batches. Brown meat on all sides and as it is browned, remove it with a slotted spoon to a plate.
While the meat is searing, put saffron into a 1/2 cup of hot water and set aside.
Leave about 1 Tbs of oil in the pot and toss in the onions. Stir until caramelized. Add garlic, lemon, ginger and spices and stir to combine. Add the water with the saffron. Cook 2 minutes. Add figs and tomatoes. Stir in lamb. Add 2 cups of the broth and simmer about 1-1/2 hours, partially covered. Give the pot a stir every 20 minutes or so, and if the broth evaporates and the liquid level goes down too much, add more broth.
While the stew is cooking, make the broccoli rabe: cut off the bottom portion of the thick stems and discard. Cut the rest into pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the broccoli rabe in the water for about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon to a clean dish towel and dry it well. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a large saute pan. Add the garlic and stir 1 minute. Add the broccoli rabe and saute, stirring often until tender, but not mushy.
Ladle the stew into shallow bowls. Top with broccoli rabe.