Let me tell you about the newest addition to our household– our slow cooker. This may not be exciting news to you, but let me tell you that I have longed for one for so long. There were just too many cooking options that I could not attempt without one. So many delicious, tender, braised meats; so many deeply flavored soups and stews that only slow cooking can bring.
Once we got a slow cooker, I didn’t know where to begin. For me, the slow cooker in my household while I was growing up was dedicated to one thing only– smelly Chinese medicines that my mother would cook once a month to restore her health after a monthly event, the drift of which I’m sure you’re catching. Otherwise, the only other thing I knew a slow cooker was good for was for casseroles of the open-cans-of-stuff-dump-and-top-with-cheese variety. And while there’s nothing wrong with a good creamy, cheesy casserole every now and then, a perusal of Food and Wine‘s slow cooker recipe collection opened the door to me of all the new and improved, foodie friendly slow cooker recipes out there. I played around with a lot of them to get ideas before improvising some slow cooker recipes of my own. Here’s one that I think would make a nice addition to that collection, maybe even rival them.
I took pieces of lamb shoulder and coated them with a mix of spices to make it heady with Moroccan flavor: paprika, cinnamon, coriander, fennel. After a light dredge in flour, I browned the pieces, giving the sides of each piece a beautiful brown crust. I added those pieces to the slow cooker but didn’t want to lose the flavors of the fond that formed from browning the lamb, so I sautéed the onions and garlic in that pot before adding some of the beef stock to deglaze. These were then added to the slow cooker too, along with canned tomatoes, dried apricots for sweetness, whole almonds, some heat and more Moroccan flavor from a couple of tablespoons of harissa, and a bright burst of green from fava beans. The slow cooker melded all the flavors together for me so that all I had left to do to make it a complete meal was cook some couscous.
Well, one other thing too. The deep red color of the stew and its complexity of spices made me crave something cool and tangy for contrast. I mixed together Greek yogurt and tons of fresh mint, chives, and cilantro. In the end, I had a lovely bowl of heavenly scented, warm and spicy lamb stew with a pile of herb-redolent and nutty couscous in the center, and a light drizzle of slightly sour flavored yogurt. So delicious and spicy, I think the only thing needed to complete the Moroccan experience was to don a fez.
Note: I got the idea for this stew while researching uses for fava beans. A website noted that Moroccan Jews would eat a stew made from lamb and green almonds. I realize that green almonds are not the same as regular almonds, but I didn’t have ready access to them. If you know where to find some, try swapping those out for the almonds in the stew but keep toasted almonds for the couscous. The idea for adding gelatin to help make the stew feel silky came from Cook’s Illustrated‘s recipe for the ultimate beef stew. If you’re adverse to gelatin, you can try skipping it, substituting a knob of butter mixed with an equal amount of flour than adding that to the stew to thicken it slightly. Lastly, harissa is generally a blend of tomatoes, red peppers, preserved lemon, and garlic. I can find it readily now in the ethnic food section so hopefully you can find it too. My favorite one is super hot, so try yours first and use to taste.
- 2.25 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, halved then sliced 1/4 inch thick from pole to pole for half moon shapes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (yields about 1.5 teaspoons)
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 cup whole roasted almonds (plus 2 tablespoons more, chopped for couscous)
- 6 oz dried apricots, roughly chopped and divided
- 28 oz can whole tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons harissa
- 1 cup fava beans
- 1 teaspoon plain gelatin powder and 1/4 cup water
- 28 oz can whole tomatoes
- 1 box or 2 cups plain couscous
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cups chicken stock (or however much liquid is required by package directions)
- 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh chives, cilantro and parsley
- 1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 tablespoon each mint and chives
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
In a heavy bottomed, large skillet or in a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Place lamb pieces in a large baking dish. In a small bowl, mix together the paprika, fennel seed, coriander, cinnamon, and about 1.5 teaspoons of salt and 3/4 teaspoon black pepper. Scatter the spice mix over the lamb pieces and mix with your hands until each piece is coated. Place flour on a plate and dredge each piece of lamb in the flour, shaking off excess flour before adding half the batch of lamb to your heated pan. Cook carefully, browning each side of each lamb piece, about 4-5 minutes per side or until brown crust forms. Remove lamb to slow cooker then repeat with remaining lamb pieces, adding more oil if necessary.
With one tablespoon of fat remaining in pan (so add more oil, if necessary), cook the onion and garlic until onion is browned, about 5-6 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of beef stock, and using a wooden spoon, scrape browned bits off of bottom of pan. Add the contents, stock included, to the slow cooker along with the remaining 1.5 cups of beef stock, 1 cup of whole almonds, harissa, and 2/3 of the chopped apricots. Add the tomatoes, using your hands and fingers to squeeze and break apart the tomatoes (careful– they’re squirty!) as well as the tomato juices. Program your cooker to cook on high for 5 hours then leave it alone.
Sprinkle gelatin over water and let it stand for 5 minutes. Add this (or kneaded butter– see note) and the fava beans then continue to cook the stew on high for another 30 minutes.
While stew finishes cooking, make couscous according to package directions. Fluff the couscous with a fork then fold in the chives, parsley, cilantro, remaining almonds and remaining chopped apricots.
While couscous cooks, make the yogurt sauce by adding all the ingredients to a blender and process until smooth.
Season stew with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, add a ladle or two of the stew to wide, shallow bowls. Put a small scoop of couscous in the center of each bowl and drizzle with the yogurt sauce. Sprinkle more fresh herbs for color if you wish.
CSA Count: 4
Fava beans, garlic, cilantro, chives
Garden Count: 1