Organic Lamb Casserole – a Recipe with a Middle Eastern Vibe…

This is the recipe I threatened you with last week. Unlike the Quorn fiasco, this worked perfectly. Note the comment about holding back the meat – you don’t want to overcook it and have it disintegrate.

Ingredients:-

800g (roughly), Organic lamb leg steaks (bone out), diced. I sometimes buy half a leg of lamb and cut my own if I’m feeling up to it. No special reason – just for the hell of it, and to keep my hand in. And it’s cheaper.

3 Sweet Spear carrots (or your preference), sliced

3 1/4-inch thick slices of celeriac, well trimmed and diced (or three celery stalks, de-stringed and chopped)

4 or 5, depending on size, Echalion shallots

2 Romano peppers (the long, red, and pointed kind, sometimes labelled Romano, sometimes not – superior to bell peppers), deseeded and cut into postage-stamp sized pieces

160g (drained weight), Black olives in brine (pitted). I use the Crespo brand – widely available

A couple of handfuls Organic Deglet Nour dates

60g Sour and sweet dried cherries

1 Kallo organic veg stock cube

A splash of Knorr Touch of Taste Beef**

A splash of Knorr Touch of Taste  Chicken**

A splash of soy sauce**

1 tablespoon Harissa spice mix (the dry mix apparently keeps better than paste; keep it tightly sealed, in glass, in the dark, like all spices should be – see note below). This is my own version; it works better.

2 rounded teaspoons dried oregano

2 cans Napolina Chick Peas, rinsed and drained

Black pepper and Maldon Sea Salt, to taste

***

**Lamb stock cubes don’t do it for me. In fact, beyond veg, beef and chicken they all seem a bit dubious. I prefer to combine those three, plus a little soy sauce, until it tastes right, hence the vague quantities. Put a splash** in at first then add a little more towards the end until it tastes right to you. It will still wind up tasting like lamb as long as you don’t overdo it.

** If you’re thrown by the idea of  “a splash” then make it a scant tablespoon. And use a proper measuring spoon!

NB: Add more Touch of Taste if needed.

Lamb leg steaks have quite a bit of fat and connective tissue that needs to be trimmed (if it was beef, long, slow, cooking would melt the connective tissue, but lamb cooks faster than beef, so that doesn’t work).

Don’t throw it away, though. Set the casserole,** if it’s metal (a pan if not), over a very low heat. Toss in the scraps of fat, any skin, and bits of connective tissue, add a splash of olive oil to kick-start the process, then render out the fat. The skin and connective tissue will inevitably have bits of meat and/or fat attached, and that will also render out as well as crisping up and adding flavour. This adds nothing to the cooking time as it can happen while you’re doing the meat and the veg prep.

**All my recipes are made in a 3-litre stainless steel casserole. This is quite  light, so spoonie-friendly, but has a heavy base, which makes it cook-friendly too. Importantly, as we spoonies can be clumsy sods, there are no long handles to get snagged, which makes it safe in use. The short double handles make it easy to move when full too. I also have a 2-litre version, but it’s the bigger one that gets most use.

I wound up with a mix mostly of lamb fat with a little olive oil, to which I added a small knob of clarified butter – a good flavour combo.

A note re Harissa: I’ve not used this before and had no idea of what sort of quantity was appropriate, so off I went to Google. You need to look for “lamb tagine” recipes, or the chicken version, and the consensus was about a tablespoon, which is what it got.

That, as it turned out, is too much in my view as it’s far hotter than I’d been led to believe, and it has some quite dominant herbs, like mint, in it (it contains Garlic, Mint, Cayenne, Caraway, Cumin Powder, Coriander, Salt, Chillies, though to be honest all I’m getting is heat and mint!). Cayenne and chillies? Seriously?** That’s overkill. There’s a fair bit of heat in cumin too.

**I have no real idea of the proportions (I’m sure I can find out online), but I’m certain I can come up with a more balanced version that suits my palate better.

Going with Schwartz products (widely available and consistent), I’d use garlic granules, mint (but not much), Cayenne pepper (more controllable than chillies, which I’d omit, as I would caraway seed, which I’m not fond of), more ground coriander, assuming that’s what’s meant, than cumin, and skip the salt too.

So it won’t be authentic Harissa, but as that’s probably changed radically over the decades/centuries/whatever (and it varies between countries anyway), I’m not worried – a large part of the art of cooking is learning how to modify and adapt, not slavishly follow.

Whichever brand you use – if you go with this one I’d suggest, if you’re a Harissa newbie like me, scaling back to 2 teaspoons, and taste after half an hour. You can always add more, you can’t take the buggerdly stuff out!

A note about organics: I’m not faddy about organic food. I’ll buy organic meat, but organic veg leaves me unimpressed. Organic meat is worth the expense (well, maybe), because unlike most meat from supermarkets, it’s usually free from added water. Did you know that up to 10%, by weight, of added water does NOT have to be declared on the label? How does that feel, paying maybe £16 a kilo for water? How can such a blatant rip-off ever be legal? But it is.

So – the Method:-

Yes, I know you, personally, can make a casserole with your eyes closed, but the world is full of novice cooks who can’t do that, some of whom might find their way here. This is for them.

That you now have a casserole or pan with a decent quantity of fat in the bottom is, hopefully, a given by the time you reach this stage. If, for some reason, you chose not to render out the lamb fat, and fry the meatier scraps, thus losing out on a whole lot of flavour, then you’ll need a good knob of butter and a splash of olive oil. The oil adds flavour and stops the butter burning.

First, brown the diced meat. You’ll probably have to do this in 2 or 3 batches (put in too much at once you lower the temperature of the fat too much, and the meat stews instead of browning).  Once all the meat is browned, remove from the pot and set aside.

Peel and chop the shallots, and add to the pot. Sweat over a low heat until soft and translucent, scraping up any meaty bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Then stir in the Harissa, and allow to cook out for a few minutes, before adding the peeled and sliced carrots, the diced celeriac, and olives, then add enough boiling water to barely cover.

Hold back the meat for now. It’s already partially cooked so won’t need long.

Add all the stock items marked ** plus the Kallo cube dissolved in a little hot water, and the oregano, and stir well. Bring to the boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer.

After 45 minutes (or when the carrots are starting to soften), add the peppers and the meat. Add more boiling water as needed

Once the peppers are soft and the meat is tender, put in the chick peas, stir in gently so you don’t break up the meat and leave to heat through for 15 minutes.

NB: You could get 3 cans in, but it would be a squeeze. I think 2 is OK.

Remove from the heat, allow to cool and, when cold, stash in the fridge until the following day. All soups, stews, and casseroles benefit from a period of rest in the cold and dark.

Next day, reheat gently, check the seasoning and assess whether or not the stock needs a boost – mine didn’t, and the seasoning was fine.

Serve as a meal in a bowl, accompanied by good rustic bread and a bottle of beer.

This gets 4 spoons as the surgery on the meat could be tedious for some. If you’re OK with that, call it 3 spoons.

spoonie spoon spoonie spoon spoonie spoon spoonie spoon

For those unfamiliar with it, spoons are my system of rating recipes according to how hard they’d be for someone who is disabled, like me (Spoonies). Fewer is better. It goes from 1 spoon – no problems at all, to 6 – get someone else to do it!

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5 thoughts on “Organic Lamb Casserole – a Recipe with a Middle Eastern Vibe…

    • Sounds about right!

      The Harissa is a bit hot for my tastes, so I’ll make my own for future use, but the lamb comes through strongly. And as I discovered at Christmas, fruit goes surprisingly well with meat.

  1. Sounds yummy but I’d have to leave out anything to spicy or hot as my tummy can’t take it. I’d be able to adjust easily to my own taste, but the recipe is there for me to use.

    • Maybe use rosemary instead – it goes well with lamb. And the dried cherries I used in the game pie would add flavour, too. Lamb is a strong flavour so it could easily take more fruit.

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