Mar 092013
 

image eggplant stuffed with lamb

Succulent lamb on a bed of tender eggplant, generously spiced and sprinkled with pine nuts.

I served this aromatic, meaty dish with white rice on the side, just something rather plain, so as not to clash with the big, Middle Eastern flavors. With a leafy salad of mixed greens, we had a feast. And I’m thinking it would work really well on Passover week, when guests come from out of town and I’ll want to make something special.

It is a dish apart. I felt lucky to have discovered it in a new cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s  Jerusalem, A Cookbook. I hadn’t tried any of the recipes yet, just flipped through the pages, admiring the gorgeous photographs.

Then I remembered. In the fridge was lurking this enormous eggplant.

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Jun 282011
 

image-stuffed-mulberry-leaves

By this time of the year in Israel, it’s hot and dry. You need sunblock just to walk to the bus stop.  The empty lot that in spring was lush with waist-high tangles of wild greens looks empty, sandy and dour. A car driving through raises clouds of dust. The bottle of cold water in my hand becomes warm almost before I can drink it.  It doesn’t look like there’s any wild stuff out there to bring home.

But once foraging is in your blood, you’re unconsciously taking note of every living thing you walk past. Look over there – the neighbor’s passiflora vine is dripping with green egg-shaped fruit. Glimpsed behind garden walls, trees have already put forth hard little lemons and oranges. Purslane is out on the ground, a delicious salad vegetable when picked young and tender.

image-mulberry-tree

And there are the mulberry trees.  In my neighborhood, every block or so has its mulberry. Their branches were picked clean by boys and birds a few weeks ago already – and by me. I picked about 5 kilos of dark-red berries to make wine, this spring. But there’s still a harvest in the trees, one that few people know about anymore.

Mulberry leaves aren’t just for silk worms. Dried and crumbled, they make a mildly sweet medicinal tea that’s said to bring down blood sugar. And you can stuff them, like grape leaves.

A nice large handful of medium-sized leaves was enough for one kilo of spiced and seasoned ground lamb. The crisp, dark-green bundles with their juicy meat filling were about the size and length of my thumb.  We ate them hot on Shabbat. The cold leftovers were almost as delicious.

If you have a mulberry tree in your neighborhood and feel inspired to try stuffing the leaves, let the tree keep the biggest ones. They tend to be tough. Pick tender, medium-sized leaves. Very small new leaves are fine too. I think they would make great little appetizers or party fare – less filling than traditional stuffed grape leaves.

My potted plants supplied the fresh herbs for seasoning, but lacking fresh, use dried. Just not basil – there’s no flavor in dried basil. Substitute parsley.

image-stuffed mulberry-leaves

It took about half an hour to fill 35 leaves, but then I was alone. Next time I might shanghai the Little One to stuff leaves with me.

Or not.  I enjoyed filling and rolling the leaves, securing each bundle with a toothpick. It was a little fiddly at first, but I got the hang of it, and what with the radio playing hot jazz and the fan blowing cool air, the work was fun.

Against the time when the trees will have shed their leaves, I picked extra and froze them in sealed plastic bags.

This recipe is less fussy than leaves stuffed with a rice mixture and cooked in a sauce. First, though, go out and pick around 40 mulberry leaves. Rinse them of dust and check for bird droppings or insects. Dry gently. Some will rip, so I advise to pick those 5 extra, just in case.

Lamb-Stuffed Mulberry Leaves

printable version here

Yield: about 35 stuffed leaves. Enough for 4 dinner servings or 35 appetizers.

Ingredients:

1 kg. ground lamb or other firm meat

1 egg, beaten

1 medium onion, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped fine

1 teaspoon fresh oregano or za’atar, chopped fine

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1- 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

juice of 1 large lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

More sliced lemon for serving

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350° F, 190° C.

Mix all ingredients except lemon juice and olive oil. Knead the seasoned meat with your hands to mix everything very well.

Line a baking tray with parchment. Place a leaf shiny side down. Take a tablespoon of meat and roll it into a patty in your palms. Place it on the wide end of the leaf. Add a little more meat if it looks skimpy; pull some out if it looks like too much for the leaf to cover.

image-stuffed-mulberry-leaves"/

Roll it up. Don’t be concerned about the sides being open; you won’t get a perfect rectangle with the sides neatly tucked in as with stuffed vine leaves. The patty will become slightly elongated in rolling. Secure the pointed top with a toothpick.

Mix the lemon juice and olive oil in a little bowl. Drizzle it generously all over the tops of the stuffed leaves.

Bake for 15 minutes if you want them juicy. There will be a certain amount of natural drippings in the pan – pour it out when you’ve removed the stuffed leaves, and pour it over them.

If you want a crisp wrapping and somewhat drier filling (good for handing around at a party or for a snack), bake 20 minutes.

Serve with sliced lemon for squeezing over the hot or cold leaves. Rice or bulgur or couscous is nice with these savory little packages. Beer or a chilled wine too.

Ahh…summer in the Middle East.

 

Apr 252010
 

lamb osso bucco with fresh fava beans

Here’s the main dish I served at our Independence Day feast. Fork-tender and so savory – just how I like meat, on the rare occasions I eat it. And not hard to make at all. Your oven will do most of the work for you.

I liberally scattered fresh, green fava beans over the osso bucco. They were delicious, but a pain to prepare. You not only have to remove the beans from the pod, you have to make a slit in the waxy white covering of each bean and pop it out, by hand. The Little One got that job.

We ate them piled up on toasted slices of sourdough bread. Next time, I’ll use frozen favas, or just steam some green beans and serve them on the side.

You’ll need chicken stock or soup ready, and some red wine.

Lamb Osso Bucco

Serves 5

Ingredients:

1 kg. lamb slices cut off the neck, bone in – about 10 round slices

1 cup flour

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1/2 cup celery, diced

1/2  cup carrot, diced

5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 bay leaves

1 cup dry red wine

2 cups chicken soup

2 tomatoes, chopped

Method:

Preheat the oven to 300° F – 150° C.

1. Put the flour on a large platter and season it with salt and pepper. Drag each slice of lamb through the flour on both sides, coating it well.

2. Use a large skillet. Heat the olive oil a little, then brown the lamb slices on both sides. Set the browned meat aside on another platter.

lamb osso bucco, floured and frying

3. Using the same skillet and perhaps adding a touch more olive oil, cook the chopped onion, carrots and celery with the bay leaves. When the vegetables are becoming tender, add the garlic. Cook 1 minute more.

4. Raise the flame and pour the red wine into the vegetables, stirring gently to deglaze.

5. When the wine is mostly evaporated, add the meat and the tomatoes.

Now you can either finish the cooking in the skillet, if it’s oven-proof, or place the meat and vegetables in a baking dish. Either way…

6. Stir everything up, then add the chicken soup.

7. Place the skillet or baking dish in the oven. Cover it. Bake for 2 hours or until the irresistible aroma drives you to fork a piece right out the oven.

Serve right out of the skillet or piled up on a warm platter. Scatter with fava beans or not – but serve with a steamed green vegetable to foil the richness of the meat.

Sep 172009
 

When I saw fresh quarters of lamb of in the supermarket, I decided that for Rosh HaShanah, it was worth the price.  The butcher sliced off the chops and cut the shoulder and breast into thin pieces about 3 inches across. Not the way I would have liked it cut, but try to argue with a determined butcher who’s already pushing the meat through his electric slicer.

I froze the chops for grilling later and looked at the rest of the cut-up meat. Lots of little pieces with bone in them.  C0oked slowly in wine, they would make a fine, light stew. Could be worse.

My usual way with lamb is to surround it with aromatic herbs like rosemary and thyme, garlic, and dried fruit. But I have this bag of peeled chestnuts, bought with some abandoned recipe in mind. I wondered, how would lamb go with chestnuts? And what inspired cooking am I going to do today, one day before Rosh HaShana?

Sighing, I picked up Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food and looked lamb up in the index. Lo and behold – a recipe for lamb with chestnuts. I cheered up. The dish looked interesting and easy. And so is, if you have pre-peeled chestnuts.

Mrs. Roden’s recipe calls for cooking the meat in water, but I substituted dry red wine for it. I also couldn’t resist adding something fruity, so I found my jar of dried citrus peels and dropped a strip of orange peel into the stew. It was all cooked up in my tajine, and  I discovered all over again how delicious lamb  cooked with cinnamon tastes.

Lamb With Chestnuts

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 kg. – 2 lb. cubed lamb meat – 1 1/2 kg – 3 lb., if there are lots of bones.

1 large red onion

4 Tblsp. oil

salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 – 1 tsp. ground allspice – I used 4 whole allspice berries.

1 long strip of dried orange peel – or peel a fresh orange, trimming away all the pith and rind, then quarter it.

750 grams – 1 1/2 lb. chestnuts

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 Tblsp. chopped parsley

Method:

1. If the meat has a lot of fat on it, trim most of it off. Leave some on for flavor and texture, though.

2. Chop the onion and in a large pot (or tajine) sauté it in the oil.

3. When the onion is soft, add the meat and cook it till it’s browned, turning it over occasionally.

4. Add the dry spices; stir.

5. Add the orange peel or prepared fresh orange.

6. Pour the wine in and bring the whole to a simmer.

7. Cook the meat on a low flame for 2 hours or until fork-tender.

About 15 minutes before you’ll want to turn the flame off, add the chestnuts and lemon juice. Stir.

Scatter plenty of chopped parsley over the dish before serving, not only to add a fresh, herbal taste but to make the dish more attractive.

Rice or couscous are classic foils to this stew, as indeed to any.

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