Spice up lamb

Spice up lamb

This is terribly macabre, but with the Year of the Goat upon us soon, it might be a good year to cook with lamb.

Just think about the zodiac animals. With the exception of rabbits, pigs and roosters, none of the others can really be eaten without causing outrage. Some people might even take exception to eating bunnies.

However, goats or their less gamey alternative, lamb, are bona fide cooking ingredients and so this year, people can order stews, soups and even siew mai featuring lamb.

Because Chinese people will not eat anything gamey, there is liberal use of herbs and spices to mitigate that.

I rather like the flavour of lamb. And these days, it does not even taste gamey at all.

But for those who might be put off, there are all sorts of spices in this week's recipe. They add oomph to the dish, but also make the flavour of the meat a little less in your face.

Shakshuka is the name of the dish and it is usually eggs baked in a spicy tomato stew. Lamb, however, is a wonderful addition.

It is said to have originated in Tunisia, but is now popular all over the Middle East. In Tel Aviv in Israel, there is even a restaurant called Dr Shakshuka, which specialises in the dish.

Lamb or lamb sausage add real heft to Shakshuka and I love mopping up the stew with hunks of crusty baguette or warm pita bread.

The spices give it depth of flavour and the chillies, a real kick.

Bird's eye chillies are the easiest way in this part of the world to add heat to food, but if you have a jar or tube of harissa in the fridge or pantry, use that. The hot chilli paste is a staple in the Middle East and works beautifully with Shakshuka.

This is an easy brunch dish that will serve a crowd. It can also be made ahead and frozen in portions, so you can have it for smaller meals.

You can even make it without lamb.

Instead, saute cubes of eggplant with cooking oil, then add the other ingredients.

Just before cracking the eggs into the stew, stir some cubes of feta cheese into it for a vegetarian Shakshuka.

Want to dispense with all these frills? The stew is still as good with just onions and bell peppers.

In any case, the part I like best about the dish is the baked eggs on top. It can be tricky to get them centred, but this is a rustic dish and it does not really matter.

It is helpful to make indentations in the stew before cracking them in.

And instead of cooking them over low heat, have the heat at medium and let the eggs bubble away. I would stop just before the yolks get fully cooked because golden ooze is so good on warm bread.

Shakshuka can also be finished in the oven. Preheat it to 180 deg C and ladle the hot stew into oven proof dishes.

Make the indentations, crack the eggs in and let cook until the whites are just set.

This method is good for making individual servings, but if making one large pan, nothing beats the ease of the stovetop.

A scattering of flat leaf parsley or chopped fresh coriander leaves is an aromatic way to finish the dish.

Then arm everybody with a spoon and lots of warm bread and attack the dish with gusto.



This article was first published on Feb 15, 2015.
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