Saturday, January 5, 2013

When My Man Cooks

I do most of the cooking in our household, which is fine by me, but every now and then Chris will prepare a meal. Usually it’s meat on the grill or “diner food.” You know, grilled cheese, omelets, pancakes and the like. He’s much better at making this type of food than I am, thanks to lots of practice during his single years. When we were first dating, though, I was under the impression that he enjoys cooking more than he does. Candlelit meals of halibut baked in parchment and bouillabaisse were not unusual but, to be fair, I have to admit that I led him to believe I like backpacking more than I actually do.

On December 29th, we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary. How much or how little Chris likes to cook really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We’re fortunate to share a happy, fulfilling marriage. To toast the occasion, Chris offered to make dinner: a lamb stew with Indian spices, perfect for a wintry evening.  

Just like twenty-two years ago, a snow storm had dropped more than a foot of snow the day before. Unlike in Maryland, however, where we got married (in part because we thought it made more sense in the middle of winter), Vermont is prepared for snow storms. Each town has a battalion of snow plows at the ready, including miniature plows whose sole purpose is to clear the sidewalks. 

A foot of snow in Maryland is a different story, and a few adjustments needed to be made. Fortunately nothing drastic happened, though, and a good time was had by all. 

Photo by Debbie Japzon Gillum

We were saving a special bottle of wine for the occasion—a 2001 Bordeaux that would go perfectly with the lamb. I enjoy a variety of wines, mostly red— rustic Spanish Priorat, silky Italian Montepulciano, and bold Argentine Malbec, among others. But nothing compares to a good, earthy French red. I developed an appreciation for them when I was studying in Bourgogne in college, and the exchange rate also happened to be in my favor. I had never visited the Bordeaux region, though, until recently when we were living in Paris a couple of years ago. 

We decided to spend a long weekend in Bordeaux, touring a few vineyards in the process. Because, well, why else do you go to Bordeaux?

One of the wines we brought back from France came from one of these vineyards: Chateau Lalaudey in the Moulis region of the Gironde. Chris and I don’t often have a need to use our decanter, but this wine warranted it. Elegant, complex, structured, leathery, a hint of tocacco...the wine also warranted using those sometimes over-the-top wine descriptors. After two years in our basement "wine cellar," its label had been nibbled on by a mouse or a chipmunk, but the cool, dark, damp environment of our dirt-floored basement actually provides ideal aging conditions.

We opened the wine to let it breathe while Chris worked on the stew. He had found a recipe that seemed similar to a stew he had recently eaten at a potluck, but that he hadn’t been able to track down the recipe for. With some adaptations, additions, and deletions, the recipe would come close to and taste even better in the end than what he was aiming for: a cross between an Irish stew and a typical Indian stew. The lamb came from Meetinghouse Farm, an idyllic farm just up the road in Lincoln that produces some of the best lamb I’ve ever eaten. Browning it first in a mixture of fragrant spices infused deep Indian flavor into the meat. 

I helped by chopping up and sautéing some of the vegetables—carrots, onion, garlic, and ginger. 

Yukon Gold potatoes rounded the dish out, but these are roasted before adding them to the stew just before serving. Roasting the potatoes first gives them a fuller flavor and helps them to maintain their shape better when mixed into the stew. Grated lemon zest is also key, and adds a contrasting brightness to the rich, meaty broth. You could add a sweet element, like dried currants or apricots, but we opted not to. Sliced almonds that had been slightly toasted were the finishing touch.

The stew was exceptional, as was the wine. As is the man I married.

                                                  Lamb Stew with Indian Spices

Serves 4 (we doubled this to have leftovers)

1 lb. of lamb stew meat, cut into 1½ inch cubes
5 T olive oil
½ t ground cardamom
¼ t ground turmeric
½ t ground cumin
1/8 t cayenne pepper
½ t salt
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, sliced
1 t ginger, minced
2 T tomato paste
zest from 1 lemon
2 cups chicken stock
1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks
2 T sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Toss the lamb with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the spices, and the salt until it’s well coated. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and brown well.

Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion, garlic, and carrots. Sauté the vegetables for 5 minutes and then add the ginger and continue cooking another minute. Stir in the tomato paste and lemon zest and then add the lamb back to the pan. Pour the chicken stock over the meat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender.

Around 45 minutes before the lamb is finished, preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a little salt until well coated. Spread the potatoes on a cookie sheet and roast for 20 minutes or until they’re browned and tender. Stir the potatoes into the stew.

Spoon the stew into bowls and top with toasted, sliced almonds.


  1. I am honored that you used my photo!

    1. I had forgotten that you took it. It's one of my favorite photos from our wedding!