Monday, December 2, 2013

Middle Eastern Lamb, Spinach & Chickpea Stew






Inspired by a memorable Persian lamb stew that I enjoyed a few weeks ago at Takht-e Tavoos, the third sibling in a quiet College Street empire of Persian restaurants run by Alireza Fakhrashrafi and Danielle Schrage, 'Dizi Sanghi' is a two part meal with the broth decanted into a soup bowl, followed by the lamb, beans and vegetable stew served in a tall stone pot, called a dizi. Coupled with my recent discovery of Lebanese grocery/deli/bakery Arz Bakery & Fine Foods, on the way back from Diana's Seafood, I was overwhelmed with the treasure chest of exotic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean produce at Arz, from their mountains of baklava, aisles of olives, multitude of mezze including tabbouleh, fattoush, hummus, falafel and kebbeh, to fresh dates still attached to the branch. The day I was there, fresh warm pita was being brought out straight from the ovens, and families who obviously knew when to arrive on a Friday afternoon, were hoovering them up as fast as the kitchen could bake them.




Lebanese born Armand Boyadjian, President of Arz Fine Foods

Pita bread warm from the oven

Mountains of homemade Baklava

Muhamarra, a tangy spread made with walnuts, oil, pomegranate molasses, 
lemon juice and Aleppo pepper powder made from sundried in Syrian chilies



Run by Lebanese born Armand Boyadjian, Arz has been around since 1989, starting first as a bakery before branching out into the grocery business. It now has a halal butcher, shawarma restaurant, cheese counter, prepared food counter and much more. It was however, the Persian 'Barbari' flatbread, cardamom tea, Lebanese olives, Lamb Kebbeh and Baladi, a soft, white Lebanese cheese, that I came away with as part of my precious culinary cache, and inspired the evenings dinner — an impromptu Middle Eastern repast.





A Middle Eastern marinade of cumin, ground coriander, cayenne, salt, pepper and vegetable oil



Common to many countries of the Middle East, lamb stew is made up of kebab cut pieces of lamb that are stewed with tomatoes. This hearty, healthy and low cal Middle Eastern Lamb Stew recipe from 'Eating Well', starts with lamb being marinated in an aromatic blend of classic Middle Eastern spices, then simmered with canned tomatoes, chicken broth and minced garlic. Finished with fresh spinach and fibre-rich chickpeas, the brothy stew is bright, full flavoured and reminiscent of the comforting Dizi Sanghi I enjoyed at Tavoos. I served the stew in the same manner, with the broth and stew prepared as a two-part meal. Topped with a crown of thick Greek yogurt sprinkled with bright red sumac, and thick slices of glossy barbari flat bread still warm from the oven, the Persian bread was perfect for scooping up every last drop of the thick broth and soft fragrant Lamb, Spinach & Chickpea Stew.



1 1/2-pounds of stewing lamb cut into 1-inch pieces

The lamb is mixed with the marinade and tossed to coat

Two chopped onions are added on top of the marinating lamb

A can of tomatoes, chicken stock and minced garlic is brought to a simmer in a large pot, to which the marinated lamb and onions are added

Covered and reduced to simmer over low heat for 3 hours, the stew has become rich and wonderfully aromatic, filling the kitchen with the most intoxicating smells

The fragrant broth is separated from the stew and served on its own as a soup before the remaining stew is presented as the second course

Persian flatbread warmed in the oven and sliced and served with the soup, 
stew and Lebanese Baladi cheese

Lebanese Baladi cheese garnished with Greek oregano and served with Lebanese black olives

Lebanese Kebbeh, torpedo-shaped fried croquettes stuffed with minced lamb

The lamb, spinach and chickpea stew is served after the soup, 

Served with Persian flatbread and thick Greek yogurt garnished with sumac, 
the stew is actually quite light but enormously flavourful

Taj al Moulokia, a birds nest shaped baklava made with noodle-like kadaif pastry, 
handmade at Arz — the finishing touch on our sumptuous Middle Eastern-inspied meal


Middle Eastern Lamb, Spinach & Chickpea Stew
Serves 6-8

1 1/2 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 medium onions, chopped
1 28-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ouce can chickpeas, rinsed
2 bunches of spinach, washed and trimmed


Garnishes:
Persian flatbread (Arz Fine Foods)
Greek yogurt sprinkled with sumac
Lebanese Baladi cheese and olives (Arz Fine Foods)
Lebanese Kibbeh (Arz Fine Foods)
Baklava (Arz Fine Foods)


Mix the oil, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the lamb to the spice mix and toss to coat well; top with chopped onions. Meanwhile, bring the tomatoes, broth and garlic to a simmer in a large pot over medium-high heat, then add the lamb and onion. Cover and cook until the lamb is very tender, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours on low heat.

Skim any visible fat from the surface of the stew. Mash 1/2 cup chickpeas with a fork in a small bowl. Stir the mashed and whole chickpeas into the stew, along with spinach. Cover and cook on high until the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately with Persian Barbari flatbread and a bowl of Greek yogurt garnished with sumac.



SOURCES
• Lamb - La Boucherie, St Lawrence Market, Toronto
• Persian & Lebanese ingredients - Arz Fine Foods, 1909 Lawrence Avenue East