Last night it rained, which cooled everything down, and, wouldn’t you know it; after begging for rain for my garden, I complained about feeling a little chilly! We humans are so affected by the weather, and consequently, so is our food. I decided to make something wintery with my hoard of summer produce. Last night’s dinner, I am proud to announce was made with all local veggies! The eggplant, tomatoes and carrots came from Good Work Farm, the garlic from Rambler Farm, and the oregano from my humble patch of dirt! I would like to tell you that if you attempt to make this from vegetables you buy from an aisle in your supermarket, it will taste just as good, but, I would be telling a fat lie. I get excited about giving these recipes because I think you will swoon with every bit like I do. But, if you buy dull, tasteless tomatoes for example, you may not swoon.
It is impossible to eat fresh produce all year round in certain parts of the world (like where I live) and compromises have to be made during these lean times. But, when there is an opportunity to buy fresh locally grown foods, you should make the effort to seek these places out, and buy your week’s supply of vegetables. I have never found the vegetables sold at stands in Farmer’s Markets or stalls on country roads to be more expensive than the regular shops. They make a world of difference to the taste of my food, and yes, there is a satisfaction that comes from supporting local growers. I am not as steadfast as I could be, and do buy foods without thinking about their source, but I am trying to get better. I can say that my gardening skills are a little above “less than zero’ and even I manage to produce great herbs and some grand-looking vegetables in the growing season. My theory is that it is hard to go wrong when you have dirt and a decent looking plant!
The wintery element of this dish was the lamb (from Australia, oops!), and using a slow-cooked method. I would usually cook something like this in the oven, but I didn’t want to heat up the kitchen and so cooked it at a low simmer on the stove-top instead.
The eggplant, tomatoes and oregano gave it a little Italian feel and turned the liquid into a syrupy sweetness. On a funny note, I asked my man Dave to snip some oregano for my dish and he came in asking “is this good?” with enough to make 10 such dinners! So, you might find oregano included in the next few dishes to use it up!
You will need: 3 lbs stewing lamb (any part of the lamb is good, for this stew make sure it is boneless), 4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, sliced, 3 tomatoes, cut into big chunks ( when in season use fresh, otherwise use 4 good quality plum tomatoes from a can), 2 carrots, sliced, 5 sprigs fresh oregano, left whole, 2 tbs all-purpose flour, 2 Asian eggplants, sliced into 3/4 ” pieces, (the skinny eggplants), 2 cups chicken broth, 1 cup water, (more if needed), coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper.
1 – After you have sliced the eggplant, lay on a plate in a single layer and sprinkle with coarse salt. Set aside. The salt will remove any bitterness from your eggplant. After about a 1/2 hour remove the eggplant to paper towels to drain and dry.
2 – Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Put heavy casserole pot on high heat and after 2 minutes add 2 tbs of oil. When it is hot, sear the meat in batches until browned, (about 2 minutes per side should do it). As you cook the meat transfer to a plate (or lid of the pot, as I did!) and continue to add a little more oil as you need it, and cook until all lamb is browned nicely.
3 – Turn heat down to medium, adding a little oil if you need to, and toss in the carrots and eggplant. Cook for several minutes, stirring frequently, before adding the garlic, tomatoes and oregano sprigs. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir gently into the vegetables.
4 – Add 1 cup of broth to the pan and stir until the flour is incorporated. Add lamb and the rest of the liquids and bring everything to a gentle simmer. Place heavy lid on pot (if your lid is not a tight fit, put some tin-foil on pot first, and press tightly to edge. Then, put lid on top of this), and turn down to lowest heat. Simmer very gently for 1 1/2 hours.
* If you are going to serve this with rice, put it on to cook about a 1/2 hour before stew is done (for 6 people, use 2 1/2 cups of rice for stove-top method and 3 cups using rice-cooker measure if using a rice-cooker)
5 – Remove lid and stir. Make sure to taste for addition of salt and pepper. If it is too thick for your taste, add a little more water until it is the consistency you like. Cover and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.
*This dish can be made the day before or hours earlier in the day and reheated at lowest setting on stove-top.
Serve as is, or with rice, boiled potatoes or fresh crusty bread.