Tabbouleh is the perfect summer farmers market dish – fresh herbs and vegetables tossed with fine grains for a fresh, cool salad. But has always been underwhelming to me. Too bland, too dry, I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to love it, but never had.
Until a conversation at a party about family recipes. A lovely woman from Mississippi was telling me about some of her family’s traditional Lebanese dishes, filtered through generations in the Missisippi Delta. She mentioned in passing that her family always soak the bulgur in lemon juice. That idea stuck with me as a way to pep up the dish. And it does. This version of tabbouleh is bright with lemon juice, really tart and unique. I love lots of fresh herbs, but have added a few spices for a little flair. So now I like tabbouleh – my way. I make this for parties and cook outs, but also just to keep a bowl in the fridge for quick lunches and snacks.
But here’s the thing about tabbouleh. This is my blueprint, lifted from someone else’s recipe. You can do what you want. More tomatoes or cucumbers, no garlic, a little chopped hot pepper. What you find at your market or in the garden. I do offer some hints. I like to give my knife and board a workout and finely chop all the ingredients, so each bite has a good mix of flavors, rather than a big chunk of tomato or cucumber or a big parsley leaf. With all the lemony tang, I’ve never really thought this needed salt, but do as you will.
Summer Market Tabbouleh
½ cup fine bulgur wheat
¼ cup lemon juice
2 plum tomatoes
1 cucumber, seed scooped out
1 green onions, white and light green parts
1 small garlic clove
½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon sumac
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon coriander
Place the bulgur in a bowl. Then mix the lemon juice and ¾ cup water in a pan and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid over the bulgur and give it a good stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes.
While the bulgur is soaking, finely chop the tomato, cucumber, green onions and place in a large bowl. Pass the garlic clove through a press into the bowl, or chop it to a fine paste on a board and add it. Finely chop the herbs and add to the bowl. Add the olive oil, sumac, cinnamon and coriander to the bowl and stir well to blend everything. Set aside.
When the fifteen minutes have passed, uncover the bulgur and fluff with a fork. If there is any liquid in the bowl or the bulgur seems wet, place it on a fine sieve and press out any liquid. Return to the bowl and fluff with the fork. Leave the bulgur to cool for about 5 minutes.
Scrape the bulgur into the tomato cucumber mix and use a fork to mix everything together, breaking up any clumps in the bulgur and scraping the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld.
Serves 4 as a side dish, easily doubles.
I love squash blossoms, as I have said before. So imagine my delight on my recent trip to Tepotzlan in the central mountains of Mexico, to find squash blossoms used in a huge variety of dishes. I had freshly made quesadillas with Oaxaca cheese for breakfast each morning, and stalls in the market offered sautéed squash blossoms as an add-in for tacos. The restaurant at the hotel offered them in more nuanced dishes. But perhaps the best use of squash blossoms I have ever experienced was hand made incorporated into hand made tamales at Cocinar Mexicano cooking school. I could never duplicate that experience, so I guess I’ll have to go back someday.
But the quesadillas I could copy. I wanted to zazz them up a little, so I came up with a simple squash salsa. After all, where there are blossoms there are squash. For me, this is all about the blossoms, so I don’t want to mask their flavor too much. Many of the taco vendors in Tepotzlan, and many of the recipes I’ve read at home include poblano peppers, but I’ve left that out so the blossoms sing. I only use a small amount of jalapeno in the salsa for the same reason; the squash should really shine through. That’s also why I use mild flour or white corn tortillas.
Oaxaca cheese is a mild, stringy melting cheese that I find easily at an ethnic market and frequently at my regular grocery. If you can’t find it, shredded mozzarella is a decent substitute. This recipe makes 5 quesadillas and enough salsa to accompany them. It’s an odd number, I know, but it is hard around these parts to get squash blossoms in bulk, and 2 dozen is about all I can wrangle from my grower at a time (he doesn’t want me to corner the market). If you can get your hands on more, please feel free to double the recipe. Cut in half, these quesadillas make ten lovely little nibbles with a cold Mexican beer. The squash salsa is also good with corn chips, or over a grilled fish.
Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Summer Squash Salsa
For the salsa:
½ cup diced onion
1 cup finely diced summer squash, divided (about 1 large squash)
1 plum tomato
1-inch piece of jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
2 Tablespoons cilantro leaves
1 clove garlic
2 squash blossoms
Juice of half a lime
For the quesadillas:
20 squash blossoms
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ cup diced onion
4 ounces Oaxaca cheese, shredded into strings, or mozzarella
5 small flour or white corn tortillas
For the salsa:
Place the onion, ½ cup of the squash, the tomato, pepper, cilantro, lime juice, garlic and squash blossoms in a blender and blend until you have a chunky puree.
Pour the oil into a large skillet and add the remaining diced squash. Sauté over medium high heat for about 3 minutes, until the squash is slightly softened. Add the puree from the blender and cook for a further 3 -5 minutes, until the salsa is thickened and any excess liquid has evaporated. Salt to taste Set aside to cool.
For the quesadillas:
Pull any hard stems and spike leaves off the blossoms and pull the stamen out of the center. Shred the blossoms into narrow strands, using your fingers or scissors. Pour the olive oil into a skillet and ad the onions. Sauté over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but do not brown, about 8 minutes. Reserve a handful of the shredded squash blossoms, and then add the rest to the onions in the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the blossoms are soft and wilted. Take the filling off the heat.
Lay the tortillas on the counter (if you use white corn tortillas, wrap them in a wet paper towel and zap them in the microwave for 15 seconds to soften). Layer about an ounce of cheese and a good dollop of the squash blossom filling over on each. Sprinkle a few of the remaining strands of squash blossom over each, then fold in half.
Heat a skillet to high heat and cook the quesadillas two at a time until the cheese is melted and each side is golden brown.
Serve immediately with the squash salsa.
Makes 5 quesadillas
Panzanella a genius example of creative leftover usage. It’s a classic Tuscan salad of stale bread and over-ripe tomatoes, tossed with basil and moistened with olive oil and vinegar. But the beautiful colors and bright fresh flavors make it elegantly simple, the kind of food you imagine yourself throwing together if you lived in a stone house in the Italian hills.
This is my riff on a panzanella, perfect for a quick summer supper. It was born of leftovers too. Bits of the delicious bread bought at the farmers that I didn’t eat immediately, those last few baby tomatoes, a handful of basil from my patch. The creamy mozzarella takes it close to a classic caprese salad, and adds that nice gooey richness that makes it a meal. It takes minutes to prepare but makes a delicious, elegant dish. A nice drizzle of quality olive oil is the perfect finishing touch – you could even drizzle a little extra balsamic on if you fancy. I think the simple version highlights the bursting tomatoes and fresh herbs, but feel free to add some garlic or diced onion.
8 ounces soft Italian bread
6 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
1 8-ounce ball mozzarella cheese
7 – 8 large basil leaves
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and 8 by 8 inch square baking dish. Cut or tear the bread into bite size chinks and scatter in the baking dish. Nestle the tomatoes between the cubes, spreading them out as much as possible. Cut the mozzarella into pieces, roughly the size of the tomatoes, and nestle them around the dish too. Tear the basil into pieces, or nicely cut it into ribbons and tuck them around the whole affair as well.
Measure the milk in a 2 cup jug, then add the eggs. Beat well, add the balsamic vinegar, salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Beat until it is all thoroughly combined. Pour the milk mixture over the bread, doing your best to distribute it evenly. Press down on the bread cubes with a knife or a spatula just to get them moist.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 15 minutes more, until the top is golden brown, the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are beginning to burst.
Serve hot, drizzled with olive oil.
As the weather really starts to heat up, a cool summer supper salad is a great thing to have in the fridge. Chicken salad is perfect picnic or party food, great for a weekend at the lake or lunch by the pool. I love a good chicken salad and make many different versions depending on the occasion and the mood. I like chunky chicken, crunch, texture and color – something interesting and intriguing, so this recipe has become a favorite.
This savory – sweet recipe is unique and distinctive and will spice up your regular summer menu. It’s lighter and healthier with Greek yogurt, which still adds richness and tang and the fresh herbs give it zing and brightness. Traditional Moroccan spices are what set this iteration apart, and the herbs, apricots and carrots make this a colorful addition to any summer table.
Moroccan Chicken Salad
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
6 dried apricots, finely chopped
¼ cup shredded carrots
Preheat the oven to 350°. Squeeze half of one lemon into a baking dish that just fits the chicken. Lay the chicken on top, and squeeze the other half of the juice over it. Tuck the spent lemon halves in between the chicken. Slice the other lemon into thin slices and lay over the chicken breasts. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake until the chicken is cooked through, with an internal temperature of 165°, about 30 minutes. Uncover the dish and leave the chicken in the liquid until cool. Chop the chicken into small, bite size cubes.
Mix the yogurt and spices together in a large bowl. Stir in the mint and parsley until thoroughly combined. Add the chicken, almonds, apricots and carrots and gently fold everything together until the yogurt evenly coats all the chicken and the ingredients are evenly distributed. Refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to meld. The chicken salad will keep covered in the fridge for two days.
A few years ago, a group of girls and I decided we needed to celebrate a landmark birthday with landmark trip. None of us were particularly concerned about the number, but it seemed like an excuse people accept for special activities. Between the four of use, we are pretty well traveled and we thought we should find some place none of us had ever been. So we landed in Lisbon.
I, of course, researched Portuguese food before we left, made restaurant reservations and marked on maps the important food destinations we had to hit. And Lisbon, and Portugal as a whole, is known for is lovely pastries. We made a pilgrimage to sample the famous pasteis de Belem, eggy custard tarts, and ate our fill, taking little paper cylinders back to the hotel for late night consumption. And on our day drip to the lovely town of Sintra, we made a stop at a pastry shop to sample the town’s signature pastry, quiejadas, a light, cheesy version of a custard tart.
When I came home, I set out to recreate the many specialties we sampled, including the pastries. My success rate has not been great. I am not much of a pastry chef, and making the delicate, flaky pastry that encases the pasteis is above my skill level. I experimented with some queijadas recipes, but got caught up by the pastry again, and could never duplicate the light, cheese taste of the originals. But in my research, I came across two kinds of recipes for queijadas – some with cheese and some without. I think the non-cheese variety may originate in a part of Portugal we did not visit, or even Brazil.
So this is my synthesis of the recipes I found. I have not called them quiejadas so as not to offend any traditionalists, though they taste remarkably like the little tarts we ate on the train from Sintra back to Lisbon. Chewy on the outside, custardy in the middle, these could not be a simpler dessert to make. I love them plain, but they do lend themselves to a little spoonful of sugared berries or a drizzle of dulce de leche, or a nice dose of Strawberry Caramel Sauce.
Portuguese Custard Tarts
3 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cups flour
Preheat the oven to 325°.
Put the butter, eggs and sugar in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Add 1 cup of the milk and blend, then add the flour and the remaining milk and vanilla. Blend until smooth.
Spray 18 muffin cups with cooking spray. Spray them really thoroughly right before you pour the batter in. Pour the batter into the cups, filling them ¾ full. Bake the tarts for 40 – 45 minutes until firm and golden in the center. Do not bake less than 40 minutes. If using two muffin trays, swap them from the top shelf to the bottom after 30 minutes of cooking.
Cool the tarts in the tins, then use a plastic knife to loosen the tarts and remove them carefully from the muffin cups. (A plastic knife won’t scratch the surface of the tin). These want to stick, but be patient and gentle and ease them out.
The tarts keep remarkably well for several days in an airtight container.
I used a nifty little fluted muffin tin I happen to have which adds a pretty touch, but plain tins work beautifully.
One of the great joys of my life in food is meeting other food writers in amazing places. This winter, I had the great pleasure of spending an amazing week at a writing workshop in Tepotzlan, Mexico at Cocinar Mexicano. Iconic food writer Betty Fussell lead a spectacular group of women through the birth of some great writing projects. Tepotzlan is nestled in the mountains of central Mexico and the stunning scenery lends a magical air. And it is the loudest place I have ever visited. I was there for the festival of the Three Kings, which went on for days, but there were several other festivals that week as well. Locals assured us that with the different barrio festivals, saints’ days and general holidays, there is pretty much a festival every week of the year. The sounds of bands playing in processions, cars honking in celebration, dogs barking with excitement, church bells pealing and intermittent bursts of fireworks makes the town a cacophonous but joyous place. The experience inspired me and opened my mind and really got my creative juices flowing.
Adding to the wall-to-wall inspiration was some of the best food I’ve had the pleasure to eat. The central market is bursting with chilies of every type, fresh and dried, and more varieties of corn than I can begin to list. Stallholders make and sell fresh tortillas made to order from that corn, filled with all manner of delicious things. I ate squash blossoms every day, sampled several delicious mole sauces, experienced huitlachoce, a rich, mushroomy corn fungus, in all manner of dishes and even crunched on some fried crickets. I learned to make tamales and tortillas myself, and reveled in devouring the results.
But I knew pozole was the dish I would try to re-create at home. I had a number of versions of this classic Mexican hominy soup, at the cooking school, the lovely hotel and in the market. Some were red with chiles, others were so rustic, the bones were still in the bowl. I had it with pork, chicken and a combination of the two. The prettiest and freshest version was served by the wonderful cooks at Cocinar Mexicano, a simple, rich, flavorful broth with tender meat and hominy , served with a beautiful array of toppings. And this dish is all about the toppings. Bright and colorful with different textures, they elevate this soup. This is interactive eating at its best. I had never had radishes as a soup garnish, but I am a convert and I promise the slight peppery crunch adds a wonderful touch.
Posole (Mexican Chicken and Hominy Soup)
When I make stock and want to include the meat in the finished dish, I use chicken pieces instead of a whole bird because you end up with more meat. You’ll have some leftover, which is never a bad thing.
3 bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
3 ounces salt pork
1 large white onion, cut in half
3 celery sticks, cut in half
2 carrots, cut in half
1 jalapeno pepper
1 red pepper, like Fresno
1 head garlic, cloves separated
7 – 8 stems cilantro
2 limes, cut in half
1 (30-ounce) can white hominy
Finely diced radishes
Finely diced red onion (I soak the diced onions in water about 30 minutes to take away the bite)
Crumbled queso fresco cheese
Crispy fried tortilla strips or crushed chips
Place the chicken pieces, pork and vegetables, cilantro and lime in a large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven or stock pot. Add 12 cups of water. Bring almost to a boil over high heat, turn down to low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 – 6 hours, until you have a nice, rich stock.
Line a large colander with cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl. Remove the chicken pieces to another bowl or plate, then carefully strain the stock through the colander. Let the stock cool, then skim the fat from the top. I always refrigerate the stock, then simply remove the solidified fat from the top of the liquid.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones, removing any fat or gristle as you go. Shred the chicken into thick strands.
You can make the stock up to two days ahead. Place the chicken meat in a ziptop bag, cover the stock and keep in the fridge.
When ready to serve, transfer the stock to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Rinse the hominy thoroughly and drain. Add to the simmering stock, cover and cook for 30 minutes until the hominy is tender. Add about 4 cups of shredded chicken and simmer until heated through.
Spoon the soup into large bowls, making sure there is plenty of hominy and chicken in each bowl.
Serve with the beautiful array of toppings for everyone to add as they please.
The first spring weekend of farmers market season is exciting. I am ready for all that fresh produce with a new treat arriving each week and little surprises on every visit. I know that I am closer to juicy strawberries, my first tomato in months, bright, sweet corn and so many things. I know it is all about to start. But in reality, that first Saturday is a little sparse. The greens lingering from winter, a few spring flowers, but not the spectacular array soon to come. S on the first market day this year, I came away mostly with baked goods and a restock on pastured meat. Not a huge haul, but still a fun trip.
As I unpacked my oilcloth market bag at home, I took stock of my purchases and realized I had leeks, bacon, eggs and goat cheese. Flamiche! In the fridge I had some local milk and cream, and with a quickly made piecrust, I was ready for a very elegant, locally sourced spring lunch.
This quiche-like tart is a traditional Belgian dish, with the old-world flavors of smoky bacon, salty goat cheese and jammy leeks. When I buy leeks fresh from the farmer, there are sometimes a few very thin pencil leeks in the bunch. I like to press them into the top of the filling before baking, because it is such a lovely presentation. You can slice right through them or pull them off before serving. I like the look of my square tart pan, but round is beautiful too.
Belgian Leek, Goat Cheese and Bacon Tart
If you buy your leeks from a farmers market and they are thinner than grocery store varieties, you will need more.
1 pie crust for a 9-inch pie
2 large leeks or 3 medium (4 cups sliced), white and pale green parts only
¼ cup butter
½ cup water
8 strips of bacon
5 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Fit the prepared crust into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Slice the white and pale green part of the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice each half into thin half circles. Place the leeks in a large bowl of cold water and swirl around with your hands, shuffling to separate the layers of leek. Leave for a few minutes to let any dirt settle to the bottom of a bowl. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Scoop the leeks out of the water and shake to drain somewhat (do not pour the leeks and water into a strainer, the dirt will just fall back on the leeks) then add to the melted butter. Stir to coat and then stir in the ½ cup water. Cook for a few minutes, until the leeks begin to reduce in bulk, then cover, lower the heat to low and cook for 20- 25 minutes until the leeks are soft and semi-translucent. Stir occasionally during cooking and add a drop or two more water as needed. Do not let the leeks brown. When the leeks are soft and pale, uncover and cook a few minutes more until any liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool. (The leeks can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered, until ready to use).
While the leeks are cooling, cook the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the cooled leeks evenly over the bottom of the prepared tart crust, smoothing the top. Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle over the top of the leeks. Chop the bacon into small pieces and sprinkle in the tart. In a small bowl or 4 cup measuring jug, whisk together the milk, cream, whole egg, yolk and pepper. Pour this custard over the filling in the tart. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden brown.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
It is that time. My stock of frozen sauce made from summer’s freshest tomatoes is dwindling, and I am hoarding those last little bags. Hey, I do like a sauce made from quality canned tomatoes as well (my standard Bolognese uses them), but after a steady diet of the fresh stuff, it’s heard to switch over. That’s where this comes in. A bridge Bolognese if you like, between the deep cold of the winter and the tomatoes of summer. This sauce is hearty and warming, but somehow brighter than a rich, deep red Bolognese.
And this recipe represents what I think home cooking is all about. Blending and creating and combining until you find the taste that suits you. I first saw white Bolognese on a menu at an Italian restaurant, but I couldn’t picture what that meant, so I didn’t order it. But a friend at the table did, and ate every bite. That made me curious. So I researched and read a lot of recipes and figured out this version that features the flavors I like. The combination of veal and fennel-laced Italian sausage, mild leeks and the punch of fresh fennel. White wine instead of red gives the characteristic zing. I shy away from traditional Bolognese ingredients; this doesn’t need onion or garlic or carrots, basil or oregano. This is not some kind of substitute for red sauce, but a creation all to itself. What this lacks in looks, it more than makes up for with punchy, bright flavors.
White Bolognese Sauce
1 pound ground veal (or pork)
1 pound Italian sausage meat
1 medium fennel bulb
2 stalks celery
1 leek, white and light green part only
¼ cup olive oil
1 bottle (750-ml) dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
6 large fresh sage leaves
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
1 cup milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup heavy cream
Crumble the veal and sausage meat into a large Dutch oven and cook over medium high heat until cooked through, but not deep brown. Break up the pieces into small bits as you cook. Pour the meat into a colander and drain off the fat and juices. Wipe any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
While the meat is cooking, cut the vegetables. Cut stalks of the fennel and set aside, then cut the fennel bulb in half and cut out the hard core. Dice into very small pieces. String the celery and cut into very small pieces. Cut the leeks into quarters, rinse thoroughly and cut into small pieces. The key here is that no bite is overwhelmed with a huge piece of any one flavor.
Put the oil into the pan, add the vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft and wilted and translucent. Add 1 cup of the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is evaporated. Put the meat back in the pot with the vegetables and stir to combine. Add the remaining wine and cook until it has all evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Finely chop the sage leaves and a small handful of the feathery fronds from the fennel. Add the chicken broth, sage and fennel fronds to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken broth has evaporated, a good 20 minutes. Give it a good stir a few times. When the broth is almost all gone, stir in the fennel seeds.
When the broth is evaporated, stir in 1 cup of milk and the nutmeg and bring to a nice bubble. Cook until the milk has reduced slightly and just coats the meat.
The sauce can be made several hours ahead and kept covered in the fridge. Reheat gently over medium-low heat.
Before serving (after keeping or if serving immediately), stir in the heavy cream until heated through. Spoon over pasta.
I doubt this a traditional Irish dish at all, but when I was whipping up a pot of Irish Stew, I wanted a nice, cheese-y accompaniment. Welsh Rarebit is the great British snack of a beer-laced cheese sauce on crusty bread, so I figured I give it a go with Guinness. These are perfect with the stew, but also make a nice treat on their own as a snack, or a light lunch or supper beside a big salad. And they’d be pretty good with Corned Beef and Cabbage Cooked in Beer.
½ cup Guinness or other stout beer
2 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
14 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (preferably Irish), grated
8 slices crusty white bread
flaky sea salt, like Maldon
Pour the Guinness into your measuring jug and let the foam settle. You want ½ cup minus the foam.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the flour until you have a smooth paste and it is pale in color. Whisk in the milk and Guinness and stir until thick, smooth and creamy. Stir in the mustard powder and Worcestershire. Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring to melt completely after each addition. When all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, set it aside to cool down and firm up a little.
Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Slice the bread into thick slices. Use a spoon to spread a thick layer of cheese sauce on each slice. Sprinkle the tops with salt and place on the baking sheet. Broil the rarebits until the cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, about 6 minutes. Watch very carefully.
Let the rarebits sit a few minutes, then slice each piece in half and serve.
Like many traditional dishes of the British Isles, my first taste of Irish Stew was in the dining hall of my college at Oxford. And it wasn’t a particularly good experience. Tough meat, watery broth, soggy vegetables. But I never gave up on the notion; I just think I liked this dish in theory more than in concept. But a warming, hearty lamb and vegetable stew is just a plain good idea, so I stuck with it.
I have read many Irish Stew recipes over the years and they are all pretty simple and plain, which I think is a hallmark of Irish cuisine. And I’ve made many versions too, but I always felt they needed a little oomph. So I’ve added some bacon for smoky saltiness and browned the meat for extra richness. Some of the impetus for sticking to the dish is that I now find beautiful pasture-raised, local lamb, and good meat makes all the difference. I love the contrast of peppery parsnips and sweet carrots and of course, no Irish Stew would be complete without potatoes.
If you don’t find ready to use stew meat, ask the butcher counter to cube lamb shoulder or leg for you.
3 pounds lamb stew meat, in 2-inch cubes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound bacon
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 cups beef broth
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 yellow potatoes
chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Pat the lamb cubes dry with paper towels. Mix the flour, salt and pepper together in a large ziptop bag, then drop in the lamb and shake it around to coat each cube with flour.
Cut the bacon into small pieces and place in a large (5-quart) Dutch oven. Cook over medium high heat until the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain using a slotted spoon. Let the bacon grease cool a bit, then very carefully pour it into a glass measuring jug. Carefully wipe out the pot, cleaning out any burned bits.
Return the pot to the stove and heat ¼ cup of the bacon grease. Remove the lamb cubes from the bag, shaking off any excess flour and cook them in the bacon grease until browned on all sides. You will need to do this in batches, removing the browned pieces to a plate. If needed, add a little more bacon grease to the pot and heat it up between batches.
When all the lamb is browned and removed from the pot, add 2 more Tablespoons of bacon grease and the chopped onions and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. When the onions are soft, add ¼ cup of water and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a further 2 minutes. Return the lamb and about ¾ of the cooked bacon to pot. Pour in the beef broth, add the bay leaves and thyme and bring to a boil. Stir the stew well, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook for 1 ½ hours.
Peel the parsnips and carrots and cut into bite-sized chunks. Add to the simmering stew. Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel, and cut into nice chunks. Add these to the stew as well, give it all a good stir, cover the pot and cook for a further 30 - 40 minutes or until the potatoes, carrots and parsnips are tender.
At this point, the stew can be made up to a day ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated. Reheat over medium just until warmed through. Fish out the bay leaves and thyme stems before serving.
Serve in big bowls, topped with the remaining bacon pieces and a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.