It feels like it's gone from early autumn straight to winter over the past week, and after packing away my short-sleeve polos for the winter and bringing out my long-sleeve henleys, I also took the dutch ovens and pressure cooker out of storage. I don't know if it just years of conditioning, or some primal instinct carried down through my genome as a means to stay warm, but when the weather cools, my body craves hearty carbs, rich proteins.
But this winter craving extends beyond just the food and into the preparation as well. Instead of being repulsed by the heat from the stove, I'm drawn to it, and the irritating clatter of a pot emitting the leaden odor of fat becomes the soothing burble of a simmering braise perfuming the air with the rich aroma of meat and spices.
This Braised Lamb with Israeli Couscous exemplifies the type of dish I crave as the mercury falls. The lamb is seasoned with sweet spices like cinnamon, allspice and cardamom before being browned and then braised until the tough lamb literally falls apart, the fibers lubricated by rich collagen.
Then, some Israeli couscous (also known as Ptitim) is toasted to a dark caramel hue before being cooked in the braising liquid from the lamb along with some sweet raisins. Finally the lamb is added back in, along with some caramelized onions, which lends its own sweetness along with bursts of Maillard reaction enhanced umami that will have you hunting for bits of onion to have with every bite.
This braised lamb and couscous not only literally warms your house, it also fills it with the intoxicating warm aromas of spices onions and meat, and ultimately, the warm contented smiles of the people eating it!
For braised lamb
For caramelized onions
- Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the garlic, cinnamon, salt, allspice, coriander, black pepper, cumin and green cardamom together and then mix in with the lamb. Let this marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
- Heat a heavy bottomed pot such as a dutch oven, and then add the marinated lamb in a single layer. Brown the lamb on one side, and then flip and brown the other side.
- Add the chicken stock and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and then cover with a lid and cook until the lamb is very tender when prodded with a fork (about 1 hour)
- While the lamb is cooking put the olive oil in a pan with a lid and add the onions. Cover with a lid and cook over medium heat until for 15 minutes, or until the onions are tender and wilted. Remove the lid and fry stirring constantly until the onions are caramelized (about another 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and set aside.
- While the lamb is cooked, transfer it to a bowl with a slotted spoon and cover with aluminum foil to keep the meat from drying out.
- Measure out the liquid. You should have 2 1/4 cups of liquid. If you have more, dump the extra out. If you have less, add water to make 2 1/4 cups.
- To make the couscous add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a clean pot and toast the couscous over medium heat until it is golden brown (about 5-7 minutes).
- Add the braising liquid from the lamb along with the raisins and cook until the broth is absorbed (about 10 minutes).
- Add the lamb and caramelized onions and stir to combine.