RECIPE: A quick spiced lamb stew to signal the changing seasons

Quick Spiced Lamb Stew, shown here with couscous. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Quick Spiced Lamb Stew, shown here with couscous. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

I like to cook dishes like this lamb stew, which is very loosely inspired by Moroccan flavors, when it feels like spring in the afternoons but there’s still a chill in the morning air. The earthy blend of flavors in ras el hanout — cumin, ginger, pepper, cinnamon and more — complement quick-cooking ground lamb, while tangy dried apricots and fresh herbs offset the deep savory notes of the meat and spices, lightening the dish and hinting at the changing seasons.

This recipe uses a ground meat technique I’ve used before: Spread the meat in a thin layer in the bottom of a hot Dutch oven and cook it undisturbed until browned on the bottom. Searing ground meat this way prevents it from immediately releasing and simmering in its juices, which would impede umami-building browning. You’ll know it’s thoroughly browned and ready to stir when you see red liquid begin to pool on top of the meat. At this point, add seasoning and break up the meat into small pieces to finish cooking.

To transform the browned, spiced lamb into stew, add a can of chickpeas, liquid and all, plus a cup of water and a handful of chopped dried apricots. Simmer for several minutes to season the chickpeas and plump the apricots, then use a spoon to smash some of the chickpeas on the side of the pot to thicken the liquid. Either fresh mint or cilantro add that critical brightness to the dish; you can stir them into the finished stew or offer them as a garnish when serving. I like to pair the stew with quick-cooking couscous, but pita or sourdough bread would both be equally good.

Quick Spiced Lamb Stew

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