Braised Lamb with Cardamom and Curry
What is it about January that makes thick, rich stews so welcoming and comforting (necessary, even)? December’s cold, too, in this Midwestern neck o’ the woods — for that matter, so is March — but when the year turns anew, SoupAddict finds she must rely heavily on soups and stews (and seed catalogs) to get her very soul through this dreary month.
So a serendipitous thumbing-through of a cookbook solved the question of what’s-fer-dinner. This Dorie Greenspan recipe was love at first sight: Lamb with apples and smoky black cardamom and warm, spicy curry and fresh, brisk mint was just the thing needed to lift the spirits and senses on a cold January afternoon.
What sets this stew apart from others is the complex combination of flavors, including apples, figs and mint. Fabulous.
Use your favorite curry spices. SoupAddict uses hot madras curry and yellow curry. And don’t forget the black cardamom. Gorgeous, wondrous black cardamon.
Can you sub green cardamom for black?
No, not with the same result. Green and black cardamom are only cousins, despite the name they share (misinformed sites on the interwebs might claim that green pods are just young black pods, but that is absolutely not the case.). Green cardamom is used as a sweet spice, commonly in baked goods, while black cardamom is a warm spice used frequently in Sichuan, Indian, Pakistani and Vietnamese cuisines.
And crazy-delicious French-inspired lamb stews.
Garlic plants propogate via their cloves: the goal of each clove is to send up a shoot, which, upon achieving leafy plant stage, will nourish the clove, eventually producing an entire bulb of garlic from that single clove. This germ is the start of the shoot.
Most garlic that you will find in grocery stores will not have this pronounced of a germ. This specimen is from one of SoupAddict’s own homegrown garlic bulbs. Slice the clove in half vertically (i.e., through the root), at the heart you will see at least a hint of green. This is what you’ll remove. Unless the germ is very, very small, you’ll be able to remove it with your fingernail, thereby preserving as much of yummy garlic as possible.
Tsk tsk tsk … I heard you go “ew.” Cooking is a hands-on sport, people, and you should not be afraid to handle garlic. Unless you have a hot, imminent date with a European gentleman who kisses your fingertips, use your hands.
In case you were wondering, SoupAddict does not usually remove the germ from the garlic, unless it’s very pronounced, as in the photo above. But you can never go wrong following the instructions of Dorie Greenspan. That’s SoupAddict’s philosophy.
Braised Lamb with Cardamom and Curry
Adapted with minimal changes from Around My French Table
1 small bunch mint (about 6 sprigs)
About 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2½ tablespoons curry powder (SoupAddict used a combo of madras and yellow curry)
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
4 crushed cardamom pods (optional)
2 pounds boneless lamb leg or shoulder, fat removed, cut into 1-inch cubes and patted dry
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup water
2 teaspoons honey (optional)
3 dried figs, sliced (optional)
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
2 tart-sweet apples, such as Gala or Honeycrisp, peeled, cored and diced
Preliminaries: Tie the mint stems in a bundle with kitchen twine. Pull off the mint leaves (reserve the stems) and chop the leaves.
Put a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-low heat and pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil. When it’s hot, stir in the onions, garlic, curry, cardamom powder and optional pods. Heat, stirring, just until the onions are translucent and soft, about 10 minutes.
Toss in the lamb, turn the heat up a little, and cooking, turning often, until the meat colors. (If the mixture looks a little dry or if the meat is sticking to the pot, add a drizzle more olive oil.) Season with salt and pepper, then pour in the water, toss in the mint bundle, and stir in half of the chopped mint, and, if you’re using them, the honey and figs. Scatter the parsnips and apples over the meat, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, put a piece of aluminum foil over the casserole, and cover it with the lid. Braise for 1 hour and 15 to 30 minutes, or until the meat and potatoes are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of knife. Check at the one-hour to see if it needs more liquid: ideally, the stew will not be watery at all, but will still have a bit of a thick sauce.
Taste the juice and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Sprinkle over the remaining chopped mint.