Culinary creations: Spring vegetable and lamb stew
“In like a lion and out like a lamb.” I feel like I hear that saying a lot this time of year. It makes me think of all the other old-fashioned weather idioms I learned growing up. Sayings like: “Pink sky at night, sailor’s delight. Pink sky at morning, sailors take warning.” And the old standby “clear moon, frost soon.” Who could forget this gem, “Dew on the grass, no rain will pass.”
I think for most people, when they are younger, they hear these examples of weather lore and think to themselves, “Wow, old people are really smart, they can tell what the weather is going to be by the color of the sky.” Nothing could really be further from the truth. While a lot of these sayings are based on factual information, they are by no means a foolproof way of predicting the weather.
I think it is pretty safe to say that even though we have self-driving cars, a drone sending live video from Mars, and we all carry uber-powerful computers around in our pockets, no one can accurately predict the weather. I have said it before and I will say it again, “I should have been a weatherman.” No matter what you may think of these sayings and their ability to predict the weather, one thing is for sure: Your guess is as good as mine — or at least as good as a groundhog’s.
Despite the unpredictability of the weather, one this is certain about the springtime: There is a plethora of fresh, local produce that can be used for almost anything.
When I think of the advent of spring and all of the wonderful things it can bring, the first thing that comes to mind is, “I hope I don’t have to deal with any more snow.” The second thing I think is, “Baseball will be back soon.”
But since my career in sports broadcasting never came to fruition, those thoughts dissipate quickly and are replaced by thoughts of nature’s springtime bounty in central Pennsylvania. Veggies like asparagus, kale, radishes, and green and yellow zucchini will be entering their prime growing time, while holdovers from winter like cabbage, beets, turnips, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are still readily available.
But what to do with all of these hearty vegetables? There are only so many salads and veggie side dishes you can eat before things can get a little dull. That’s why I like to incorporate those veggies into a dish like a stew or soup. Spring and winter vegetables are typically heartier and firmer than other vegetables, so they hold up well to big flavors and long cooking periods.
To me, one of the best things to make a stew out of is leg of lamb. It is has a good deal of flavor without too much fat, and while it takes some time for it to be tender, the longer cooking time allows for more flavor to develop, and it works really well with hearty spring and winter vegetables.
For our recipe today, we are keeping the vegetables the star while pairing them with tender leg of lamb. Lamb can be a divisive ingredient; many people I speak to about it think it’s too “gamey” for their tastes. While it is true that lamb, especially older and fatter lamb, can have a different flavor than beef, if the lamb is prepared with ingredients that complement the flavor, that won’t be an issue.
That’s why, for the stew today, we will be bringing some Indian flavors to the pot with curry powder, turmeric, garlic and ginger. These additions will help mask any “gamey” flavors that may be present in the lamb and will help to brighten the stew and let the vegetables shine. So, try this recipe at home and be thankful that March goes out like a lamb. It’s a lot easier to catch than a lion. Cheers!
SPRING VEGETABLE AND LAMB STEW
START TO FINISH: 2 HOURS
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and large diced
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cooking oil, olive or canola
1 large yellow onion, large diced
3 ribs of celery, large diced
3 large carrots, peeled and large diced
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh parsley
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dry red wine, such as Burgundy or Cabernet Sauvignon
2 quarts beef stock
2 medium beets, peeled and large diced
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and large diced
2 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 bunch of asparagus, stem removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium-high heat.
Season the flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the lamb pieces in the flour, and sear the lamb pieces in batches, removing the seared lamb and adding more until all the lamb is seared.
Once all the lamb is seared, add the onions, carrots and celery to the pot. Continue cooking until the vegetables are lightly caramelized and softened. Then add the garlic, ginger, spices and herbs. Sauté until the aromas from the herbs and spices are prevalent and the veg is properly sautéed.
Deglaze the pan with the wine and the beef stock. Bring this mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat.
Add the beets, the potatoes and the cabbage. Simmer the stew until the potatoes, cabbage and beets are tender.
Lastly, add the asparagus pieces and turn the heat to low. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Thicken the stew with a slurry of cornstarch and water if needed. Cheers!
Culinary Creations is a partnership with Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Business & Hospitality and its Le Jeune Chef restaurant, a column by Christopher R. Grove, executive chef at Le Jeune Chef. Watch for Grove’s culinary tips and advice the last Wednesday of each month in The Taste.