Tunisian Lamb, Eggplant and Chickpea Stew

Have I ever said how much I love the combination of eggplant with lamb?

To me, it is a match made in heaven.

The rich flavor and tender chew of the lamb goes perfectly with the velvety, melting quality and delicate scent of the eggplants, and the way in which eggplants soak up oils and fats allows it to absorb the essence of the meat, melding them together into a delicious melange. Add garlic and caramelized onions, and everything even better; add chickpeas and tomatoes and cook it all into a delicious summer stew and I am head-over-heels in love.

I found the recipe for this dish in Claudia Roden’s amazing cookbook, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

This book is a treasure trove of recipes from the Middle Eastern region, all of them well-tested and researched, with extensive notes and commentary about many of them. In addition to the recipes, Roden includes cultural notes, such as bits of folklore relating to food, or descriptions of customs and celebrations and the foods appropriate to them. I love the way she writes; her prose is expressive, poetic and precise all at the same time. She is truly a talented author, and I really must write a post reviewing her books that I have cooked from.

Anyway, this Tunisian recipe was found as a variant of the Arab dish called lahma bi betingan, which is a stew of lamb and eggplant. I focused on the Tunisian variation because it featured chickpeas in addition to the lamb and eggplant, which I thought would be an amazing combination of flavors, textures and colors. I am pleased to report that my intuition was correct, and when I made this stew for Restaurant Salaam as a dinner special a couple of weeks ago, it sold out.

The dish is simplicity itself to make, and while it is hearty, it is not so heavy that it dulls the stomach on a warm night. I think it is best made in the early autumn when the eggplant and tomatoes are still madly fecund, but when the nights have begun to cool slightly from the swelter of midsummer.

I served this with a green salad and a pita at work, but I could also see it going beautifully with a refreshing salad of cucumber, red onion, tomato, vinegar, salt and a pinch of sugar.

Traditionally, Roden notes that the eggplants were fried prior to putting them in the stew, but she prefers to cook them on the grill or under the broiler. There are several good reasons to follow her method: one–grilling or broiling use less oil than frying, so the end result is a dish which is lower in fat and calories, and which isn’t quite so heavy to eat. Two–grilling or broiling the eggplant before adding it to the stew adds a layer of smoky savor to the dish that is haunting in its character.

So, understand that while you may fry the eggplant slices for this dish and it is even traditional to do so, you may also grill or roast them for a less oily and a more smokey result.

Finally, I suspect that it would be possible, and indeed, tasty, to make a vegetarian version of this dish by leaving out the lamb and using more eggplant and tomatoes.



Tunisian Lamb, Eggplant and Chickpea Stew
Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced (about three and a half cups sliced onions)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons Aleppo or Kirmizi pepper flakes or harissa sauce to taste
1 1/2 pounds lamb shoulder, trimmed, boned and cut into 1″ cubes
2 cups fresh tomato, peeled and cubed
1 quart chicken broth
2 15 to 20 ounce cans chickpeas, drained (ounces depend on the brand, hence the variation)
juice of 1 lemon
1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
salt tot aste
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds of small eggplant fruits
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley for garnish
harissa for serving

Method:

Heat olive oil over a medium fire in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot. Add onions and cook, stirring, until the onions are a deep golden brown. Add garlic and pepper flakes or harissa sauce, and cook for one more minute.

Add meat cubes and cook stirring, until browned on all sides. Add tomatoes, chicken broth, chickpeas, lemon juice, cinnamon, bay leaf and salt to taste.

Bring to a simmer, and cook slowly, covered, until the meat is tender and the stew is well-seasoned.

While the stew cooks, peel away alternating strips of the eggplants’ skin so that there are stripes of light and dark longways on the fruit. Heat broiler or grill on high heat and cut the fruits into 1/2 inch thick slightly diagonal, oval slices.

Brush the slices with olive oil on both sides and salt and pepper each side to taste. Place on rack and broil or grill, turning once, until the slices are lightly browned and slightly softened.

Cut each slice in half and add to stew. Simmer for twenty more minutes, or until eggplant slices soften completely and meld with the stew. Add liquid as necessary to the stew during the cooking process to keep it from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pot.

If you wish to thicken the stew you may remove 1/2 cup of the chickpeas and puree them in a blender or food processor, and stir them back into the pot. (Or, if you have any hummus around, stir 1/2 cup of that into the stew to thicken it. That is my sneaky method that I started using at work.)

Stir in 1/2 of the fresh parsley into the stew just before service, and sprinkle the rest over each serving as a garnish. Serve over couscous if you wish and serve with either a dab of harissa sauce in the center of each bowl, or on the side.

5 Comments

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  1. I made a vegetarian version of this tonight, and it was super tasty — thanks for the recipe! (I’d never cooked with harissa paste before, and I was amazed how awesomely fragrant it is when it’s cooked with garlic.)

    Comment by Ineke — September 10, 2008 #

  2. I made this tonight with a few changes (subed vinegar for lemon juice, added tomato paste, subed sirracha for pepper, and halved the recipe) and it turned out great!!! Thank you so much for this delicious recipe, I will definitely make this again!

    Comment by Liz — March 8, 2009 #

  3. Liz, I am so glad you liked this recipe–it went over really well at Salaam when I made it there, and I can’t wait to make it again here at home.

    Comment by Barbara — March 8, 2009 #

  4. perhaps I missed my ”answer;; but how many servings is this glorious recipe?

    Please someone let me know :)

    Comment by Jean — August 7, 2011 #

  5. Jean–it should be between six and eight servings.

    Comment by Barbara — August 7, 2011 #

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