Harissa is a hot chili paste from North Africa. You can make it from scratch, but Howie's/Alexander's can save you time and effort with Hlthpunk's Smoked Harissa in a tube. And, of course, Alexander's lamb is great. We used them to prepare our adaptation of a dish in the cookbook Sunday Suppers at Luques by Suzanne Goin with Teri Gelber. This is a wonderful restaurant style meal that can be prepared almost completely in advance (and these sorts of stews are usually better that way). It serves four but can be easily cut in half (or doubled, if you prefer).
Tunisian Lamb and Eggplant Stew with Farro, Parsley and Harissa
1 TB caraway seeds
2 TB coriander seeds
3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2--to-2-inch chunks
6 cloves garlic, smashed
3 chiles de árbol, crumbled
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onion
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible (but not a deal breaker if you only have dried)
3/4 cup San Marzano canned tomatoes, crushed
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 1/2 cups veal stock (but you could substitute beef stock)
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon allspice berries, tied in cheesecloth
2 medium eggplants
Farro with parsley and butter (recipe below)
Harissa Sauce (recipe below)
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toast the caraway seeds in a small pan for a few minutes, until the seeds release their aroma and darken slightly. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the seeds coarsely. Repeat with the coriander. Place the lamb in a large bowl with the caraway, coriander, smashed garlic, chiles, paprika, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Using your hands, toss the lamb, spices, and oil together to coat the meat well. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Take the meat out of the refrigerator 45 minutes before cooking. After 45 minutes, season it on all sides with up to 1 TB plus 2 tsp salt and lots of pepper. Reserve the garlic.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat for 3 minutes. Pour in 3 tablespoons olive oil and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot, almost smoking. Place the meat in the pan, being careful not to crowd it. (You will most likely need to do this in two batches.) Sear the meat until it's well browned and caramelized on all sides. (This step, utilizing the "Maillard Reaction" is important. The browning adds lots of flavor so don't rush it; it may take 15 to 20 minutes.) As the batches of meat are browned, remove them to a baking sheet or platter. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, bay leaves, and reserved garlic. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the crusty bits left in the pan. Cook about 5 minutes, until the onions are caramelized. Add the crushed tomatoes and lemon juice and cook 2 minutes, stirring continuously to coat the onions.
Add the stocks, cinnamon, and allspice. Bring to a boil.
Turn off the heat and add the lamb and its juices to the pot. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and a tight-fitting lid, if you have one. Braise the lamb in the oven about 3 hours. Depending on the size of your meat pieces it might even cook more quickly, so check the meat starting at about 2 hours.
To check the meat for doneness, carefully remove the lid and foil (there could be very hot steam when you open it, so be careful). Spoon a piece of meat out of the pan and press it with your thumb or a spoon. If it's done, it will yield easily and almost fall apart. If it's not super-tender, cover again and return the pot to the oven. When the meat is done, remove from the oven and turn the temperature up to 400°F. Ladle most of the braising juices into a strainer set over a saucepan, leaving an inch or two of juices in the pan with the lamb. Press down on the vegetables with the ladle to extract all the juices. Discard the cinnamon stick and allspice from the pot. Return the lamb to the oven for about 15 minutes, to caramelize it. Skim the fat from the braising juices. If you are making the dish in advance, we suggest putting the juices in the freezer overnight. You'll be able to scrape off all the frozen fat from the top the next day.
Reduce the broth over medium-high heat to thicken it slightly, if necessary. Taste for seasoning. While the lamb is braising, cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Toss them with a small amount of salt, and place them in a colander for 10 minutes to drain. Pat the eggplant cubes dry with paper towels.
Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Swirl in 3 tablespoons olive oil, and wait I minute. Add the eggplant to the pan, and let sear a minute or two. (Do not crowd the pan; you may need to do this in batches.) Once it starts to color, turn the eggplant cubes to achieve a nice color on all sides. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until tender and golden. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Alternatively, you can (as we did) place the patted dry cubes in a large bowl and add a just a little olive oil. Place on lightly oiled pan(s) and bake in an oven (convection works even better) until they are lightly browned. Stir the eggplant in with the browned lamb, and pour the hot broth over the top, stirring to coat well. Divide the farro (see recipe below) and place onto plates (we always heat ours). Portion the braised lamb along with the eggplant and cooking juices, over the farro. Spoon the harissa sauce (see below) over the meat and scatter the parsley on top.
WINE SUGGESTION: A Rhone Varietal, GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) we had was excellent with this dish.
Farro with Parsley and Butter
2 TB extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced onions
1 TB thyme leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 chiles de àrbol, crumbled
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh (but not a deal breaker if you only have dried)
1 1/2 cups farro (spelt)
4 TB unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup Italian Parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a medium saucepan over high heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the olive oil, and add the diced onion, thyme, cinnamon stick, chiles, and bay leaf. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is translucent.
Add the farro, stirring to coat it with the oil, and toast it slightly. Add 8 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to low, and simmer about 30 minutes, until the farro is tender and just cooked through. Drain the farro and discard the cinnamon stick, chiles, and bay leaf. Toss the hot farro with the butter. When all the butter has melted, stir in the parsley and a few grindings of black pepper. Taste for seasoning.
4 TB HLTHPUNK Smoked Harissa paste
2 TB Lemon Juice
2 small tomatoes, peeled or the equivalent canned tomatoes
2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
If using fresh tomatoes, cook quickly in a pot or better yet, a microwave. Place in a small food processor along with the lemon juice and Harissa paste. Drizzle in the olive oil while blending. (Of course, all of this can be done in a bowl if you don't have a small food processor.) Feel free to use more paste and/or oil to taste.