I love braises!

Okay, so I’m about to share the Lamb & Dried Bean Stew recipe that I made for my Lebanese dinner party. It took me awhile to type it up and get it to you, because I wanted to get in all the attention to detail that I use to create the dish.

For me, a braise or a stew is a work of art and, dare I say it, an act of love. It creates amazing depth of flavor through careful browning, slow simmering, and intuition-led adjusting of seasonings/acidity/sweetness at the end of the cooking process. In all, braises/stews are my favorite types of meals to cook for company. They fill the home with mouth-watering aromas and the whole process is therapeutic for me. And, of course, my friends love the food!

With a braise, I love to serve a rich red wine such as Syrah, Zinfandel, or a big Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins in the wine and the slightly higher alcohol levels (at least for New World wines) balance well with the intensity, flavor, and depth of the braise. Also tomato-based dishes just scream red wine to me. For a more Old World style wine, I’d recommend Chianti Classico Riserva, a Priorat from Spain, or a Cote-du-Rhone.

I hope you will come to love cooking and eating braises and stews as much as I do! Now for the recipe, including plenty of techniques to take with you to other braises/stews.

Lamb and Dried Bean Stew


Special equipment: 8 quart soup pot, bouillabaisse pot, French oven, or heavy bottomed stock pot; Pressure cooker or pot for cooking dried beans or use canned beans; sauté pan/frying pan or Le Creuset 3.5 qt casserole pan; tongs

Prep time: 40 min to pressure cook beans (can be concurrent); 2 hours to prep stew; Cooking time: 2-2.5 hours

Ingredients

2 lbs dry white beans (Great Northern)
6 large onions, diced, divided
9 cloves garlic, minced
4 lbs leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes by butcher
¼ cup olive oil, divided
2 28 oz cans tomatoes, petite-diced, diced, or whole tomatoes crushed between fingers
12 Tbsp. tomato paste
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
1 Tbsp. Lebanese mixed spices (recipe to follow), more to taste as desired

1. Following the directions for your pressure cooker, cook the 2 lbs dry white beans. In the Cuisinart Pressure Cooker, I cooked the beans for 25 minutes and used the natural pressure release. Alternatively, cook on the stove top (I haven’t done this, so I can’t give you the details). Another option is to use canned beans—I estimate about 5-6 cans of Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained.

2. Place both the soup pot (or alternate) and the sauté pan on two front burners. The soup pot should be on a medium heat while the sauté pan will be a medium high heat. The soup pot will be used for sautéing the onions and garlic while the sauté pan will be used for browning the lamb.

3. After you feel a good heat rising, add 1 tsp. olive oil to the soup pot, rotating the pot to cover the bottom in oil. Add about 1/3 of the onions to the pot, stirring to cover with the oil and transfer the heat. Stir occasionally. When the first batch of onions is soft and has just a bit of color developing, transfer to the holding dish. Repeat from the beginning of this step until all onions are cooked except for three handfuls to use to deglaze the lamb sauté pan.

4. After the onions are cooked, add 1 tsp. olive oil to the heated soup pot to cover the bottom. Then add all the garlic to the pot, stirring continuously. Cook for about 1 minute until you can smell the garlic and the garlic is golden brown. Do not let the garlic burn. Remove to the holding dish immediately.

5. Meanwhile, dry the lamb cubes with paper towels. When you feel a good heat rising from the sauté pan, add 1 tsp. olive oil and rotate the pan to cover the bottom in oil. Add the lamb cubes, one-by-one, leaving at least an inch between cubes in the pan. If the pan is overcrowded, the lamb will steam instead of brown. When the first side is browned, use tongs to turn the lamb cubes over. When nicely browned, turn the lamb cubes to get a light browning on the other four sides. These sides will not take as long to brown, so watch carefully. When the first batch is browned, transfer to a holding dish. To remove the browned bits and retain their flavors, add ½ tsp olive oil to cover and throw in a handful of diced onions and sauté until onions are done and have removed most of the browned bits from the bottom. Transfer onions to the holding dish. Repeat from the beginning of the step, ensuring the lamb cubes are still dry, until all lamb cubes are browned.

6. To get the last of the lamb bits out of the pan, add the juices of one can of tomatoes, stirring to work the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Allow the tomato juice to reduce slightly, creating a richer tomato juice base flavored with lamb. When done, turn off the burner for the sauté pan.

7. At this point all lamb, onions, and garlic have been browned/cooked. Add the tomato paste to the Soup Pot. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes to add complexity. Then return the lamb, onions, and garlic to the Soup Pot. Add the reduced tomato juice, the canned tomatoes, two pinches of salt, a tsp. of pepper, and the mixed spices. Stir to combine and cook for about five minutes.

8. Add the cooked Great Northern beans until the pot is nearly full or the beans are gone (I used a 7 ¼ quart pot and had about 2 cups of beans left).

9. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer until the lamb is fork-tender, about 2 to 2.5 hours.

10. Adjust seasonings to taste, including salt, pepper, and mixed spices.

11. Serve and enjoy!

Lebanese Mixed Spices

Combine equal parts of the following:
Allspice
Black pepper
Cinnamon
Cloves
Nutmeg
Fenugreek (You can substitute fennel seed if necessary)
Ginger

1. If any of the spices are whole, grind through a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or coffee burr grinder on the finest setting or use a mortar and pestle to grind as finely as possible (not ideal).

2. Store in an airtight container. Used in many Lebanese dishes.

Lebanese-themed dinner party a hit!

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Okay, so I have a recipe for a Lamb and Bean Stew I really want to share with you all, but I don’t have the time to type it up yet. But I wanted to whet your appetites. 🙂

This past weekend I hosted a Lebanese-themed dinner party. Believe it or not, the entire meal was low glycemic (except the wine, of course)!

Mezze

For Mezze, I made hummus and tzatziki, served with a vegetable assortment and whole wheat pita that one of my guests brought. Another friend made tabbouleh salad that we served with lettuce leaves to eat almost like a taco during Mezze. I also had out a Greek olive assortment.

We then moved on to a beautiful, guest-created salad with a bed of mixed greens and spinach topped with oven-roasted veggies, including bell peppers and zucchini, and feta cheese. I topped my salad with some of the tzatziki rather than the lite balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious!

Main Course

Now for the main course: Lamb and Bean Stew. It was absolutely amazing–I really think it’s the best lamb I’ve ever tasted! The lamb melted in my mouth and had so much flavor. The beans and tomatoes had an intense yet satisfying flavor, resulting from the slow stove top cooking of the stew. A Lebanese “mixed-spice” blend added richness, complexity, and the “wow!” factor, all from spices I normally keep in my spice cupboard. Overall, the flavors, perfectly melded, surprised and excited the palate because they were not a standard American combination. Everyone loved it!

Wine pairings

During Mezze, we opened wine that people had brought, including a Zinfandel, a light white blend, a Chardonnay, and a Moscato D’Asti (I had to put some strawberries out to pair with that!). After I finished kitchen prep, I had time to find some excellent pairings.

Still during Mezze, I opened a 2008 Pinnacle Ridge Cabernet Franc from the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. I’ve found that Cabernet Franc tends to pair perfectly with vegetables. This particular Cab Franc is my favorite Pennsylvania wine right now and the primary reason I visited Pinnacle Ridge on a recent trip to PA. We also opened a gorgeous 2000 Spanish wine, a blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet, which a wine-loving friend brought. Complex yet smooth, this wine paired beautifully with Mezze and the main course.

To pair with the lamb stew, I opened a 2005 Holdridge Syrah from Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. I purchased this wine in 2006 and have cellared it since. The rich flavors of the Syrah held up to the intense, meaty flavors of the stew.

Dessert

For dessert, a guest brought low-fat, plain Cabot Creamery yogurt, which we topped with honey and toasted walnuts. I used agave nectar instead of honey due to its low glycemic index. Delicious!

Photos are courtesy of Emil Chuck.

Hummus

I decided to try making hummus after seeing a hummus recipe hanging up at The Energy Club. The only problem is I kept forgetting to pick it up. So I improvised off a couple of recipes at allrecipes.com, what I could remember from the gym version, and my own tastes.

I loved this dip so much that I have shared it at the Superbowl playoffs and a girls’ road trip. Everyone who has tried it has given it rave reviews. So now I’m making it for my diet. Here I have reduced the amount of grapeseed and olive oil used and thinned the hummus with water instead of grapeseed oil. (If you want the more decadent version, add 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil to the hummus and top with ¼ cup olive oil.)

To keep with the healthy theme, try pairing the hummus with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers instead of white pita bread. You’ll get your veggies and lean protein in while delivering lots of flavor and a full mouth feel.

Hummus

Time: 15 minutes
Special equipment: Food processor

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
¼ cup tahini paste
¼ cup lemon juice, from 2 lemons
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp Penzeys Aleppo Red Pepper (or red pepper flakes)
1 tsp. grapeseed oil
Dash cayenne
Pinch Penzey’s Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

1. Add first 7 ingredients to the food processor. Process until smooth.
2. With the food processor running, add up to ¼ to ½ cup water to the food processor feed tube to produce a better dipping consistency.
3. With the food processor running, add 1 tsp. grapeseed oil to feed tube.
4. Remove bowl from food processor and empty hummus into serving container.
5. Sprinkle hummus with cayenne and Spanish paprika to taste. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil over the top.
6. Serve with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers for a healthy snack or meal.

New Year, New You Resolution Challenge: Turkey Bean Chili

Okay. So I signed up for the “New Year, New You” Resolution Challenge at The Energy Club in Arlington to help me lose weight and improve my fitness. Michelle, the nutritionist with the gym, has provided suggested menus both for the “detox week” and to follow. She recommends we add 4-6 oz of lean protein per meal for the detox week that otherwise has low-glycemic index fruits and vegetables, herbal tea, and warm lemon water. Of course, the first thing out of her mouth for the protein was cooking a tray of chicken breasts for the week and then she’s good to go.

I silently balked at the thought of dry, flavorless baked chicken breasts. I knew I could come up with just as healthy but more interesting “lean protein” than that. It’s definitely winter here in DC, so chili was a good candidate with beans and chicken or turkey. So I went to BJs to see what I could find. Ground turkey caught my eye. I looked at the nutrition facts–not exactly super lean at 93% lean, 7% fat, but it’s 1/3 fewer calories than the neighboring ground beef. So I grab the ground turkey.

Now ground meat can get pretty chewy in a pressure cooker if it’s just broken apart and lightly browned, so I took a different tack. I cut the tray of ground turkey into 1-inch cubes, so that I could add flavor and retain texture by browning the meat on at least 2 sides. Then the inside of the cubes would cook in the Pressure Cooker.

The other challenge: Michelle says to sauté in only 1 tsp. of olive oil rather than the, um, generous amount of olive oil I normally use. So the recipe that follows does just that. I use 1 tsp. olive oil for each browning or sautéing iteration. The onions suffered the most, I think, with this treatment, more steaming than sautéing; but they were going in the Pressure Cooker Pot not directly on a plate so I gave in for the sake of health.

I was incredibly pleased with the result: flavorful chili with tender turkey chunks and satisfying beans throughout. And I made enough for the entire week and then some. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

Bon appétit!

ZinDiva’s Turkey Bean Chili


Total Time: 3 hours; Active: 2 hours; Passive: 1 hour (2-3 hr for Variation 2)
Equipment: Large sauté pan, Pressure cooker (or 5.5 quart French oven for Variation 2)

3 lbs ground turkey, cut into 1-inch cubes
6-9 Tbsp. Penzey’s Chili Con Carne seasoning, separated
1 can low sodium chicken broth
4 onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, crushed between fingers, w/ juices reserved
2 16-oz cans tomato sauce
2 cans kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 yellow bell pepper, seeds & membranes removed, cut into 1-inch squares
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. Penzey’s Red Aleppo Pepper Flakes, to taste
Kosher Salt
Pepper
Olive oil
Garnishes: Green onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream/nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1. Preheat large skillet over a medium-high heat (medium for Le Creuset enameled cast iron). When pan is hot, add 1 tsp. Olive Oil to pan, spreading oil with a paper towel to evenly coat.

2. Brown the turkey cubes in batches on at least two opposite sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. When turkey is browned, sprinkle 2-3 Tbsp. Penzy’s Chili Con Carne seasoning over the turkey. Toss the turkey lightly in the pan to coat the turkey. Remove turkey cubes and loose browned bits to the pressure cooker vessel (hereafter referred to as the pot).

3. Deglaze the pot with ¼ cup of chicken broth, working to remove browned bits and seasonings. Allow the chicken broth to boil down slightly to concentrate flavors. Add to the pot. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until turkey is gone. After browning and removing the last batch, add the reserved tomato juice to the pan instead of chicken broth, reducing to make a bit of a sauce. Add to the pot.

5. Repeat step 1. Then sauté the onions, sprinkling with salt to taste (about ¼ to ½ tsp), until onions are translucent. Add to pressure cooker vessel.

7. Repeat step 1. Sauté the garlic for about 1 minute until lightly fragrant but not burnt. Add to pot.

8. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, bell pepper squares, red pepper flakes, ½ tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper to the pot.

9. Stir ingredients well with large spoon.

10. Place the pot in the pressure cooker and follow the manufacturer directions. (Some Pressure Cookers require 1 Tbsp. oil floating on top so that the beans do not foam and clog the valves.) Cook on High Pressure for 20 minutes and then use natural steam release to blend the flavors. It may take 45 min to 1 hour to heat, cook, and release steam.

11. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with garnishes as desired. Makes 16 cups, about 8 main dish servings.

Variation 1: Replace 1 can of tomato sauce with 1 can broth or beer.

Variation 2: If you do not own a pressure cooker, add ingredients to 5.5 qt French oven and bring to a boil on the stove top. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours until turkey is cooked and tender, bell pepper is tender but not soggy, and flavors are blended. More liquid may be needed due to evaporation. Add chicken broth or beer as needed.