Spanish-Spiced Lamb Stew

Spanish-spiced lamb stew. Photo by Keri White

This recipe came to me by way of my friend Kate Markowitz. Her parents, Merle and Joe, used to visit Atlantic City from time to time. Joe would hit the casinos, and Merle would walk the boardwalk, strolling in and out of shops.

There was one shop that Merle, an avid cook, never missed — a place that sold cookbooks for $1. She gave her daughter Kate one of her finds, an old-school board book that emphasized “international” cuisine, complete with the nation’s flag next to each recipe.

Kate, like her mom, is an excellent cook. She has cherished the book, and added her creativity to some of the recipes.

This lamb, inspired by one of the recipes in the book, is a go-to dinner party dish for Kate, and, pre-pandemic, I had the good fortune to try it at her house. It is a wonderful, aromatic, warming dish for these chilly days.

Kate serves the stew over rice or noodles with a simple, citrusy salad and some crusty bread, and it is a heavenly meal. The fried-in-vinegar bread is a revelation. I had never seen that done before, and I have read and tested a lot of recipes. It gives the dish both tang and crunch, and works as a thickener for the gravy.

Spanish-Spiced Lamb Stew
Serves 4

Don’t balk at the cloves! I generally avoid what I call the “pumpkin pie palate” in savory dishes, but it really works here.

1 slice stale bread
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds lamb shoulder, trimmed and cubed
Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
6 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more/less to taste)
½ teaspoon ground cloves
A handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup chicken, beef or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 package frozen peas
½ head cauliflower, cut in small florets

Sprinkle the bread with the vinegar and allow it to soak in. Heat the oil in a stew pot or large pan with a cover, and fry the bread until crisp, turning once. Set aside.

Over medium-high heat, brown the meat along with 3 cloves of crushed garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Move the meat around in the pan to sear on all sides.
While the lamb sears, crush the remaining 3 cloves of garlic with parsley and the ground cloves stir into a paste. Sprinkle the lamb with the paprika, add the paste, and stir well.

Add the broth, bring it to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for at least an hour, until the meat is tender. The longer you cook it, the more tender it will be — mine simmered for a fragrant three hours. Add the peas and cauliflower, and cook an additional 10 minutes until the vegetables are cooked through.

While the meat and vegetables are simmering, finely chop the vinegar-toasted bread. If it has gotten soggy, pop it in the toaster oven to crisp it before chopping. When the stew is done, stir the chopped bread into the pan and allow it to absorb and thicken for a few minutes. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper if needed, and serve.

Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
Serves 4

Kate served this salad, which she had composed on each individual’s side plate at the dinner. It was a refreshing complement to the hearty stew. Her presentation was lovely, but if you prefer family-style, just dump everything into a large salad bowl and toss it together.

2 heads Boston or bibb lettuce, rinsed and torn
1 grapefruit, pith removed, and cut into bite-sized pieces
½ head raw fennel, sliced thinly

¼ cup olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Pinch of salt
Sprinkle of pepper

Place the salad ingredients artfully on small plates. Mix the dressing in a measuring cup or cruet and, just before serving, drizzle it over the salads.


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