This recipe is by Claudia Roden from A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. It is a classic cookbook. It appears on most chef’s top ten cookbooks and it was the very first in what was to become my very extensive collection. I came to own this book in a most unusual way.
It was the very early nineties, maybe even 1991, and I had taken an interest in Middle Eastern cooking. I don’t even know what kindled my interest. I didn’t have any cookbooks and wanted to make hummus. I must have asked one of my colleagues if she had a recipe. She brought in this very old, little paperback. I can’t remember its name. Another colleague overheard us talking and told me that he knew the best Middle Eastern cookbook. He then, unbeknown to me, went out during lunch break and bought Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
I didn’t know what to do. In my wildest dreams, I would never spend $26.99 (an amazing amount to me in 1991) on a Penguin paperback without pictures. But I couldn’t let this man “give” me the book so I gave him the money and took the book home. Little did I know how wise he was and how much I would use the book, over and over, for years to come. John, if you ever read this blog: Thank you.
There are a few things to note about this recipe. The most important one is that if you are using prunes from the supermarket, don’t pre-soak them and don’t over cook them. They have already been soaked and partially rehydrated. The first time I made this dish, I followed the instructions, exactly, with supermarket- bought prunes. They disintegrated and made the dish way too sweet.
If you are using supermarket prunes, add them only long enough to heat up and absorb some flavour – maybe 5 minutes before serving.
If you are using dried prunes that have not been rehydrated, you can follow the recipe exactly but, to be honest, I only soaked my prunes for a few hours and they were perfect.
Another thing to be careful of, when it comes to sweetness, is the amount of honey you use. I would add a scant tablespoon (or even less) and then taste the dish before adding any more.
This is one of those dishes that tastes so much better if it is allowed to rest before serving. Make it in the morning (or even the day before) and gently reheat it when needed.
I served it with couscous to which I added some butter and very finely grated lemon rind. I would normally also serve this dish with beans but the beans were very sad in Bridgetown that day so we had to make do with carrots and broccoli. Not the perfect accompaniment but nobody seemed to mind.
- 1 kg lamb, (preferably leg), cubed
- 2-3 tbs* oil
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp saffron (optional)
- salt and black pepper, to taste
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 250g prunes, soaked overnight (I only used 125g of prunes per 1kg of meat. I think 250g is way too much for Western tastes.)
- 1-2 tbs* honey, or to taste
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- toasted sesame seeds, to garnish
*These are 15 mil tablespoons
- Put the meat in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the oil, ginger, saffron, salt and pepper, coriander, cinnamon and onion.
- Bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer very gently until the meat is tender and the water has become a rich sauce – about 2 hours. Watch your pan, it if gets a bit dry add a little more water.
- Add the prunes and simmer for 20 minutes longer.
- Stir the honey into the sauce, blending it well, and cook for a further 15 minutes.
- Sprinkle with orange blossom water.
- Garnish with toasted sesame seeds to serve.