Fragrant Feasts: Lamb Stifado

Fragrant Feasts: Lamb Stifado

Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass asked if I had a favorite recipe for lamb stifado, which I had mentioned in a comment on one of her posts as the meal my family traditionally has on Christmas Eve. I do, and here it is!

I should note that my family does not have Greek roots (although I love Greece), but we started making this our Christmas Eve meal because 1) it is so delicious and fragrant, it makes the whole house smell wonderful; and 2) you can make it in a slow cooker, which was important for several years because all three of our kids sang in our church’s children’s and youth choirs, which meant we spent several hours at church every Christmas Eve, from about 1 pm to 7 pm, and dinner HAD to be ready the minute we got home, to feed the starving choristers.

The basic recipe I use comes from Sarah Leah Chase‘s Year Around Cookbook, which combined two of her earlier works, Cold Weather Cooking and Nantucket Open House Cookbook. Ms. Chase also co-authored The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, for those in my generation who learned how to upgrade our cooking from The Silver Palate series of cookbooks.

Sarah Leah Chase’s Lamb Stifado

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 lbs. lean lamb (or beef) stew meat, in cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (about 2 in. each)
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 2 strips orange zest (about 3″ by 1″)
  • 2 lbs. small white onions
  1. Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat and sear lamb in batches until browned all over. Remove from pot with slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Add onion and garlic to pot and cook until softened, stirring frequently. Add wine, vinegar, brown sugar, and tomato paste; stir until smooth. Add cumin, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Return lamb to pot with currants and orange zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring stew to a simmer, cover, and let cook over medium-low heat for one hour. (Slow cooker option: cook on low heat for about 3 hours).
  3. While stew simmers, blanch white onions in boiling water to cover, 5 minutes. Drain, let cool, and peel. After stew has cooked for 1 hour, add onions and simmer, covered, for 1 hour more. (Slow cooker option: add onions after stew has cooked on low for 3-4 hours; cook on low for 3 more hours. You can also add the onions at the start if you’ll be away from the slow cooker). At this point, the stew can be refrigerated for 1-2 days before reheating and serving.
  4. Serve stew hot over dumplings or other starch; I like to use whole wheat couscous. Fregola sarda would also work well. Top with crumbled feta or goat cheese if you like; you can also top with toasted pine nuts.

We also like to serve this with a crusty bread and more of the dry red wine that went into the stifado. It is very filling, so you probably won’t want more than that and maybe a green salad on the side. Honestly, there’s nothing like coming home on Christmas Eve after a long afternoon and evening away, and opening the door to the marvelous smells coming from this stifado. I hope some of you try this!