It’s chilly. I want a fire in the hearth and a simmering pot of stew, or a reasonable facsimile thereof on the stove.
Indeed, braises and stews are foremost in my mind these days. That’s really all I want to cook and eat throughout the cold months. Anything from an Irish stew to a French beef Bourguignon suits my fancy. When lamb shanks came my way recently, I looked to Morocco for inspiration, so the shanks became a kind of tagine, cooked long and slowly to succulence.
To accompany the braised lamb, I chose a spiced carrot salad, a favorite standby of mine. I like to spoon it into a lettuce leaf for a first course or serve it as a side dish. Made with the freshest carrots, it always delights. Though most Moroccan salads are made with cooked vegetables, my version uses slivered raw carrots instead.
The lemony carrots taste lovely just as the recipe is written, perfumed with toasted cumin and coriander, a hint of garlic and a touch of cayenne. But the recipe is versatile. If you want to splash out, try adding a pinch of cinnamon and a topping of fluffy chopped cilantro and thinly sliced jalapeño. Or add crumbled feta and olives. But for this menu, I like the recipe as is, served on the same plate with the lamb and all its juices.
My method for the lamb is a bit of a project when it comes to time, but it’s not complicated and, for the most part, it cooks itself while you wait. I first simmer the shanks in lightly salted water. Then, saffron-stained softened onions form the base of the braise, along with a bit of tomato, paprika and dried apricots. After three hours, the lamb is fragrant and tender. Parsnips join the pot later, and chickpeas top the final product. (Take the time to soak and cook dried chickpeas, if you can. Using canned is easier, but freshly cooked chickpeas taste far better, and the drained cooking liquid makes a delicious vegetarian broth for a future soup.)
Since big lamb shanks can seem daunting, I remove the cooked meat from the bone and cut it into more manageable pieces. Though the chunks of parsnip almost resemble bones at first glance in the final dish, the tagine’s overall impression is sweet and golden, both visually and on the tongue. The intermingling of flavors feels magical, perfect for the season.
As with most braises, this one improves after a night in the fridge, giving the flavors time to deepen and meld. It makes great leftovers for the same reason. It’s fine to make it even a few days before serving.
For dessert, I craved a spicy ginger cake, as dense and dark as some kinds of English fruitcake I’ve sampled. And here, molasses, a slightly bitter sweetener, is key, giving the cake just the right character. Chopped dates, raisins and a good dose of black pepper are all in evidence, along with ginger and cinnamon. I guarantee, if you bet you can stop at one slice, you’ll lose the wager. But if you do manage some restraint, the cake is also delicious at breakfast or with a strong cup of tea anytime of day.