Friday, November 15, 2013

Mishmishiya -- An Exquisite Lamb Stew with Apricots

Yes, I have returned again to my favorite book, Pleyn Delit

I made this recipe last month while doing a public historical cooking demonstration.  It was perfect for such a demo -- I had one pot over coals simmering the lamb and another pot softening the apricots.  I could easily lift the lid to show visitors what was going on, and the resulting scent wafted to their noses and made them wish it was ready to eat.

The original recipe points strongly at Arabic origins:  the lamb, the seasonings, the apricots, and the almonds, plus the optional rosewater all say "I'm from the exotic East!"

It is quite easy to make and not as sweet as the apricots might suggest.

Mishmishiya -- "Lamb Stewed in Apricot Sauce" (Recipe #80)

Cut fat meat small, put into the saucepan with a little salt, and cover with water.  Boil, and remove the scum.  Cut up onions, wash, and throw in on top of the meat.  Add seasonings: coriander, cumin, mastic, cinnamon, pepper, and ginger, well ground.  Take dry apricots, soak in hot water, then wash and put into a separate saucepan, and boil lightly; take out, wipe in the hands, and strain through a sieve.  Take the juice, and add it to the saucepan to form a broth.  Take sweet almonds, grind fine, moisten with a little apricot juice, and throw in.  Some colour with a trifle saffron.  Spray the saucepan with a little rosewater; wipe its sides with a clean rag, and leave to settle over the fire; then remove.

The redacted version:

2 lbs boneless lamb, in chunks
1 tsp salt
1 - 2 onions, finely chopped
1 tsp each ground coriander, cumin
1/2 tsp each ground pepper, cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 lb dried apricots, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes, boiled 5 minutes, and pureed in a blender
2 oz ground almonds
1 tsp rosewater
optional:  1/4 tsp pulverized mastic, pinch of saffron

As directed in the original translated recipe above, cook the lamb with onion and seasonings over a low heat, covered, until tender, at least 1 hour.  Meanwhile, prepare apricot puree.  Moisten ground almonds with a little of the puree, and add, with the rest of the apricot mixture, for the last few minutes of cooking.  Sprinkle on rosewater.  Remove from heat, cover, and let stand in a warm place at least 5 minutes before serving.

No spices were in this picture.
The only lamb available to me at the store today was lamb chops, and I managed to get one pound of meat cut from the bones.  So I did a half recipe.  I think it is important to cut the lamb into bite-sized chunks and remove most of the fat.

The lamb, thinly sliced onions, and spices (sorry, no mastic) all went into one pan, were covered with water, and placed on the stove.  I had the heat up high until it started to bubble, then I turned it down to a barely simmering state.  At the demonstration, I put a lot of charcoal around the pot until it steamed, then I pulled away the coals until I barely saw bubbling.

I need to point out that the mixture of spices already made my mouth water, before anything started cooking!

Meanwhile, the apricots were soaked in hot water (nearly simmering) for most of the lamb's cooking time.  Yes, I know I didn't follow directions but I was replicating what I had to do at the demonstration -- blenders just aren't an Elizabethan cooking implement and sieves are pesky to use in the outdoors, so I simmered the apricots until they were falling apart, then I put them into my big mortar and mashed them with my pestle until they were pretty smooth.

My modern blender made the apricot puree an easy task, although not as fun as using a mortar and pestle.

At the demo, I tend to lose track of time so I think the lamb simmered for at least two hours.  It was certainly tender and the water had converted to a luscious broth.  Today I simmered it for an hour and the meat was ready.

It was hard to wait the five or so minutes after mixing but I know it is important to allow the flavors to blend.  At the demo, it allowed the stew to cool enough so people could taste it without burning their mouths.

Lamb broth, just before the puree was added
The Verdict

Mixing the lamb and onion broth with the pureed apricots and ground almonds created a stew with a thick sauce at the demo and a somewhat thinner one at home.  The spices compliment the fruit and creamy nut flavors.  The lamb is delicate yet meaty and the onions are an excellent background flavor and texture.  The broth brings them all together but still supplies a richness.

Oh yes, most definitely a success.

At the demonstration, when the stew was ready I was surrounded by visitors who wanted a taste.  I gave them each a spoon and suggested they get a piece of meat along with enough sauce to get the flavor of it all.  I suspect my sauce was thicker there because I had to guess at the right amount of apricots and I probably used more than the recipe called for.  The other possibility is that at home I used more water to simmer the lamb than I did before.

The reaction was unanimous:  "This is delicious!", "Oh WOW!", "Really good!", and "What was that recipe again?" were the comments I heard.  Even the self-proclaimed "picky" eaters liked it. 

Just so you know, I didn't use rosewater in the demonstration dish.  I know that rosewater is an acquired taste and if you are not expecting it or accustomed to it, the floral scent can shock your taste buds or nose.  But I used it on today's recipe and I liked it, although I would probably use a lot less even just for myself until I am more used to it.

One last comment:  If all the meat is eaten and there is still sauce left, don't despair!  Just sop it up with chunks of bread because that is an excellent combination, too. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Emeles -- Medieval Almond Cakes

As promised in the previous post, I returned to one of my favorite books, Pleyn Delit by Hieatt, Hosington, and Butler.  I have the second edition.

Emeles are a great way to turn the ground almonds used in making almond milk into something tasty and different.  These are called "cakes" but they look for all the world like little pork sausage patties -- hopefully that gives you a better mental picture of what to expect from this recipe. 

Here's the original recipe (#129 in the book):


Take sugar, salt, almonds, and white bread, and grind them together; then add eggs; then grease or oil or butter, and take a spoon and brush them [i.e., the frying almond cakes] and then remove them and sprinkle them with dry sugar.

The redacted version is this:

Almond Cakes

1 cup breadcrumbs (or more depending on freshness of bread)
4 ounces ground almonds
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (separated)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
oil and/or fat for frying

Yes, that is just four ounces of almonds there!

Blend dry ingredients with eggs (reserving the extra 2 tablespoons of sugar).  

Blended dry ingredients just before the eggs are mixed in

Not what I think of as a batter
Heat the oil or fat in a frying pan and drop in the batter in small spoonfuls, flattening with the spoon if necessary.  Turn over once if not using deep fat.  Drain on paper and sprinkle with the reserved sugar before serving -- preferably warm.

First side cooking; just about ready to be turned
Alternatively, chill batter for about 1 hour, then divide it into 20 balls and flatten into cakes.  This way, most of the work can be done ahead of time and the cakes will be more uniform in size and shape.

Honestly not sausage patties!

If I am starting with whole almonds, I find I get the best results from grinding them in the blender if they go in frozen.  The problem is that if they get warm from the whirling blades, the oil can separate out.  When they are frozen, they are hard (and so seem to grind better) and cold.  I haven't had any problems using frozen almonds and processing them in small batches.

I mix all the dry ingredients with a fork until they are uniformly blended.  Then I add the eggs and stir until the mixture is moist with no dry spots. 

I did not chill the batter, which is more like a sticky, crumbly dough.  After the oil is hot, I scoop a little into a soup spoon, press it down firmly with my hand, then slip the patty into the oil.  I usually do about 5 at a time so as not to drop the temperature of the oil too much with overcrowding.

It is important to compress the mixture so it stays as a patty instead of breaking up in the oil.

The patties need to be pretty thin because they cook so quickly.  I keep them to between 1/4 to 1/2 inch, mostly closer to 1/4 inch thick.  It is easy to scorch them, so keep an eye on them while they are in the oil.   Have the paper towel covered plate ready in advance so you can stop the cooking process when the patty is a dark golden brown.

I've experimented with sprinkling them with a cinnamon-sugar blend, too. 

The Verdict
Kids love these and so do I.  The taste is subtle, not strong.  The toasted nutty flavor is dominant with just enough sweet to convince your taste buds you are having a treat but not so much to be overwhelming.  They are a bit crunchy and that is a nice texture to have.  They are tasty warm or cool!

Success!  (But I've made them many times, so that is no surprise.)