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. 


  1. Was it well-received? I made it recently with ground lamb, which was fine but not as good as with chunks of meat. There is sauce left over, which I plan on putting on top of baked chicken.