Rich and comforting, one pot stewed lamb with a tahini crust are the stars of this Middle Eastern version of Shepherds Pie. Who doesn't love a tasty Shepherds Pie? Well I promise you, this dish will exceed your expectations even further. Yotam Ottolenghi has created a very clever recipe here, one of many in his book "Simple".
This dish is perfect for a dinner party, as the lamb stew can be cooked well in advance on the stovetop, one or two days ahead and stored in the refrigerator, and actually improves in flavour. To be honest, I was slightly sceptical about how the tahini crust would actually work, and had contingencies in place in case it didn't, replace it with mashed potato perhaps as we do with our Aussie Shepherds Pie? However the crust worked like a dream and was nicely crispy around the edges. It firmed up even more in the middle when I kept it warm for an hour in the oven at 100 deg., until we were ready to eat. I stepped out of my comfort zone slightly with the final stages of this recipe, but now that I have made it, I am happy to say it is "Simple" to do as Ottolenghi promises. This recipe really works.
Yotam says this recipe can feed 4 -6, but I think it easily feeds 8. I served it with rice, my Moroccan Chick Pea salad which is always a favourite, and a green salad. This would be delicious served with bulghur instead of rice as well which is really on theme with Middle Eastern cuisine. The quantities can easily be doubled if you have a pot large enough to cook it in, which is also oven proof. If you are very keen to feed your family more hidden vegetables, add some baby spinach to the pot towards the end, it breaks down and lends some more color and flavour.
60 ml olive oil
2 small onions (250 g) finely chopped
4 medium celery sticks (250 g) finely sliced
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tablespoon baharat spice mix
1 kg stewing lamb ( we bought a leg of lamb and boned it) , cut into 2 cm chunks
500 g plum tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped or 1 can of tomatoes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely ground
1 tsp paprika
60 g pine nuts, toasted
40 g parsley, chopped
salt and black pepper
150 g chopped baby spinach (optional)
200 g tahini
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
If doubling the recipe, try 1 can of tomatoes and 1 tablespoon tomato paste. You need a rich flavour, but not too much liquid or it bubbles up through the tahini topping during baking.
I used a can of tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes because they are so expensive, although Yotam says that using very ripe fresh tomatoes gives a superior flavour. Fresh tomatoes need to be blanched in boiling water, and peeled so that they absorb more of the beautiful flavours. If you have the time, go for it. Whilst this was delicious, I'll try it with fresh tomatoes next time.
I have also made this dish, by multiplying the ingredients by 1/2 again, and 750 g of whole canned tomatoes and 1 1/2 teaspoons of tomato paste worked well.
1. Put a 20 cm wide casserole pan on your stovetop, pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and select a medium heat.
Tip in the onions and the celery and saute for 10 - 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are soft.
Mix in the tomato paste, the ground fennel and the baharat spice, and cook for 2 minutes until aromatic, and then scrape all of this into a large heatproof pyrex bowl.
For the next stage, browning the meat, you will be using the same pot, no need to clean it.
2. Your chopped lamb needs to be seasoned with 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and a good grind of black pepper.
Pour 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil into the same pan, and place on a medium high heat. The lamb now needs to be browned off in batches. Add a quarter of the lamb at a time, and fry for 3 minutes, turning a few times so that all the sides are brown.
Transfer each browned batch to the bowl of onions, adding 1/12 teaspoons of oil to the pan with each batch.
Return all the lamb and vegetables to the pot, and tip in two-thirds of the tomatoes, the paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and plenty of ground black pepper.
Bring all of this mixture to the boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for about 70 minutes, with the lid on, until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thick. The sauce needs to be thick so that too much sauce doesn't bubble up through the tahini crust in the final stage of baking.
However check the pan during this final stage of cooking to ensure the meat isn't sticking to the base. Try not to walk away and totally forget about it. It needs to be checked regularly, particularly in the last 30 minutes of cooking. Thankfully mine didn't stick at all. Just add a little bit of water if it starts sticking.
Mix in the pine nuts, parsley and remaining tomatoes and set aside.
3. If you are baking this dish straight away, turn on the oven about 10 minutes before the meat is ready. Preheat the oven to 180 deg. C fan.
4. Making the Tahini Sauce
Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, 160 ml of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a medium bowl. Ensure the tahini and the good oils in the jar are well mixed before you do this. A good quality Middle Eastern tahini authentically bottled in the Middle East is the ultmate tahini to use if you have access to a Middle Eastern supermarket or deli, however this time I used the Macro brand, certified organic, Unhulled Tahini from the supermarket and it worked well.
The consistency should be pourable, with a thickness like double cream. Just a bit more water if you need to, I didn't need to, the measurements were perfect.
Pour this evenly over the stewed lamb and bake, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the tahini has thickened.
Then take the lid off the pan, and bake for another 20 minutes, uncovered, for the tahini crust to turn golden brown. It will also start to crisp up around the edges, which I was excited about.
5. Carefully remove the dish from the oven, and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Sprinkle with some finely chopped parsley if you wish.