Start to finish: 2 hours 15 minutes (40 minutes active) Servings: 4
The mess, time and trouble required to brown meat for a stew left us longing for a better way. Did we really need that step to get big flavor? Then we discovered a world of alternatives from cultures where cooks skip the browning and instead build layers of flavor with spices and condiments. For our no-sear, no-stock stew, based on the Yemeni dish known as maraq, we started with a dry seasoning mix—paprika, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, salt and pepper
. It did double duty, with half the mixture rubbed onto the meat and the rest briefly cooked in the pot with onion, butter and tomato paste. Cooking the seasonings with the fat and tomato paste bloomed their flavors and lightly browned the tomato paste. We wanted the savory sweetness of roasted whole garlic cloves (mincing releases aggressive sulfurous compounds) but not the trouble of roasting a head separately. So, we sliced off the top of the head, then added it whole to the stew to cook alongside the meat. We liked the flavor and texture of lamb shoulder. Boneless beef chuck worked, too (but needs an extra cup of water and must cook longer, 90 minutes total, before adding the carrots).
Don’t use old spices. The backbone of the dish is the bold, vibrant spice mixture. Make sure yours are no more than a year old.
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1¼ pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into ¾-inch pieces
1 head garlic
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ pound carrots (2 to 3 medium), peeled,halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
15½-ounce can chickpeas, drained
3 ounces baby spinach (about 3 cups)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more to garnish
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Plain whole-milk yogurt, to serve (optional)
1. In a bowl, stir together the paprika, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Reserve half of the spice mixture, then toss the lamb with the rest until well coated. Set aside. Cut off and discard the top third of the garlic head, leaving the head intact.
2. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and just beginning to brown around the edges, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and the reserved spice mixture, then cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add 6 cups water and bring to a boil over high, then add the lamb and garlic head, cut side down. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and reduce heat to low.
3. Simmer for 1 hour, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle bubble. Add the carrots and continue to simmer, partially covered, for another 30 minutes. Using tongs, remove the garlic head and squeeze over the stew to release the cloves. Stir in the chickpeas and spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the cilantro and lemon juice, then season the stew with salt and pepper. Serve topped with yogurt and sprinkled with cilantro.