Sunday, December 6, 2009

Uighur-style Lamb Stew

Skip way down if you want to actually see this recipe, because I am going to ruminate and go off on a lot of tangents first.

I believe that the 1976 copyright act does not protect recipes. If my memory serves correctly, recipes were considered just a list of ingredients and procedures and not particularly original. There seems to be a bit of misogyny in this: is women's work worthy of the protection of the state? (The texts of cookbooks, that is the actual expressed words, are protected to the extent that other books and writings are, albeit with fair use protection for limited quotation.) However, recently, I think as a result of the proliferation of phenomena like highly visible chefs in the media, avant-guarde cuisine, and things like scientific and molecular gastronomy, some legal scholars have argued that some recipes deserve protection as intellectual property.

One day I will definitely blog on this, but to do so properly requires more time for research and reflection than even an underemployed job hunter has. (To put my cards on the table, I think that IP barriers are too high in general and that highly innovative industries like fashion do just fine without enforced IP protection, and may even depend on the lack of IP enforcement.) However, I think about this whenever I post recipes derived from other sources, as my next few blog postings will be. How original do my recipes have to be before I post them? How original are 99% of recipes anyway? How original is anything? At the same time, those who do the original and creation deserve credit, not to mention our everlasting gratitude. The principles that I follow are to acknowledge the source and link to it if possible. The recipe should be fartaytscht und farbessert, Yiddish meaning translated and improved, meaning that I should make at least some adaptation or improvement to them.

I am a big fan of the cookbooks of Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, and their recent Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China is great. As with most of their books, it is a travelogue and cultural study as well as a cookbook, and this one deals with the cuisines of China's 100+ million minority people. Much of the food is surprisingly accessible. I wonder if some of this is simplified for Western kitchens. When I was in China for work in Guilin in the South/Southwest 3 years ago a friend and I hired a driver and guide for the day after our meetings ended for some touring in the vicinity. The guide was a young Dong woman, and when we asked her what the difference between her people and the Han Chinese, she answered that they were actually very similar, but that "We don't eat water buffalo. The water buffalo is our friend. But we do eat dogs." My friend, a great dog lover, gagged and blanched, and the guide responded:"Oh no! Don't worry. Not lovely dogs." This has forever changed the connotations of the word "lovely" for me as referring primarily to the kind of dog that one does not eat.

Anyway, Beyond the Great Wall includes a recipe for a sauce for lagman, a long noodle, a Uighur specialty. The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people from the far Northwest Xinjiang province. They are closely related to the Uzbeks who live in the FSU. In the Bukharan (kosher Uzbek, it is hard to find treyfe Uzbek food in the city) restaurants around New York, lagman is usually served as a rich lamb and vegetable soup with fettucine-type noodles. I have also had it drier, more like pasta with a stew-like meat sauce. In the book, the sauce is basically a stir fry that is the simmered briefly with peppers and tomatoes. I thought that the lamb (or at least most of the lamb that I can afford) would not be tender using their rather brief cooking, so I adapted it into a stew. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were visiting this week, and we had it for Shabbat dinner (with celery and tofu salad seasoned with chili and sichuan peppercorn; daikon, tomato, cucumber and dill salad from Beyond the Great Wall; and roasted romesco cauliflower) and it made a big hit. We drank a South African Sauvignon Blanc which has green pepper undertones and nicely complemented the stew. For something that sounds so exotic, the flavors are very straightforward and no particularly unusual ingredients are required. My sister-in-law urged me to blog the recipe and I decided that the adaptations were sufficient enough to warrant it, so here is my version:

Uighur-style Lamb Stew
  1. Peel a very large onion, cut into quarters, slice, and saute with a little oil in a large pot. Salt it lightly to draw out the moisture. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent.
  2. Slice or chop about 10 cloves of garlic (more or less to taste). Add to the onions and saute a few more minutes. Do not brown either the onions or garlic.
  3. Add 2 pounds lamb stew meat, in approximately 1-inch cubes. (I used Solomon's glatt lamb. It is natural, organic, hormone free, etc., and the Solomons are supposed to be nice to both their animals and their workers. For some reason, the Fairway market on 72nd street charges about $5 a pound less than the uptown Fairway for this. I can't figure out why, but I hope that they don't read this......) In general, shoulder or shank are the prefered cuts for lamb stew. Add a few lamb bones if you want a richer sauce.  You can also use lamb neck on the bone, which is cheaper and tastier, but you will need more, about 3 pounds, and it will take longer to cook.
  4. Saute a few minutes until the lamb looses its red color.
  5. Add a 28 ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes. (I like the flavor of Muir's Glen fire roasted tomatoes.) If fresh tomatoes are in season, put them in a salad and don't waste them on a stew. If you want it a little saucier, add another 15 ounce can. If you want it drier, use diced tomatoes and drain them well. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 90 minutes. The lamb should be just about tender now.  (Lamb neck will take close to 2 hours.)  You can also bake the lamb in a slow oven, 300 degrees, for about two hours.
  6. For a less soupy stew, remove the lamb with a slotted spoon and boil the juices down until they are a thick sauce. 
  7. Add two sweet red peppers and two sweet green peppers, shredded, and cook about 10-15 minutes. If you want some potatoes in the stew, one or two peeled Yukon golds cut into 1/2 to 3/4 in dice would be nice.  (If you have removed the lamb to boil down the sauce, return it at this point before adding the tender greens.)
  8. Add other vegetables as you like: I usually make this stew with bok choy cut into slices  and some spinach. Cook these for about five minutes or a bit more. It would also be nice with green beans (I haven't tried this yet), which I find have an affinity for lamb, but they take longer to cook and should be added shortly after the peppers. Total cooking time for the lamb should be about two hours.
  9. Taste for salt and add salt or soy sauce to correct seasonings. I find, esp. with kosher meat, it is plenty salty.
  10. Top with fresh chopped cilantro, or pass a bowl at the table. It is also nice with Chinese Jingiang black vinegar (you can substitute Worcestershire sauce if you must).
  11. Serve with or on top of some kind of noodle. We have found orrechiette (Pugliese ear-shaped pasta) to be the perfect accompaniment!

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