Sunday, January 19, 2014

Uighur-style lamb stew, fartaytsht und farbessert

Regular readers of this blog (there must be at least 5 of you) will have seen the expression "fartaytsht und farbessert "  before.  I means translated into Yiddish (a Taytsh or German tongue) and improved, as in "Shakespeare, vartaytsht und farbessert."  (Readers of Kaaterskill Falls may recall the wonderful scene when an ambulance driver quotes Shakespeare to the Breuer-esque rabbi while driving him to the hospital, to have the rabbi respond, "Ach it is so much better in German.)

I have been blogging recipes for over four years and I feel like I am still getting the hang of it.  The real problem for me is what to do when I change how I cook a dish?  This happens often.  Many of the recipes of this blog are my personal favorites, and I modify them often until I get them right.   I have never really figured out if it is more appropriate to tinker with the original posting, which is what I usually seem to do, or writing a new post, which is what I am doing now.

I first posted on Uighur-style lamb stew in December 2009.  This recipe was adapted from the cookbook Beyond the Great Wall largely to make it a stew rather than a saute.  Over the years I have tinkered with it further   -- reducing the tomato, eliminating some vegetables, and modifying the technique to get this version.  It is truly farbessert.  It is also, for such an exotic sounding dish,  very straightforward and accessible.  It is not fast, but very easy -- you don't even have to brown the meat.  It requires no special techniques, ingredients or equipment, and will appeal to anyone who enjoys lamb, onions and garlic and who can appreciate the joys of meat cooked slowly on the bone.  I am minimizing the variations, notes choices and digressions that I usually include, and just giving to you how I think you should make:

Uighur-style Lamb Stew


  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, quartered and cut into thin slices
  • 8-10 cloves garlic (more if you want), peeled and sliced thin
  • 3-4 pounds lamb stew on the bone (I use neck)
  • 15 ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes (I use Muir's Glen fire-roasted, which are not particularly smokey but have a wonderful rich flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or 1 tablespoon of soy, 1 of Bragg's aminos)
  • 2 sweet red peppers, cored and shredded lengthwise
  • 1 sweet green pepper, cored and shredded lengthwise
  • 8 ounces - 1 pound daikon, peeled and cut into 1/2 -3/4 inch cubes
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes
  • 1 medium yellow or russet potato, washed and cut into eighths
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and halved
  • salt
  • chopped cilantro, Chinese black vinegar and Sriracha to serve (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  
  2. Saute the onion with the  oil in a large 5-6 quart pot that you can use on the stovetop and in the oven. Salt it lightly to draw out the moisture. Cook on medium stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  (It will go faster on higher heat, but you have to be careful not to scorch the onions.
  3. Add the garlic and saute gently for a few more minutes but do not let the onions or garlic brown.
  4. Add the lamb, and saute until it looses its red color, between 5-10 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and the soy sauce, bring to a simmer, cover and put in the oven and cook for about 2 hours, testing after 90 minutes to see if the lamb is tender.
  6. Remove lamb from the oven, turn the temperature down to 200 degrees and bring the pot to a simmer on the stove, add the peppers and the daikon and cook for 15 minutes uncovered.
  7. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another 10 minutes.
  8. Pick the lamb out of the stew, put in a dish, cover  and keep warm in the oven.  Add the green beans to the stew and bring it to a boil.
  9. The green beans should be tender in about 5 minutes.  Once they are tender, remove all of the vegetables from the pot put them in a large serving dish, arrange the lamb pieces on top, cover and keep warm in the oven.
  10. Bring the heat up to very high and boil until the sauce is very thick.  Pour over the lamb and vegetables in the serving dish.  
  11. Taste for salt and add salt or soy sauce to correct seasonings. I find, esp. with kosher meat, it is plenty salty.
  12. Although best served at once, it can be kept warm, covered in the oven for up to two hours.
  13. Serve at the table with a dish of fresh chopped cilantro for people to add, and bottles of Chinese Jingiang black vinegar (you can substitute Worcestershire sauce if you must) and hot sauce.  I used to add them all, but now only use a little cilantro.
  14. Serve with or on top of some rice or some kind of noodle. We have found artisanal pasta like orrechiette (Pugliese ear-shaped pasta) or capunte to be the perfect accompaniment!  It is also good with Turkish pide or Bukharan lepeshka breads.
  15. Serves about 6, depending on the rest of the menu.
Slightly easier : You can just leave the lamb in the pot as you add all the vegetables, and not bother to boil down the sauce.  This will be soupier and should be served on top of a pasta in a Chinese soup bowl.

Degreasing:  Don't bother.  I am not even going to give this variation.  You don't eat like this so often so you won't be doing much damage.  Also, because of the bone, your actual meat consumptions in this dish won't be that large.  The lamb fat has lots of flavor.  

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