Lamb is my favorite red meat, so I was happy to bring home a pound of meat left over from a lamb-frenching marathon at work. Frenching involves removing the meat and fat that connect each of the ribs on a rack of lamb, leaving a clean, curved bone extending into the succulent little chop. Once the rib meat is removed, the bones must be scraped clean of any remaining fat or tendon; a tedious process. But the first step, cutting down between the ribs to the chop and then cutting across to release the meat, yields a lovely rectangular morsel of meat. Restaurants often discard them, but why let that happen? I greedily collected the scraps to take with me. On the way home, I thought of making a tagine ala Paula Wolfert, seasoned with an intoxicating mix of ginger, saffron and cinnamon, but the shopping list and 4 hour cooking time seemed like too much of a task at the time. I scrounged around in the fridge and found some root vegetables and a bunch of swiss chard. Lentils also seemed like a good idea, and so the following dish came together rather quickly.
If you are friendly with a butcher, you could ask what they do with the rib meat after frenching lamb racks. Who knows, you might just end up with a good source for tender lamb bits. Lamb shoulder could work too. You could use faro instead of lentils; parsnips or rutabagas, too. Try adding some lima beans. You could add pinches of spice like cumin and ancho chile, or cinnamon, ginger and tumeric. But salt and pepper bring out the flavors of each ingredient, and if the ingredients are good you can let them speak for themselves. The main thing is to develop flavor by searing the meat and cooking the vegetables in the fat, so if the lamb is lean, add a little oil to the pan to make up for the loss of fat. Or, if lamb fat is not your thing, drain off the fat after searing, and then add oil or chicken broth to cook the vegetables. Not quite as transporting as a Wolfert tagine, but the flavors and textures are simple and satisfying in their own right.
Quick Stew of Lamb, Root Vegetables and Lentils
1- 2 pounds lamb meat, cut into bite sizes
2-3 carrots, peeled and cubed
2-3 small turnips, peeled and cubed
1/2 celery root, peeled and cubed
1 bunch swiss chard, torn or chopped into bite-sized pieces.
1/2 cup uncooked lentils
bay leaf, a few branches of thyme (optional)
2 cups water or chicken broth
salt and pepper
Liberally salt the lamb, and place it in a hot, shallow pan over medium-high heat. Sear the meat until it starts rendering its fat, then add the root vegetables.
Continue cooking, stirring occasionally and draining off excess fat if necessary, until the vegetables are browned to your satisfaction.
Meanwhile, cook the lentils with herbs (if using) in water or broth until soft but still firm, about 10-15 minutes.
Then, toss the chopped chard into the pan with the meat and vegetables and toss to wilt.
Finally, add the lentils and continue to let the chard wilt. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.