Iraqi Lamb and Eggplant Stew with Pitas

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This sweet and tangy Middle Eastern stew, with falling-apart-tender lamb, is one of wordsmith and perfect host Jesse Sheidlower's favorites. He found it in Nawal Nasrallah's Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine. "It's a fantastic though little-known cookbook," Sheidlower says. "It's incredibly extensive and provides a lot of cultural and historical background. And it's good to keep in mind that all of this Iraqi culture and history is getting destroyed." Slideshow:  More Middle Eastern Dishes 

Iraqi Lamb and Eggplant Stew with Pitas
Photo: © Ellie Miller
Active Time:
1 hrs 10 mins
Total Time:
3 hrs
Yield:
4

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 large eggplant (1 1/2 pounds), sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 4 lamb shanks (about 1 1/4 pounds each)

  • Freshly ground pepper

  • 1 large white onion, chopped

  • 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses (see Note)

  • 1/2 cup dried yellow split peas (3 ounces)

  • 4 dried red chiles

  • 2 teaspoons baharat spice blend (see Note) or garam masala

  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander

  • 8 small pita breads, warmed and torn into large pieces

Directions

  1. In a bowl, dissolve 2 teaspoons of salt in 1 quart of water. Add the eggplant, cover with a small plate to keep the slices submerged and let soak for 30 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, in a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, turning once, until well browned, about 5 minutes per side. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 10 minutes. Add 3 quarts of water, the pomegranate molasses, split peas, dried chiles, baharat and coriander and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, skimming and stirring a few times.

  3. Drain the eggplant and pat dry. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 11/2 tablespoons of the oil. Add one third of the eggplant and cook over moderately high heat until browned, 3 minutes per side; transfer to paper towels to drain. Brown the remaining eggplant in the 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the eggplant to the lamb and simmer over low heat, stirring, until the lamb is tender, 45 minutes.

  4. Transfer the lamb to a rimmed baking sheet. Remove the meat from the bones and cut into 1-inch pieces. Boil the stew over high heat, skimming, until the liquid has reduced to 3 cups, about 40 minutes.

  5. Return the lamb to the stew and season with salt and pepper. Divide the pita among 4 bowls. Ladle the stew on top and serve.

Notes

Pomegranate molasses is basically reduced pomegranate juice. Baharat is a complex spice blend typically containing cumin, coriander and paprika. Both are available at Middle Eastern groceries.

Suggested Pairing

This stew's tangy earthiness makes it a little too tart for red wine and a little too rich for white—in other words, ideal for rosé, particularly more substantial ones from the New World.

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