Thursday, December 28, 2006

Babootie: Never-Ending Lamb Stew

This is a dish from South Africa I got from someone in New York. She says, traditionally, they start a pot of this when the cold season comes around, and they keep it on the stove ALL WINTER, adding things to it as it gets used up. She says they never refrigerate it, it's always simmering slowly on the stove. I can't bring myself to do that, but after eating hers sometime around the holidays, I have to say I've rarely tasted more delicious lamb stew. Then again there's the safety issue of having something "on" the stove when you go out or go to sleep. I figured there must be an optimum temperature to keep it from getting too gamey, then again, those old-world "bush Brits" had stomachs of cast iron, loved to go native, and stayed amazingly healthy.

What I like about this from a taste balance is the warming sweet meat and the sour fruit and the astringent cooling vinegar. The sweet taste is robust - not a dessert or cloying sweet, and is carried decisively on a killer savory base of sour, astringent earthy tastes.

I've seen the babootie recipes going round the web and recipe books, and most of them call for ground lamb. Well, my authentically served version, by a woman whose family was 5 generations South African called for cubed lamb (with bones) for a stew.

2 1/2 lbs cubed lamb for a stew - marinated as per the instructions below
2 1/2 onions chopped
6 cloves garlic crushed
14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes - or 1 lb fresh is better
1 16 oz can tomato puree (instead of tomato juice)
2 1/2 Tb molasses
1 cone Indian or Mexican unrefined sugar (dark brown with molasses) (optional)
2 1/2 T curry powder or more
2 Tb vinegar (rice wine)
2-3 firm bananas sliced - if they are more ripened, use two to control the sweetness.
2-3 apples cored and diced - smaller apples, use 3.
1 can of whole apricots or apricots halved - do not use the canned juice!
(using apricot jam is a ghastly last resort)
1-2 good handfuls unsweetened finely shredded coconut (instead of slivered almonds)
3/4 cup soaked raisins
3 Tb brandy (add towards the end)

Marinade the lamb in a mix of soy, black pepper, chili powder, cumin, ginger powder, turmeric and balsamic vinegar. For a deeper marinade, add cardamon, saffron, cloves, paprika, caraway and fennel. Aww heck, go on, chuck in a few Tb of strong brewed coffee.

Brown the meat in a heavy skillet, with some olive oil
Add garlic, sautee
Add onions, sautee
Add curry powder, sautee
Add molasses, mix well
Add all the fruit, mix well
Add tomatoes, mix well
Add vinegar, mix well
Let cook together for a few minutes
Add coconut and raisins
Adjust liquids with tomato puree diluted with water
Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer on low for 60 minutes

Important: At this half way mark do a taste test. Dependin gon the quality of the fruit the stew may be a bit sweeter, a bit more sour etc. Here is where you adjust the taste by adding either the cone sugar to sweeten it, or a mix of rice wine vinegar and soy to reverse the sweet, or tomato puree to deepen it.

Stir frequently for first 20 minutes, then as needed after that.

Add tomato puree mixed with water if stew gets too thick, but you shouldn't have to.
Towards end, add the brandy and stir.

Goes well with brown basmati rice cooked the traditional way with lemon juice. When you use some babootie up, add some more ingredients and keep simmering on the stove. Do this for 3 months.

We had this for New Years Eve, and it was very festive, an appropriate end to the holidays - rich and fruity, without the holiday spices of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. I wanted to freeze some for the New Year but everyone inhaled the first serving, and had seconds and thirds by the time anyone could say ba boo tee.

Even the cat liked it, but I attribute that to a raving case of munchies brought on by most excellent catnip branches brought him for a new years present. The rest of us had sherry, red wine or apple cider, for auld lang syne.


Anonymous said...

This recipe is a treasure. These quantities yield a very large pot of babootie and it all disappeared. I could hardly believe it, never seen anything like it for a dish that I was a bit nervous serving up.

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