Daily Archives: January 30, 2012

Stone 21, thirtieth day

Year of the Dragon

A thud that shakes the world, jars ribs, and jolts
against your spine. The night sky blossoms, white
against blue-black, cascading diamond streams.
Another jolt; chrysanthemum of yellow fire.
Pink sunbursts; unexpected flecks of white
so bright it burns your eyes. The fiery noise,
the earthbound smoke, surprise upon surprise.
I want to be like fireworks.

186 cookbooks – Juniper lamb stew. Approximately.

Here it is – the kickoff of  my project to sample something from every cookbook I own. And already I’m bending the rules. Then again, it’s my own project; I get to make up the rules. So there.

Cookbook Number One is Flatbreads and Flavors, by Alford and Duguid. (I love flatbreads. I love taco-ey or burrito-ish or gyro-esque things where you wrap a filling in a flatbread and savor them together. When I first saw this book, years ago at a long-gone Borders, I snatched it off the shelf as if somebody might grab it first if I didn’t act fast.)

For this venture – early last week, actually, but it’s been a very busy week and I didn’t get around to writing about it till now – for this meal, I chose three, or two and a half recipes: Juniper Lamb Stew and Red and Yellow Pepper Salad, with Wheat Flour Tortillas.

Not exactly lamb

Right away there were problems. Lamb? You want lamb? Wegman’s and SuperFresh, which is really A&P, which is really The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, or used to be anyhow, are the two supermarkets I normally shop at. What did they offer me? Leg of lamb, and lamb chops. I’m not about to shell out for lamb chops, one bite per chop, just to use them for stew. And I wasn’t much more willing to buy a roast and hack off a pound of it, then wonder what to do with the residue.

Well, Alford & Duguid say that while the Hopi use lamb in this dish, other tribes would use beef or pork. Okay! I bought a package of “chuck tenders”. Juniper Beef Stew? Close enough.

Whole juniper berries in mortar

Then they wanted me to use ground juniper berries. I actually had a jar of whole juniper berries – one of the reasons I chose this recipe – but no spice grinder except the one I keep full of peppercorns. Ah, but I do have a mortar and pestle, bought in a fit of hippie goofiness way back.

I pounded and I crushed and I pounded some more – that’s what the pestle is for – and the berries did break open and give off a wonderful aroma, but they weren’t exactly ground. Oh well. Enough is enough. I measured out the ancho and black pepper and set them aside while I floured and browned the meat, salted it a little, and started it stewing. (A&D tell you to add the spices when you start the stew, but I’ve learned the hard way that beef takes at least an hour longer to get tender than lamb, and many spices lose all their flavor long before it’s ready to eat.) Meanwhile, I chopped up the scallions and measured out some frozen corn (should have been fresh, cut from the cob, but this is January.)

Next, the flour tortillas. I’ve made them before – basically, flour, oil, and water, divided into little balls about the size of a fresh apricot and rolled into thin circles, then baked in a dry pan – but I used the recipe in the book, which called for more oil than usual. The dough was easier to handle this way.

Then the pepper salad: colorful peppers sliced, mixed with cilantro and a bit of onion and lime juice and salt. By that time the meat was tender, so I mixed in the spices and corn and scallions and let it cook together another fifteen minutes or so.

And here it is.

Half an hour later

Was it a success? My husband: “It’s okay. Actually, it’s pretty good” (while assembling his third burrito). My son, who was over for dinner that night: “Familiar, but different. Does anybody else want the rest of it?” I liked it, a lot, but another time I would leave the juniper whole – the semi-crushed berries had an annoying texture. Besides, you could probably cook the whole berries longer without losing flavor, and then they would end up softer. But yes, it was a success.

Guess this cookbook is a keeper.