18 November 2013

Lamb & Barley Stew w/ White Beans & Feta

Last week, we had our first snow of the year.  Sure, it was a measly dusting that only lasted two days, but the hubs and I still made the most of it.  Flames danced in the fireplace, the pups built snuggly dens in blankets on the couch and the scent of hot apple cider filled our entire apartment.  When the weather gets cold, it's time to get cozy.  And nothing says "cozy" like a hearty stew.  Particularly if your stew is a rich, decadent concoction of lamb, goat cheese and rosemary.  I mean, come on now.

The hubs has a thing for lamb.  Sorry Ms. Peep, but he'll eat your sheep.  Roasted or grilled, chops or fillets, he loves it every which way.  He's the Big Bad Wolf of the meat counter, lurking in the shadows until a deal appears and he strikes.  When he came home from the market bearing his bounty of ground lamb the other week, I decided to mix it up a big by venturing away from our usual greek burger into something a bit more seasonally inspired.  (A welcome reprieve from all the squash, to be sure.)

The flavors of this stew will blow you away.  Most predominant is the rich, savory and gamey flavor of the ground lamb, complimented by the robust acidity of fire-roasted tomatoes.  And then there are the standard stew staples of fresh garlic and onion, complimented by a bit of paprika and plenty of spice.  But the garnishes are what truly take this dish to the next level.  Contrasting with stew's warm richness are the bright, fresh flavors of fresh rosemary and feta.  They add an amazing pop of flavor that is unexpected and delicious.  Even the firm feta melts a bit when stirred into this hot pot of goodness.

The other great thing about this stew is its fabulous texture.  If you've never enjoyed the culinary delights of pearled barley, this is an absolutely great place to start.  It has this wonderfully plump, tender kernel-sized consistency that is truly unique.  The grains are bigger than rice or quinoa with a fabulous chewiness and a wonderful hearty flavor.  After cooking for 45 minutes with all the tomatoes, seasonings and lamb, it takes on their wonderful flavor and becomes truly decadent.  And as if the barley wasn't enough texture, we also have a bundle of Great Northern beans just filled with protein and fiber.  Now if are partial to cannellini or another type of white bean, you could absolutely use them here instead.  Since the hubs is super sensitive to sodium, we always cook dried beans in advance but a can of well rinsed beans works just as well (and saves quite a bit of time.....overnight soaking, you forgetful little bugger).

So let's say you hate lamb, love Bo Peep and for some unknown reason have read this far in the post.  First, congrats and second, thank you!  How do you feel about ground beef?  That would be an excellent alternative in this dish.  Or perhaps your a vegetarian.  Thankfully, both barley and beans are high in protein so you will be happy sans meat.  I like serving this over a handful of spinach in a soup bowl for a little extra punch of nutrition, but it is also wonderful in a bread bowl or with a side of cornbread.

Ugh.  The one down side of photographing your food is you have to look at it after it's gone....and want to eat it all over.  Time to haunt the meat counter again....

Lamb & Barley Stew with White Beans & Feta (serves 4-5)
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe

  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or leave whole and remove for a subtler flavor)
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 2/3 c pearled barley
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced fired roasted tomatoes
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 c water
  • 14.5 oz (1 can) Great Northern beans, cooked
  • 6 c baby spinach (plus additional for serving)
  • 5-6 oz feta cheese, divided
  • 1 tbs rosemary, chopped
Place a dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat.  Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan.  When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, until slightly translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for another 30 second before adding the lamb, salt, pepper and red chili flakes.  Stir the ingredients together, breaking up the lamb with a wooden spoon into bite-size pieces, leaving some larger pieces of lamb intact.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the lamb is browned.  Stir in the barley and let toast for 1-2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, paprika and water to the pot and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook the stew, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender and chewy, about 45 minutes.  

When the barley is done, add the beans, spinach, 4 ounces of the feta and the chopped rosemary.  Stir together until the spinach wilts and the beans are warmed through.  Serve hot, garnishing with the remaining feta and additional rosemary.  Leftovers are fantastic reheated.  

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