Category Archives: Lamb

pumpkin chili with venison (the venison diaries, part IV)

Two winters ago, I wrote a series of blog posts all featuring ground venison, since I’d been given 6 pounds of it from my dad. According to my first post in the series, my plan was to write a different recipe for each of the 6 packages, but somehow I fell off after three. I can’t recall what I did with the other 3 pounds,  but I’m guessing it’s pretty likely there was at least one batch of chili in there.

Chili is probably the most common dish made with ground venison- I suspect some people turn to it because the powerful seasonings can mask the venison’s taste, but that hasn’t been a problem for us since my dad’s deer always taste great with no “off” or gamey flavors. We just make it because it’s easy and we tend to have most of the ingredients on hand. However, I never really considered my usual chili (which consists primarily of chopping onions and garlic and opening a bunch of cans) to be worthy of writing down a recipe.

Folks, this batch is a different story. I did rely on a couple canned ingredients, and this is still squarely in the camp of weeknight fare (even with the experimentation factor and my own slow-pokiness, it only took me an hour and a half from start to finish) but the flavors are richer, deeper and, dare I say, more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill chili. Marvin may have to make good on his mention of taking up hunting himself in order to keep us stocked with sufficient quantities of venison, because rather than quell my cravings, this just made me hungry for more.

When my venison supply was replenished a couple weeks ago, I knew that this was the first dish I wanted to try. My dad’s wife Amy had told me about a pumpkin chili she had recently made for a cook-off (it took second place out of 20- not too shabby!) and I was intrigued. Amy hadn’t used a recipe, but she told me what ingredients she used and I tweaked it to my tastes. For example, her version used chili powder, pumpkin pie spice and a little brown sugar, and included lots of beans, corn and tomatoes. I omitted the sugar, added toasted and soaked guajillo chiles instead of chili powder, and used cumin, allspice and cinnamon for a vaguely Middle Eastern feel. In fact, I can easily see substituting lamb for the venison in this recipe (or grass-fed beef if you’re not a fan of lamb). I also left out the corn and cut back on the beans and tomatoes, wanting the pumpkin, chiles and meat to be the primary flavors.

For garnish, I stole Amy’s idea of reserving a little pumpkin to mix with sour cream, and added cilantro and scallions to brighten things up. Chopped jalapenos would be nice too if you wanted a little more kick. One authoritarian note, though- although I am generally very flexible with my recipes, I have to strongly advise against any temptations to use shredded cheese as a garnish- the flavors wouldn’t work with the cinnamon and allspice. I guarantee you won’t miss it, though.

Pumpkin Chili with Venison
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Prep time: 30 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive

Serves: 8

5-7 dried guajillo chiles (see note)
2 cups boiling water
2 Tbs olive oil or neutral vegetable oil
1 large or 2 small white onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground venison, lamb, grass-fed beef, or a combination
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 large (29-oz) can 100% pumpkin puree (check to make sure it has no sugar or other spices added)
1 small (14-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small (15-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained

optional but recommended garnishes:
sour cream
chopped scallions
chopped cilantro

Note: 5 guajillo chiles will yield a chili that is “warm” but not spicy-hot; feel free to add more, but I wouldn’t go too hot because you’ll overpower the other spices. You could also substitute dried ancho chiles if guajillos are not to be found.


1. Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Toast the chiles in the dry skillet, turning frequently and taking care not to burn them. Remove the seeds and roughly tear the chiles into pieces; place in a blender. Pour over the 2 cups boiling water and replace the lid; allow to soak while you prep the vegetables.

2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute more.

3. Increase the heat slightly and add the meat, salt, and all of the spices except the cocoa. Cook until the meat is browned- this will vary depending on your choice of meat; venison is very wet so it takes longer, but keep going until the liquid has evaporated. Meanwhile, process the chiles and water for 30 seconds in the blender.

4. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them to the pot, and all but 1/3 cup of the pumpkin puree; add the cocoa powder and stir to incorporate. Strain the chile water into the pot with a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, pressing to extract all the liquid (guajillo skins are very tough; if you use ancho chiles you don’t need to strain them). Add more water to reach your desired consistency, allowing for some evaporation (I added about a cup).

5. Cover and reduce heat to a very low simmer; cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water if it looks too thick. About halfway through, add the black beans (canned beans often verge on overcooked, so I prefer to add them toward the end).

6. Taste the chili for salt and adjust as needed. Whisk the reserved pumpkin puree with a cup or so of sour cream. Serve the chili garnished with pumpkin sour cream, a generous sprinkling of cilantro and a few scallion slices.

GUDetroit really gets my goat… (kebabs, that is)

June 11 (only 10 days ago… it seems like months already!) was the second Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic on Belle Isle. I won’t call it the second annual picnic, because I’m secretly hoping we’ll have another one before the year is out. Nomenclature aside, it was a grand old time- you can read my post about it and see some of Marvin’s photos on the GUDetroit website. Some of the highlights were: tree climbing, willow swinging, mint spanking, cornholing (ahem), hula hooping, river gazing, and getting to finally meet Warda (who I wrote about here) and her beautiful family.

My contribution to the gluttony was a platter of kebabs and kefta, with some raita and a sort of tomato-cucumber-herb relish/chutney on the side. I’ve been eating a fair amount of goat meat lately, for a few reasons: first, I just wanted something other than the “big three” of chicken, beef and pork (we’ve run out of venison); second, because goats aren’t a large scale factory farmed animal; and third, because they have a flavor similar to lamb (which I love) but are milder and less fatty (not to mention cheaper). I will say that goat leg meat is a huge pain in the ass to cut up, unless you’re ok with a lot of sinew; I tend to get obsessive and remove as much of it as I possibly can, which explains why my prep time was three times as long as it should have been. But while goat can sometimes be a little tough, mine was pretty tender as a result of the extra trimming. If you’re using it in a long-cooked dish, you wouldn’t need to go to that trouble.

I also made kebabs from ground lamb with a little beef mixed in, and tons of spices and vegetables blended in for flavor. I’m used to anything with ground meat being called kefta rather than kebab, but the name of the recipe was “chapli kebab” or “slipper kebab”, because the patties are in the shape of a chappal, or sandal. The recipe originates from Peshawar in India, not the Middle East or North Africa, but you’d never know it from eating it- the flavors are quite similar to kefta I’ve had in Middle Eastern restaurants but with a little less onion/garlic flavor and more herbs and spices.

Recipes are below for both items, but first, here are some photos from the picnic. Although I’m not the photographer of the family, I think these capture the spirit of the day.

Tikka Kebabs (adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid)
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This kebab can be made either with lamb or goat. The yogurt marinade adds moisture and its acidity tenderizes the meat, giving even a lean meat like goat a succulent texture. The original recipe did not call for any herbs or chilies, but I had them on hand and I love the way the little green flecks look in the marinade as well as the fresh taste they impart.

2 lbs boneless goat or lamb
½ cup plain yogurt
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 serrano chilies or one jalapeño, de-seeded and roughly chopped
large handful fresh cilantro leaves
optional: 6-8 mint leaves
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
a few turns of black pepper

Cut the meat- if using goat, I’d aim for about ¾-inch pieces; if using lamb, you could go a little larger so the insides will stay pink.

Combine all other ingredients in a blender and pulse until the solids are blended. Combine the meat and marinade in a bowl, stirring to coat all of the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

Skewer the meat about 4 or 5 pieces to a skewer. It’s OK if it touches, but you don’t want it squeezed one piece against another.  Grill over moderate heat until the outside is nicely browned and the meat is cooked through but still tender (if using lamb, cook to your preferred doneness; we cooked the goat to medium well).

This is traditionally served with flatbread such as naan, but you could serve it over rice as well. I made a cucumber raita (yogurt, shredded cucumber, salt, mint) and a finely chopped salad of tomato, chilies, scallion, cucumber, cilantro and mint to accompany the kebabs.

Peshawari Slipper Kebabs (adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid)
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Because ground lamb can be very fatty and therefore cook down quite a bit, I like to mix ½ lb lean ground beef in with my lamb to stretch out the recipe a bit. If you choose this option, just adjust the other ingredients upward slightly.

1 lb ground lamb (+ ½ lb ground beef, if desired)
1 medium yellow onion, grated
1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons grated or minced ginger
2 green cayenne chilies, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chickpea flour (besan)
lemon or lime wedges

Place all of the dry ingredients (salt, spices, flour) in a small bowl and stir to combine.  Put the tomatoes and onions in a bowl and remove any excess liquid by pressing them with a spoon or spatula and pouring off the watery  juices.

Place the meat in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Knead or mix in the vinegar, tomato, onion, peppers, ginger and cilantro; then add the dry ingredients. Mix for a couple minutes or until the meat becomes smooth and almost paste-like. Fry up a tablespoon or so in a skillet to check for salt and seasonings, adjusting as needed.

Let the meat rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour to blend the flavors. When ready to cook, form into either small patties and pan-fry or broil, as in the photo at the beginning of the recipe, or form onto skewers in short cigar shapes (2 per skewer) for the grill. The mixture could also be formed into smaller meatball shapes and served as a cocktail appetizer. Whatever your method of cooking, use moderate heat and cook until the surface is well browned and a little crunchy. Serve with lemon or lime wedges.

stovetop travel: a visit to india via madhur jaffrey’s aloo gosht

We’ve all heard the term “armchair travel” to refer to reading books that take place in far-flung locales.  Back in my 20s I did much more actual traveling- all over Europe and in Japan- but now, saddled with a mortgage and a 9-to-5, most of my travel is of the virtual variety.  Some of that takes place between the covers of a book,  but when I can, I try to take it a step further by “stovetop traveling”; cooking things with new and exotic flavors that make me feel a little less wistful about not getting to go places firsthand.

Clockwise from top left: dal, aloo gosht, cucumber raita, mango pickle, naan, tahiri, saag

A couple of books I’ve read recently have made me want to delve deeper into the flavors of India- first there was Modern Spice by Monica Bhide, and more recently, Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey.  After finishing Jaffrey’s book, I could practically taste and smell the pungent spices of her homeland, and I immediately began plotting an Indian feast.

The dish Jaffrey describes as conjuring the most homey memories for her is Aloo Gosht (literally “Potatoes and Meat”), a popular dish in Northern India & Pakistan.  This dish is not for the faint of palate- it’s a rich, savory riot of warm flavors- but the meat and potatoes place it firmly in the realm of “comfort food”.  The meat in question when prepared in the U.S. is typically lamb; however, Jaffrey says that in India/Pakistan it would almost always be prepared with goat.  In the spirit of authenticity, I tracked down some goat in a trip to Eastern Market.  If you’ve never had goat meat before, I urge you to try it, especially if you like lamb.  It’s less gamy, leaner, and a lot less expensive (try finding boneless lamb shoulder for $2.99 a pound!).

There are many recipes out there for Aloo Gosht, but most of them that I found seemed “dumbed down” compared to Jaffrey’s.  Unlike some recipes (whose authors might be under the assumption that many ingredients are unavailable here?), she doesn’t skimp on the aromatics and spices.  One thing I used in this recipe that was new to me was black cardamom.  It is very different from green cardamom, the spice used in baking.  It comes in a large black pod and has a smoky, earthy aroma.  It wasn’t at all difficult to find; I picked it up at Penzey’s.  Although I couldn’t distinctly pick it out in the finished curry, its flavor was definitely noticeable in the rice I made (a dish called Tahiri, an aromatic rice with peas- if you’d like to try it, Jaffrey’s recipe is reprinted word for word from her book here).

I followed the recipe to the letter as far as ingredients and quantities, but then parted ways with Jaffrey’s cooking method, which I didn’t really understand.  She called for aggressively cooking the meat, whereas I opted for a longer, slower braise- I wanted the goat to be very tender, and I was afraid that cooking it over high heat would toughen the meat.  She also would have had me add an additional three cups water towards the end, which made no sense to me at all since the consistency of the sauce seemed just right.  Not to question the great Madhur Jaffrey, but who knows, different heat, cooking vessels, and a number of other variables can produce a different result- sometimes it’s best to just trust your instincts on these things because I don’t think my Aloo Gosht could have turned out more perfectly.  I can see why this is a favorite over there; it’s definitely a dish that will reappear on my dinner table.

Aloo Gosht (Potato & Meat Curry) adapted from the book From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail by Madhur Jaffrey
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2 lbs lamb or goat meat in 1 1/2-in. cubes, with or without bones
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 to 3 fresh hot green chilies, roughly chopped
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled & roughly chopped
1 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper (use more or less to taste)
2 medium tomatoes (about 10 oz), chopped (if tomato quality is less than stellar, add a tsp or so of tomato paste)
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 whole black cardamom pods
1 medium cinnamon stick
1 lb small red waxy potatoes, peeled & cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (leave whole if small)
1/2 tsp garam masala
4 Tbs chopped cilantro

This is really a pretty straightforward and easy recipe, don’t be intimidated by the ingredients list.  Most items should be readily available; if you can’t find black cardamom just leave it out.  In her cookbook Jaffrey suggests asking an Indian grocer for “meat for curry” and you’ll get a mixture of boneless and bone-in already-cubed pieces. The butcher I went to only had boneless ready, but obliged me by taking a goat that was hanging up and cutting up some bone-in leg pieces for me.

Place the ginger, garlic and green chilies in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, stopping before you reach a paste.  Put the coriander seeds in a clean coffee or spice grinder and grind to a coarse powder.

Pour the oil into a large heavy lidded pot such as a Dutch oven and set over medium high heat.  When hot, add the shallots and fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.  Stir in the ginger mixture and fry another 2 minutes.  Add the meat and stir for a minute or so.  Add the coriander, turmeric and cayenne.  Add 1 cup water and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste (if using), salt, and another 2 cups water.  Stir and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.  Add the cinnamon, black cardamom and potatoes.  Replace the cover and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.   Cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is very tender and the potatoes are cooked through.

Taste the sauce and correct for salt or spiciness if needed.  If the sauce seems at all thin, you can cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or so to reduce it (I didn’t need to).  It should be neither thick nor watery.  Sprinkle with the garam masala and cilantro before serving.  This curry is best served with rice and something cooling on the side such as cucumber raita (shredded cucumbers mixed with yogurt and a little salt) to balance the warm and savory flavors.  Serves 6-8 as part of an Indian meal.

soup swap! (vol. 2: three more simple and amazingly delish soup recipes, courtesy of my girlfriends)

3-mini-soupsI’m lucky to have many friends who are as enthusiastic as me about cooking (or at least eating) good food.  I knew the soups at the Soup Swap would all be great, and I was not disappointed.  I won’t name names, but even the person who claimed they “don’t know how to cook” did a great job.  So here are the other three recipes from the Soup Swap: a creamy chicken noodle, an Eastern-European-inspired cabbage stew, and a lamb-barley soup with escarole.  They’re all very different but all fabulous in their own way.  Oh, and my original intention of having extra soup to put in the freezer did not come to pass… everything was so good that nothing made it that far.  I didn’t even share with Marvin.  Sorry hon!  We’ll have to do another one soon.

Hearty Winter Chicken Noodle Soup (recipe from Kate Hinote; adapted from The Everything Soup Cookbook) printer-friendly version

chicken-noodle-closeA slightly heartier, more lush version of chicken noodle soup.  Kate used these amazing Mrs. Miller’s Noodles that were nice and thick and had just the right amount of “chew”.  PS: This soup is great hangover food.  (At least that’s what I hear.)

3 chicken quarters or thighs (about 2 lbs total)
4 cups water
1/2 cup copped celery plus 2 stalks, thinly sliced
4 medium carrots, sliced into coins
3 medium onions, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 cups milk
2 tbs all-purpose flour
2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (reduce to 1 tsp if using dried)
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 bay leaf
4 oz (1/4 package) dried medium or wide noodles

Directions: Skin the chicken, rinse and pat dry with paper towels.  Place the chicken, water, 1/2 cup chopped celery, parsley, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf in a Dutch oven or stock pot.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Add the sliced celery, carrots, and onions; cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender and no longer pink.  Turn off heat, remove chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.  When cool enough, debone the chicken, discard the bones and chop the chicken; set aside.

Heat the soup to boiling.  Add the noodles; cook for 5 minutes.  Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the milk and the peas.  Combine the remaining 1/2 cup milk and the flour in a screw-top jar and shake until smooth (or whisk together in a bowl); stir into the soup.  Cook, stirring, until thickened and bubbly.  Stir in the chicken and cook for another minute or two to heat through.


Eastern European Tomato-Cabbage Soup (recipe from Sarah Burger with inspiration taken from this recipe, although they end up quite different) printer-friendly version

tomato-cabbage-closeThis is a good option for the vegetarians out there- meatless but hearty and satisfying enough to make a meal out of.  The starch from the potato and rice combines with the juice from the tomatoes and makes the soup have a “creamy” tomato base.   The sour cream and horseradish garnishes bring it all home.

1/2 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded
2 carrots, shredded
3 stalks celery, leaves included, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1 large potato such as Russet or Yukon, peeled and shredded
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock, heated
3 bay leaves
2 tbs sugar
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup sauerkraut with juice
1/2 cup rice
a few tbs butter, olive or vegetable oil for sautéeing
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:  Put the stock and water in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove and heat until simmering.  Meanwhile, put 2-3 tbs oil or butter in a soup pot and place over medium heat.  Add the onions and bay leaves and cook for a few minutes, stirring.  Add the cabbage and sugar and cook until cabbage begins to soften, 3-5 minutes.  Add the celery, carrot and potato; cook another 5 minutes.  Add the heated stock and water, crushed tomatoes, and sauerkraut.  Simmer until vegetables are almost done, then add rice.  Simmer until rice is fully cooked.  Taste for salt, pepper and acidity, adding more sauerkraut and/or juice to taste.  To serve, garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a dab of horseradish.


Lamb & Barley Soup with Escarole (recipe from Michelle Williamson; adapted from I’m Pregnant! Now What Do I Eat?) printer-friendly version

lamb-barley-closeThis delicious soup manages to be rich and light at the same time, and will be eagerly devoured by the pregnant and non-pregnant alike.  For the non-pregnant, I highly recommend a glass of Shiraz, Malbec or Côtes du Rhône to wash it down.

1-2 tbs olive oil
1 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, trimmed of any visible fat and cut into bite-sized chunks (see notes)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1/2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano (doubled if using fresh)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 cup pearl barley
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
15-oz can diced tomatoes
12 oz escarole, chopped (see notes)
sea salt & pepper to taste

Notes:  If you’re not a fan of lamb, you can substitute beef chuck roast.  If you can’t find escarole, you can substitute chopped chard or kale, stems and thick ribs removed.  If using kale, just put it in about 30-40 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Chard would probably take 10-15 minutes to cook.

Directions:  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, season the meat with salt and pepper.  When the oil is hot, carefully place the meat in the pot (watch for splattering).  Sear the meat, stirring occasionally until well browned on all sides.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove meat from pot and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, onions, herbs, and a sprinkle of salt to the pot.  Add a little more olive oil if necessary so nothing sticks.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the onion starts to become translucent.  Add the carrot and celery and cook 2-3 more minutes, stirring often.

Return the meat to the pot.  Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot and sweat the ingredients for 3 minutes.  Raise the heat to high and add the barley, broth and tomatoes with their juice.  Cover the pot again and bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the meat is tender, about 1 hr 15 minutes.

Stir in the escarole.  It will begin to wilt immediately.  Season the soup with black pepper and, if necessary, more salt.