I’d been meaning to read The Hunger Games for ages. I love fantasy and YA fiction – yeah, I’m a little bit of a nerd. I was bummed when I missed the month my LA book club read it. They’ve raved about it since – and follow the casting decisions for the upcoming movie intently. I downloaded the series to my kindle. Somehow, Greg got to them first and became a fan.
It was time I read it too. This past month I convinced my new NY book club to read the first one. Sure enough, I loved them. I was working long hours this month, but that did not stop me from tearing through all three.
Our meeting was last week and it was my turn to host. I decided I wanted to make a dinner inspired by the books. Katniss, the heroine, is earthy, determined, and is known as “the girl on fire.” Her favorite dish is lamb stew, which gave me a launching point, but since the summer is starting to get hot, I didn’t want anything too heavy.
I found pretty much the perfect recipe in Padma Lakshmi’s Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet. Her recipe for Braised Lamb with Tomato and Cumin has a little heat and lots of spices for flavor, but in a tomato base, so it was unlikely to leave everyone in a food coma.
The last consideration was that a couple of my new friends are vegetarians, but it was easy to adapt this recipe to make a vegan version right along side the meat version.
Rounding out the menu was a green salad prepared by one of the gals in the club with almonds slivers, dried cherries, goat cheese, balsamic and olive oil, which fit into the theme perfectly. (Thanks Dana!) The rest of my guests provided wine, and we drank quite a bit of it. And for dessert, berries of course—you’ll know why if you’ve read the books – with a little vanilla whipped cream.
Lamb and/or Chickpea Stew with Tomato & Cumin
(adapted from Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet by Padma Lakshmi)
For Stew base:
2 tbsps canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cups chopped yellow onions
4 large whole red chilies (I used less and put chili sauce on the side so everyone could adjust to their taste)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsps fresh ginger, minced (or grate using a grater)
3 large bay leaves
2 cardamom pods
2 ½ lbs plum tomatoes, quartered
1 ½ tsp garam masala
several cups of boiling water
sugar (optional, but recommended)
Double quantities of the above to make both meat and vegetarian version at the same time.
1 ½ lamb stew meat (or meat of choice)
Approx 2 cups of dried chickpeas allowed to soak overnight. Canned would also be fine.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds, and after the 2 minutes, sauté the onions, chilies, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry for 5 minutes.
Stir in the bay leaves, cardamom, and cloves. Add the tomatoes and the garam masala. Once the tomatoes start to loosen from their skins (about 4-5 min), add enough boiling water to cover. Once it comes to a gentle boil, add a pinch of salt, reduce heat and allow to simmer until the tomatoes begin to soften and mixture begins to thicken(15 to 20 min), stirring occasionally.
If making meat and veggie version simultaneously, divide the mixture in half into two pots at this point. (I used a crock pot for the veggie version.) You may add more water to the mixtures.
For meat version, sear cubes of meat on all sides in a hot skillet. Add meat to the tomato mixture and bring back to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for at least 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally to make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
For veggie version, simply add chickpeas to the tomato mixture. Bring to boil and allow to simmer for 1 ½ hours or until the chickpeas reach desired consistency. If using crock pot, set to high for one hour, then reduce to low for at least another hour.
The end result should be a thick stew gravy and meat so tender it mashes apart with a fork. If the sauce is too sour, add ¼ to ½ teaspoon of sugar to round out the flavor. Mix well.
Serve hot over a bed of plain basmati rice, or with oven-toasted flatbread like naan or pita bread. The lamb version also makes a good sloppy joe-style sandwich filling.
Padma say this serve 4 people. I got 6-8 servings out of each version.
Lamb and chickpea versions on one plate.
The cooking times are based on the recipe in the book. I found the flavor and texture of both the meat and veggie versions were improved by longer cooking. I left the meat covered on low heat for the whole afternoon, and the chickpea version on all afternoon on low in the crockpot.
Don’t panic if the flavor tastes off early on. These flavors really need to blend and will mellow out as they cook.
If any spices aren’t to your taste, tone down by using less or not at all. When Greg tried the leftover, the clove flavor was a little intense for him. I liked it the way it was, but in the future I might use a little less for him.
Adjust consistency as needed to suit your taste. If the consistency of the stew is too watery, uncover and allow some of the liquid to cook off. If it looks too thick, just add a little more water.
Finally, I have to say this dish was a pleasure to make because the amazing smells filled the apartment all afternoon.
Padma's book has a lot of flavorful and healthy recipes, a lot of which are perfect for entertaining.
I recommend getting the full set of the Hunger Games Trilogy -- you'll want to have them all ready to go once you start.
Berries with Vanilla Whipped Cream
I wanted to make the berries for dessert a little more special, so I made vanilla whipped cream to top them off with.
This could not be easier if you a hand mixer -- it’s even easier if you have a stand mixer. Just pour a pint of heavy whipping cream into a bowl and beat with a teaspoon of vanilla until the cream becomes thick and can hold stiff peaks.
It’s a good idea to refrigerate the bowl and blending attachments before mixing.
Dollop onto mixed berries that have been washed and tossed in 2 tsps of sugar.
This is my favorite vanilla. It is pricey but worth it.
It is thicker than more flavorful than normal extract, and it is already sweet
so you can practically eat it out of the jar.