“In our house, the cook gets tired of this stew, but the diners never seem to.” Sonia Uvezian, in her remarkable tome Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen
From the Caucasus to the Mediterranean, throughout the Middle East, and then across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World via immigrants from those places, a simple stew of tomatoes and green beans, made humbly meaty with the trim and lesser cuts of lamb (neck bones, especially), provides a comfort food for many a home dinner.
The seasonings can be few and straightforward, often with no spice other than salt and pepper and maybe a sprinkle of parsley for garnish. Still, the combination lends itself to many appropriate ingredient variations, here chili flakes and fennel seeds within and dill for garnish. You can also swap the green beans for okra, or add shelled fresh fava beans to the green beans for the last 15 minutes of cooking. Vary the spicing with the addition of coriander or cumin; vary the herb with cilantro or mint.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds lamb stew meat, in large, 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks, preferably with some bone
28-ounce can (about 4 cups) whole Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, with juices
4 cups water
1 pound fresh green beans, stem ends cut off, beans cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill or 3/4 teaspoon dried dill (optional)
1 cup Greek yogurt, for serving
- Pour the olive oil into a large stew pot over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel seed, chili flakes, and salt and stir to mix. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion wilts and softens, about 8 minutes.
- Add the lamb and tomatoes to the pot, stir gently to mix, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, partially cover the pot, and cook until the lamb is barely done but not yet tender, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Add the beans to the pot and continue cooking until they and the meat are very tender, about 1 hour more.
- Stir the dill, if using, into the stew, and serve hot, accompanied by the yogurt on the side.