Seems to me, that without fail, the end of May is always cold. I recall this every year because we so look forward to the official start of summer (not according to the calendar, I know) and without fail, Mother Nature has other ideas. We clean off the deck and patio, haul out the furniture and the grills, plant the containers and sow the vegetable seeds, then the temperature drops, the wind blows and the rain is relentless. I know that soon we will have the A/C blasting and our brows will be sweating, so the temporary setback is much easier to deal with than say, April, when we pray for spring only to have snow thrown back in our faces.

That's why I never put away the stew pot until I'm entirely sure we're in for a long bout of warmth. We've gone for awhile without a hearty pot of chili, beef Burgundy or braised short ribs, as those are meals I look forward to in the fall when the temperatures have no intention of rising. But I do like a lighter stew, maybe with some ground lamb and chock-full of aromatic spices that doesn't require hours in the oven or simmering on the stove top.

Garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) are always in my pantry and they are a great protein to add to a dish instead of starchy potatoes. In this Moroccan stew, they complement the ground lamb (I like the kibbeh from Adam's Meats in Eastern Market, which I always have in the freezer) and a handful of spinach adds extra vitamins and a pretty touch of color.

You can serve this as is, but I prefer the Israeli couscous (or pearl couscous), which is a little heavier than Middle Eastern couscous, as the perfect bed for the spicy stew. This was just the meal to enjoy while the winds howled and the rain battered the plants last weekend. This weekend, I'm praying for some sun and warmth; the grill beckons.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light

1 pound lean ground lamb

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups vertically sliced onion

1/2 cup (1/4-inch) diagonally cut carrot

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper

2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon rind

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 (15 1/2-ounce can) chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained

Large handful of baby spinach

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Couscous or rice

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add lamb to pan; cook 6 minutes, stirring to crumble. Remove lamb from pan with a slotted spoon. Discard drippings. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and carrot to pan; saute 4 minutes. Add cumin, cinnamon, coriander and pepper; saute 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add reserved lamb, broth and next 4 ingredients (through chickpeas); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10-20 minutes or until mixture thickens. Add spinach and let wilt for a few minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro and lemon juice. Serve over couscous or rice. Serves 4.

Per serving (without couscous or rice): 420 calories; 22 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 47 percent calories from fat); 26 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 92 mg cholesterol; 534 mg sodium; 30 g protein; 8 g fiber.

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