It’s almost impossible to pick up Istanbul and Beyond, Robyn Eckhardt’s new book on the cuisines of Turkey, without immediately wanting to cook something from it. Eckhardt’s accounts of the food of the various parts of Turkey are so vivid and loving, and David Hagerman’s photographs so alluring, that reading through the book (and you will want to read it from cover to cover) without taking a break to make various grocery lists becomes a sort of delicious torture.
This dish of braised lamb and chickpeas in a thin and flavorful turmeric-scented broth, among all the recipes in the book, was the one that jumped out at me first. Perhaps it was my own fondness for the combination of lamb and chickpeas, or maybe it was the hypnotic simplicity of the dish—there is no caramelizing of onions, no searing of meat—everything goes into a braising dish and through some strange alchemy everything somehow arranges itself into a lovely harmony while it cooks in the oven.
Eckhardt, in her recipe, urges cooks to use dried chickpeas for this recipe and I heartily second that advice. The long, slow cooking time will ensure that the aromatic broth fully infuses the chickpeas.
Part of the allure of this dish, for me, was the relative sparseness of the spices that go in it. I went a little heavy on the black pepper because I was cooking this for a group of fire-minded South Indian eaters, and also slipped two slit green chillies into the braising liquid, but if you’re just making this for yourself and you want to experience the full magical simplicity of this dish, do try it without the extra heat.
Make sure to read Eckhardt's interview on Tiffin over here.
2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cool water, then drained and set aside
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2½ pounds lamb shanks or bone-in lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 2-inch chunks.
2 green chillies, slit along one side
6 to 8 cups hot water, or as needed
2 medium tomatoes, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
Preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the lower third.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed ovenproof dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat.
When the butter has stopped sizzling, add the chopped onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are tender but before they begin to color.
Add the turmeric and stir to coat the onions in the turmeric-tinted oil.
Add the chickpeas, a hearty grinding of black pepper, and the pieces of lamb. Nestle two green chillies—each slit along one side—in between the pieces of lamb.
Add enough hot water to just submerge the lamb.
Bring the mixture to a boil on the stove top before covering it and transferring it to the oven.
Leave to cook for 45 minutes.
Remove the pot from the oven. The meat should have started to pick up a little color and the cooking liquid should have slightly reduced. Using tongs, carefully turn the pieces of lamb over in the cooking liquid, replace the lid on the pot and return to the oven for another 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, remove the pot from the oven. There should still be enough liquid in the pan to partially submerge the lamb and chickpeas. If it looks like the pan is getting dry, stir upto 1 more cup of hot water into the pan.
Arrange the tomato slices over the top of the lamb and chickpeas and return the pot, uncovered, to the hot oven to cook for another 30 minutes, or until the lamb is tender when prodded with a fork, the chickpeas are cooked through, and the tomatoes are well-browned.
Serve while still piping hot. Or, if you have the willpower, let the stew cool, refrigerate it overnight, and then slowly reheat in a 300°F oven for an hour. Serve with plenty of lavash to mop up the delicious broth.