Sweet-and-Sour Braised Lamb with Tamarind

Lamb braised with tamarind -- a taste of South Africa.
Lamb braised with tamarind — a taste of South Africa.

If there are cuisines of which we are woefully uncultivated, they are surely African ones.

Somali chef Hawa Hassan aims to open our eyes — and palates — wide with her new cookbook, “In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean” (Ten Speed Press), written with best-selling cookbook author Julia Turshen.

Hassan has gathered stories along with 75 recipes from bibis (grandmothers) from eight African nations: South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and Eritrea.

You can’t help but be touched by the personal stories and soulful recipes, which might otherwise go unrecorded and be lost for all time.

These are homey dishes — simple, satisfying, and with deep meaning. Enjoy everything from “Kicha” (Eritrean flatbread) and “Suugo Suqaar” (a beef pasta dish from Somalia) to “Grilled Lobster Tails with Vanilla Sauce” (from Comoros) and “Basboosa” (semolina cakes from Kenya).

“Sweet-and-Sour Braised Lamb with Tamarind” is a South African dish that’s as easy as it gets. Lamb stew meat (I used boneless) gets braised in the oven with garlic, bay leaves, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, light brown sugar, and tamarind until the meat is tender and the sauce reduced to nearly a glaze. If the liquid starts to reduce too much, just add a few more tablespoons of water, which I noted in the recipe directions.

There’s a pronounced sweet-sour taste to this dish, with the fruity tang of the tamarind at the forefront. A mound of fluffy rice provides a great counterpoint.

Hassan suggests serving the lamb with a vegetable, too. I happened to have a head of green cabbage in my fridge, so I decided to veer into Kenya to make the recipe in the book for “Sauteed Cabbage.”

You'll be surprised at how satisfying this simple cabbage dish is.
You’ll be surprised at how satisfying this simple cabbage dish is.

This veggie side could not be any easier. It’s just thinly sliced cabbage sauteed in oil with salt and sweet paprika. You don’t expect it to taste as good as it does. The cabbage wilts, caramelizes, and turns so sweet. Cooked in the oil, it actually gains a quite buttery taste. The paprika adds a nice smokiness and depth, too.

The cabbage goes wonderfully with the lamb, and would make a great little side dish to many other mains, including roast chicken, pork, shrimp or fish.

Get to know the food of a continent so often misunderstood or unfairly stereotyped to experience the true beauty of its people and culture.

Dinner is served -- with a side of culture, travel, and illumination.
Dinner is served — with a side of culture, travel, and illumination.

Sweet-and-Sour Braised Lamb with Tamarind (Denningvleis)
(Serves 4)

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 pounds lamb stew meat, preferably with bones, cut into 2-inch pieces (it’s best to have your butcher do this so they can cut through the bones)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 large yellow onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

4 whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons tamarind paste

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Warm the oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy ovenproof pot set over medium heat. Season the lamb generously with salt and cook in the oil, in batches as necessary, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the browned lamb to a plate and set it aside.

Once all the lamb is browned, add the onion and garlic to the empty pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, tamarind paste, sugar, and water to the pot, and stir well to combine. Return the lamb (and whatever juices have collected on the plate) to the pot and stir well to combine. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the meat is wonderfully tender, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Be sure to uncover the pot and give the mixture a stir halfway through the cooking time. If the liquid has reduced too much, add a few tablespoons of water, stir, and continue cooking until meat is tender. Season the lamb to taste with salt, and serve hot with cooked rice and a vegetable.

Note: If you can’t find tamarind paste, you can substitute an equal amount of sherry vinegar or fresh lemon juice in the stew. The taste won’t be exactly the same, but you will get the nice sweet-and-sour effect along with the brown sugar.

Sauteed Cabbage
(Serves 6)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 green cabbage, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt mixed with 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

Warm the oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the cabbage, sprinkle with the seasoned salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened and a tiny bit brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately, while hot. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and rewarmed in a skillet set over low heat.

Adapted from “In Bibi’s Kitchen” by Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen

Another Dish to Enjoy with Tamarind: Shrimp Tamarind

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  • You had me with the mere mention of tamarind, of course! Lamb stew meat….adding to next grocery delivery request as we speak! This sounds (and looks) absolutely scrumptious. I even have a head of cabbage on hand just waiting to be put to good use. My brick of tamarind paste is either immortal, or pre-dated the use of expiration information. We’ll see. Stay tuned for undoubtedly glowing report coming soon to a blog near you πŸ™‚

  • Hi Carroll: Immortal tamarind paste! I love it!!! If there’s no mold on it — which I doubt — it should be fine to use. Tamarind keeps well for quite awhile. Enjoy the lamb dish. πŸ˜‰

  • When I saw tamarind I thought this was a Vietnamese dish. Looks very similar to the classic caramelized claypot dishes of Vietnam. Yum.

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