Weeknight Cooking

Last Supper in L.A.

August 16, 2010

Moroccan Style Lamb

- Jenny

As the New Testament and prisoners on death row can both attest, you never really know how your last supper is going to go down.

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Yeah sure you can make plans -- the condemned prefer cheeseburgers according to the research –- but sometimes you have to rely on what you have hanging around, what is left of the culinary you. Things can take a wrong turn. One never knows.

I decided to make my last meal in my Los Angeles home with whatever I had left in my freezer and larder, without making any significant purchases. Rooting around the cupboards did present me with some deep introspection. What was with the chana nuts? What precisely was going through my mind when I continued to buy container after container of mayonnaise, leaving me with four unopened ones at press time? Why so much gyoza?

Among the frozen items, only one showed real promise: a pound and a half of cubed lamb, so marked in black Sharpee by yours truly, who forgot to date the Ziplock bag it was stored in, of course. Why did I ever buy cubed lamb? Jewish holiday? Winter stew mania?

Nevermind. As I cruised food52 I came upon Moroccan Style Lamb and was instantly excited. I could make this only entirely with what I had on hand, with a few adjustments that were made not to make up for any inefficiencies in the recipe, but rather in my supplies.

Anyone who cooks with lamb has no doubt made some version of this, perhaps one that is braised, but healthierkitchen offers you a nice and easy weeknight version here. The bonus for me is that I was able to unload my last onion, lemon and random bits of this and that.

I had a little less lamb on hand then the recipe calls for, but I used about the same proportions of spice, to no regret. After I browned the meat I sautéed my onions as instructed, and they were instantly turmeric stained and soft. I had no bite sized dried plums on hand, so I threw together a cup of raisins and dried cherries. Goodbye to those packages!

I also lacked green olives, and substituted a few capers which gave the dish the salty tang it needed. I had no squash, so in went carrots instead. I did buy parsley, an herb I once sneered at with disdain but have come to respect for its Mariano Rivera abilities to close a dish.

As the dish simmered nicely and I cooked up the last of my cous cous, I thought about how I always imaged this meal would be. Children around the table showing hushed respect for mom. Candles maybe. My husband praising me for all the meals I cooked in this wonderful home.

Instead, one kid left with a friend for a goodbye dinner. The other picked at her side of pasta. My husband said, “It’s a good dish. Meat’s a little fatty.”

He was right about the meat, but who knows what cut I used? Besides, this dish at its base is a winner –- a layer of sublime spices, perfect acidity and salt and ease. Slow cooked versions are deeper and more complex, but for a weeknight meal you are getting a lot of bang for your lamb buck.

In this sense meals are like everything about your home. Infuse them with unrealistic expectations, and they will disappoint you. Make them work in the form that you find them, in the context of the life you actually lead, and you will remember them with the pleasure they provided. Not because they were perfect, but because they belonged to you.

Moroccan Style Lamb

By healthierkitchen

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon raz el hanout (optional - some of the flavors duplicate what's in here, so don't worry about leaving it out if you don't have it)
  • 2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups homemade or low or no sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup pitted bite sized dried plums, or halved if full sized
  • 2 cups cubed butternut or acorn squash
  • 1/2 cup Spanish green olives, pitted
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (if you have preserved lemon, then use the skin of 1/2, rinsed and minced)
  • 3 teaspoons chopped parsley


1. Combine the salt, pepper and other spices in a large bowl. Add the lamb pieces and toss to coat.

2. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and brown the lamb chunks, in batches, using additional oil as needed. Remove the lamb chunks to a plate as cooked. Remove some of the fat from the pan if a lot has rendered, leaving only a light coating.

3. Lower heat to medium and cook the onion and garlic until the onion has softened and become translucent, about 4 or 5 minutes.

4. Add stock to the pan and scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan.

5. Return the lamb to pan, along with any juices, and add prunes, squash, olives and zest.

6. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, for about 30 minutes.

7. Taste for salt and pepper and garnish with the parsley. Serve with whole wheat couscous.

By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, is the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.

Jennifer Steinhauer
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courtneycarlson August 24, 2010
I hate waste, so I really enjoy the last few days before a move or vacation (moves almost as frequent as vacations in our house...) foraging the fridge and pantry to make a meal so nothing goes bad...Im a DC native, so welcome! did you see this?
Washington looks tantalizing to New York's restaurateurs http://ht.ly/2tIoB Good luck.
Jestei September 1, 2010
thanks for this exciting link!!
abbyarnold August 22, 2010
Jenny, we NYT readers in WLA will miss your coverage of the Left Coast! Luckily we will still have you on the national scene, and here in Food52.
Jestei September 1, 2010
awww thank you. i will look for you here, too!
monkeymom August 17, 2010
Jenny, as a fellow expat, I also have many fond memories of sunny LA. You are very brave to pick up and move on. I hope you find many many things to fall in love with in DC too!
Jestei September 1, 2010
not so much brave as, people with mortgages have no free will. but i think DC and i will find ways to agree with one another!
mrslarkin August 16, 2010
Yum. Lots o luck w nxt chpter of your life jenny. Enjoy east coast. Buy a snow shovel.
Jestei August 17, 2010
thank you kindly. shovel on order. boots, too.
cheese1227 August 16, 2010
I think there should be a recipe search engine into which you can plug only the ingredients you have on hand and it will serve up the recipes that comply. That would be most helpful for movers!

mrslarkin August 16, 2010
I think there's a food52 app 4 that now, no?
Jestei August 17, 2010
i love this idea, too.
drbabs August 16, 2010
The last supper in LA, yes, but not The Last Supper. May you have many more pleasurable delicious dinners with your family in your new home.
Jestei August 17, 2010
thank you dear drbabs. more anon, as they say.
healthierkitchen August 16, 2010
Jenny - what a surprise and thrill to log in and find my recipe was a part of such a poignant and bittersweet dinner. I'm glad my recipe worked for you and that it was adaptable to what you had left in your house. And I love your final paragraph which really says it all about life and expectations. My first child is leaving for college in just over a week, so this hits me at a time of change as well, and I appreciate reading your insights. Much luck with your move - it's not too bad here.
Jestei August 17, 2010
So happy that you could both provide the recipe and relate to the sentiments. Much XO for your big new life change.
dymnyno August 16, 2010
I have moved a few times in my life, always happily anticipating change and excitement and I can not remember ever being disappointed . And, I have always been able to look back at my previous environment with happy memories and nostalgia. I hope that your move brings fun , anticipation and and the excitement of a journey. I hope that you can look back at your time in California and recall happy times!
Jestei August 17, 2010
thank you. we shall see. a new stove might help.
mcs3000 August 16, 2010
Like Rivera, you're one helluva closer. LA's loss is DC's gain. Thanks, Jenny! Safe travels - can't wait to read the next chapter. And thank you, food52, for posting Jenny's column on Monday - starts the week out right.
Jestei August 17, 2010
you're the best. and thanks for all the DC tips!
Sagegreen August 16, 2010
We can savor your introspections. If you are on the verge of a move, good luck with the first meal in your new place! I appreciate your perspective. Btw when I put something in the freezer, more often than not, it enters more a state of purgatory or maybe a kind of stay of execution before eventual curbside pick-up.
mklug August 16, 2010
Like you, I occasionally get these bursts of energy where I put in a bunch of things in the freezer, thinking, now I will be one of those efficient women who can always whip up something tempting and complex (as in, not pasta with butter and hopefully garlic)--a real meal which will meet with praise and be so easy. And then I never get around to defrosting anything and keep putting off doing anything until I get another burst of energy and decide I'm going to be one of those women who is very tidy and spare and smugly clean it all out of the fridge.
Jestei August 17, 2010
Sagegreen and mklug and I are all the same person. We've fooled you all!