Recipe: Simplest Spiced Lamb Stew

updated Feb 3, 2020
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

This is the light, fragrant stew created with spring celebrations in mind. Unlike the rich beef stews you cozied up with in winter, this one opts for a subtly spiced, brothy base studded with ultra-tender chunks of lamb and vegetables. It’s casual enough for a simple Sunday supper, although if you spoon it over a bowl of buttery couscous and top with a splash of fresh herbs, it becomes the centerpiece of a dinner party.

Part of what’s so simple about this dish is the ingredient list; there are lots of substitution opportunities here. If you don’t have nutmeg, for example, don’t sweat it. You can even drop the cinnamon if you don’t have any or it’s not your thing, although cinnamon is a classic spice pairing for lamb. A half-teaspoon of cumin or even allspice might be nice. As for the wine, substitute stock or beer if you have to. This same technique works for beef as well.

For this recipe I took the concept of Marge Piercy’s Cinnamon Lamb in her book, Pesach for the Rest of Us, and applied it to a stew, since lamb is a favorite choice for slow-simmered dishes.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Tester’s Notes

Cinnamon is one of the basic spices we keep stashed in the pantry, most often pulled out for baking. This recipe shows how it shines in something savory. Not only is it a classic pairing with lamb, but it’s also the star ingredient that makes this stew sing.

This recipe starts by tossing the pieces of lamb with a simple spice rub made with cinnamon and nutmeg. While 30 minutes will certainly impart a wonderful flavor, I recommend allotting as much time for this step as you can. The longer the meat sits with the rub, the more it’s infused with the warm cinnamon fragrance.

Kelli, April 2017

Simplest Cinnamon Lamb Stew

Serves 6

2 pounds lamb stew meat
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half moons
2 celery stalks, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
Cooked couscous or rice, for serving (optional)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)

Place the lamb, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper in a large bowl, and stir so the lamb is evenly coated. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, add the lamb in a single layer and sear the meat on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. Transfer the meat to a large, clean bowl. Repeat with the remaining lamb.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the wine and scrape any brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes and their juices, bay leaf, and seared lamb and any accumulated juices, and stir to combine.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the lamb is fork-tender, about 2 hours. If desired, serve over couscous or rice sprinkled with parsley.

Recipe Notes

  • Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

This recipe has been updated. Originally published April 2009.