Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week 4: Lamb and Vegetable Stew

Now that I go to the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturdays, I have a much wider selection than I'm used to. I even saw venison this week - I didn't think it was legal to sell that! (Jesse loves venison, but I didn't buy give him incentive to join me on next week's trip to the Greenmarket so that he can get it and I can have company). What I did end up getting was lamb from 3-Corner Field Farm in Shushan, NY (200 miles away, near Saratoga Springs but nestled in a valley on the border of New York and Vermont). I'm kind of obsessed with this farm now. Just look at how cute those sheep look in the photo on their website. I've already decided that next weekend I'm going to buy lamb shanks so I can make their recipe for lamb shanks with red wine, garlic, and rosemary. Maybe with mashed potatoes and turnips. Can you tell I plan my meals too far in advance?

This week, I've just started reading In Defense of Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planc, which champions "real food," such as meat, milk and vegetables, that humans have eaten for thousands of years, over the modern glut of industrialized foods. She makes the interesting point that it is nutritionally beneficial to eat meat, butter, and cheese, which in this age are all feared for the threat of cholesterol, as long as they come from pasture-raised animals. I know I've heard this before, but can't quite remember where (Omnivore's Dilemna or maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?) and Planc provides scientific evidence to back up her theories, but as a psych major, I remain skeptical because I haven't done the research myself. Yet, it was great to see 3-Corner Field Farm's website reaffirm the claim that naturally raised, grass fed lamb contains more omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamin E, which are all linked to lower risks of heart disease and cancer, than factory-farmed meat.

I know environmentalists are advocating vegetarianism to save the planet and humanity, but I think the better route is to eat humanely and naturally-raised meat from local farms and to eat it sparingly. Humans are omnivores and should continue to eat meat as they have since forever, but they should do it with a conscience. This argument is hot topic right now, which I recently read on Jen's inpiring food blog Last Night's Dinner and in the New York Times, thanks to Mark Bittman. And this is something that even I struggle with. I know I shouldn't always eat meat when I'm out at restaurants, when I know nothing about the path of that slaughtered animal to my table. I know I shouldn't cook so much meat at home. But I don't think that soy protein every day is healthy and I am surprised by so many vegetarians I know (including myself during college) who blindly eat processed foods up the wazoo in the form of veggie burgers and fake bacon without knowing what they're actually eating or its impact on their environment. I have a boyfriend who feels he must eat meat almost daily to feel healthy and satisfied. My personal choice then for our household is to only cook meats that are pasture-raised and procured from local farms, and to supplant meat-based meals with lots of vegetables and/or beans so that they can be stretched into multiple servings and leftovers. I'm also going to try to remember to eat fish at least once a week and to cook vegetarian meals (look forward to lots of beans) at least once a week. This choice makes me feel happy (to eat great food and support local farms) and healthy (to eat food that is better at providing nutrients than supermarket food).

Back to what I made today - I bought boneless pieces of lamb shoulder that are perfet for stewing, and combined them in my crock pot (which doesn't get nearly enough action to justify its existence) with one of every vegetable from my fridge. It was done in less than six hours while I was busy (or actually, lazy) doing other things this afternoon - easy and so delicious. It reminded me of the simple beef and vegetable stews that my mother frequently made in her crockpot when I was growing up. The long time in the crockpot really mellowed out the flavors of the lamb and vegetables, while intensifying the water into a sweet broth. Jesse paired his with quinoa, a grain that originated in the Andes and provides a balanced set of amino acids (pictured above), while I enjoyed mine with lightly toasted homemade wheat bread because I'm not overly fond of quinoa. This stew was the perfect ending to a cold afternoon walk with my boy and my dog in Prospect Park.

And I just couldn't resist posting this photo of my dog Spencer, who is too cute in his plaid winter jacket that is (suprise) made from recycled plastic fabric.

Lamb and Vegetable Stew

1 1/2 lb lamb meat (I used boneless shoulder meat)
1 onion
1 large clove garlic
1 parsnip
1 turnip
1 potatoee
1/2 bunch kale
3 cups water
2 tsp dried rosemary and thyme
salt and pepper

Chop lamb and vegetables into 1-inch cubes. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot and cook, covered, on low heat about 5-7 hours.

This post is part of the Dark Days Challenge, in which I prepare at least one meal each week comprised of mostly local ingredients. All ingredients for this meal were found at Greenmakets from farms within approximately 250 miles away, except except for the spices and Jesse's quinoa bought in bulk at Fairway.

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