I wanted to try something a little different for Bonfire Night this year; usually I make a chilli con carne—but it’s time for a change. Still, there are some fundamental rules when it comes to a winter party dish: it should always be something hot, of course—that’s a given—but it also needs to be able to look after itself, quietly simmering away as you greet your guests and furnish them with drinks. You can then dole it out as and when required, safe in the knowledge that it won’t spoil and latecomers won’t have to make do with a chilled, slightly congealed supper.
This is all conjecture – I had the flu this year, so no party for me, much less standing in the freezing cold watching fireworks, however much I may have wanted to. Instead, I am celebrating Diwali, that joyous festival that lights up our life as the days grow shorter.
A curry would be the obvious choice for a Hindu celebration, but instead I chose this warming stew, inspired by a dish I once tried in a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill. Sadly, the place no longer exists. Luckily, the flavour is still fresh in my mind: rich, velvety sauce spiked with warm spices with an aniseedy tang. Traditionally, of course, a stifado is made with beef, but somehow lamb feels more ‘Greek’ to me – plus the butcher was doing a special: I got a kilo of stewing lamb for just £6. I know, quel surprise!
500g stewing lamb (ask your butcher what would be best)
12 shallots, peeled
A handful chopped celery
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 stick cinnamon
Half a bottle red wine
1 star anise
1 tsp oregano
A sprig rosemary
Half a tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
200ml stock (I used lamb, but use whatever you have)
2 tbsp tomato purée
In a large casserole, brown the lamb on all sides and set aside. Then brown the shallots and celery. Pop the lamb back in and quickly add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down low and leave to simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Simples!
Top tip: to peel the shallots, drop them into a bowl of boiling water, cover and leave for five minutes – drain and rinse in cold water and the skin should just slide off.