I grew up on a small island in the Pacific Northwest. Besides being somewhat notorious for our laid-back attitude and astonishing ratio of artists per capita, the island has always been known for its tender, mildly flavored lamb. I’m not quite sure what makes this lamb so exceptional, but it rivals anything I have ever tasted elsewhere, and I’m not saying that with bias because it’s my home. Possibly it’s the pastoral rolling hills, dense with lush blades of pasture grass and dew-kissed moss that the sheep feed on, or the salty sea air that mists their fleece and faces. Maybe it’s the true peace and happiness the herds must feel when tended by an attentive, multigenerational farmer. The fact that there are no natural predators on island, besides dogs, probably eases the stress, too. More than likely, it’s a combination of all these elements that gives this lamb the upper hand.
This hearty stew combines mouth-wateringly tender morsels of lamb shoulder with an abundance of fresh vegetables and silky barley, providing a dinner that is perfectly suited for spring. Pair it with a crusty bread, if you’d like, and a simple, crisp salad, to round out the meal. An ideal seasonal accompaniment could be butter lettuce, radish, snap peas, and feta, tossed with olive oil and lemon or champagne vinegar. Feel free to substitute another grain, like cooked brown rice or quinoa, if you don’t eat gluten, or you can omit the grain altogether if you practice a grain-free lifestyle, though the resulting broth won’t be quite as thick and rich. For more on gluten sensitivity, read “Gluten Is Not the Demon In Your Gut.”
4 tablespoons butter, ghee, or beef tallow, divided
2 pounds well-trimmed lamb shoulder (or beef chuck), cut in 1½-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
2 onions, diced
2 leeks, sliced ½-inch thick, and washed well to remove any dirt
4 stalks celery, sliced ½-inch thick
4 carrots, sliced ½-inch thick
12 small new potatoes, cut in half
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme
6–8 cups beef or chicken broth
½ cup pearled barley
3 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 large handful fresh parsley, chopped
1. Season lamb pieces with salt and pepper. Melt about 1 tablespoon of the butter/tallow in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high. Sear lamb pieces, being careful not to crowd in the pot (in batches, if necessary), until browned on all sides. Set lamb pieces aside in a large bowl as they are finished cooking. Cook all the lamb, adding additional fat to pot when needed.
2. Add another tablespoon of butter to pot, and sauté onions, leeks, celery, and carrots for a few minutes. Add bay leaves and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Add 6 cups of the broth and bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release all the browned bits on the bottom. Return lamb to pot. Cover with a lid, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 hour.
3. Remove lid from pot, and add potatoes and barley to pot. Cover, and return to a simmer. Periodically check to be sure that the liquid is not reducing too much. If the mixture seems to be drying out, add additional broth as needed to keep the stew somewhat soupy (you’d be surprised how much liquid the barley will soak up, so watch carefully). Simmer stew until lamb is fork tender and barley and potatoes are cooked through, about 45 minutes.
4. Once lamb is tender, add peas and parsley. Heat through until peas are just cooked, about 4–5 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
·chemical- and hormone-free meat
·pastured-raised, organic eggs
·whole, unrefined grains
·virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
·whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
·pure, clean, spring water
·raw and/or cultured milk and cream products