This sweet, tangy, spicy stew is great winter comfort food, made with lots of preserved and long-keeping ingredients. Our ancestors probably ate more meat in the winter, when it could be preserved by the cold, and fresh vegetables were limited. Local lamb is often available at winter farmers' markets; lamb neck bones are one of the cheapest and most flavorful cuts, perfect for stew.
The secret ingredient in the rich, fruity sauce is... prunes! Preserved lemons and harissa (a North African chile paste) add kick at the end. If you can't find preserved lemons, you can just use fresh lemon juice and zest, but they are worth seeking out at Spanish or Middle Eastern specialty stores. Or, you can easily make them at home... recipes for both harissa and preserved lemons are on my blog, www.veggieobsession.com. Parsley is such an underrated herb; a big handful of parsley adds a really nice flavor and a fresh note to rich stews like this.
2 T. oil
2 lbs lamb neck bones
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. freshly grated ginger
2 t. cinnamon
Pinch of saffron
1 C. dried plums (prunes)
4 C. winter squash (either raw or cooked), peeled and cubed
1 preserved lemon (or juice and zest of one fresh lemon)
2 T. harissa
1 T. honey
Salt and black pepper
1 C. minced parsley
A few green onions, sliced (optional)
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium flame. Add the neck bones and brown on all sides. Wait to add salt until the very end, because both harissa and preserved lemons are fairly salty. Add onion and cook a few minutes more, until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, cinnamon, saffron, prunes. Stir and cook for a few seconds, then add water to just cover everything. Simmer for 2 hours, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.
If using raw squash, add it to the pot and cook uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. If using leftover cooked squash, first reduce the sauce until it is as thick as you like it, then add the squash at the end. Stir in harissa until the stew is spicy enough for your taste. Stir in honey until the stew is as sweet as you like it. Chop preserved lemon finely and stir in. If using fresh lemon instead, turn off heat before stirring in juice and zest. Add salt and pepper as needed. Serve with crusty bread, and lots of parsley. Serves 6.