Anyone else bursting out of their skin with excitement for "The Hunger Games" movie? I can hardly wait! Honestly, I never would have even picked up the book, had my sister not bought it for me for my birthday. All I knew was that it was a “young adult” novel. And the last time I tried one of those (ahem, "Twilight") I couldn’t bring myself to read past the first chapter.
But, "The Hunger Games" arrived in the mail, so as I sat on the couch feeding the baby, I cracked it open and read the first few pages. And then I sorely neglected my children for the rest of the afternoon, as I was incapable of putting the book down. "Shhh … Mommy’s trying to read. You’re 4 years old now … what do you mean you don’t know how to cook yourself dinner? Go change your own diaper … Mommy’s busy."
Not my proudest parenting moment, to say the least. But "The Hunger Games" is a page-turner, with a plot so barbaric that it’s hard for me to believe it’s written for "young adults." But then, so many of the books I read as a young adult had themes which took me years to grasp at more than a surface level. I think that’s sort of the thing with "The Hunger Games."
The story has the perfect blend of ingredients: sacrifice, survival, heroism, romance, and moral conflict – making it instantly relatable and intriguing to all age groups. But there are also deeper themes about human nature, power, and human rights at work, the kinds of themes which take a bit more time and experience to fully digest. If you haven’t read it yet, go buy it right now or load it to your Kindle or whatever it is that you do when you read. Stop reading this blog post, and go read "The Hunger Games"!
Wait … don’t go just yet! I have a recipe for you. And you’re going to want it because this book is going to make you hungry. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that when the main character, Katniss, is brought to the Capitol, she is introduced to the most decadent array of mouth-watering foods, unimaginably extravagant in comparison with her impoverished family’s meager portion of grains or the illegally hunted game she risks her life to acquire. This is drool-worthy stuff – sweet melons, decadent chocolate cakes, thick carrot soups (like this one), and her first taste of hot chocolate. But of all of the foods, her most favorite dish was a lamb stew with dried plums.
With "The Hunger Games" poised to premiere on March 23, a celebratory lamb stew seemed in order. But, to be quite honest, I wasn’t so sure how I felt about adding dried plums (prunes essentially) to my lamb stew. Trepidations aside, I decided to go for it. I figure that if Katniss can volunteer to save her sister’s life, I can certainly put a few prunes in my stew. For good measure, I also threw in some golden raisins, dried apricots, and sweet potatoes. Moroccan-inspired spices of cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and fresh mint complete the flavor profile in this decadent, slow-cooked lamb stew. Somehow I suspect that Katniss’s favorite lamb stew would have been equally exotic.
And as for the dried plums, I was so wrong. They are spectacular in combination with the tender chunks of slow-cooked lamb and Moroccan-inspired spices. I can’t think of a better pre-Hunger Games dish.
If you’re in need of a little Hunger Games fix before Friday’s big premiere, check out the preview on Cinema Blend, where you can see all of the latest images, trailers, movie clips, and behind-the-scenes features!
Moroccan-Style Lamb Stew with Dried Plums
2 2-1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, well-trimmed of exterior fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup flour
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chicken stock
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup dried plums (prunes), diced
1/4 cup dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup golden raisins
6 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade *
*Click here to see my photo guide on how to chiffonade.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Toss the lamb in the flour. In a large dutch oven pan (or oven-safe stock pot with a tight fitting lid), heat olive oil over medium/medium-high heat. Add the lamb to the pan in a single layer and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. (Cook in batches, if necessary. Do not overcrowd the pan.)
Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium. Add the carrots and onions to the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until tender and golden.
Sprinkle the cinnamon, cumin, ginger, salt and pepper over the carrots and onions. Stir to coat. Cook for one more minute. Then, return the lamb to the pan.
Add the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover and place the pan on the middle oven rack. Cook for 1-1/2 hours, then add the sweet potatoes and dried fruits.
Cook for 20-25 minutes more, until sweet potatoes are tender, but not mushy.
Finally, stir in the fresh mint. (If the sauce is thicker than desired, use additional chicken stock or water to thin it out.) Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.
Serve over hot buttered noodles or with crusty bread.