Goat meat is often overlooked in Northern Europe, whereas around the Mediterranean, it’s a common staple. Goat tends to be gamey, the flavour being quite similar to mutton. One would think the popularity of goat’s milk and cheese in Britain would result in cheaper meat, but it’s young goat (kid), that’s normally for sale – this is tender and less strong in flavour than old goat and therefore commands a higher price. However, halal butchers generally sell chopped goat meat (with the bone in) quite cheaply and it’s perfect for a stew.
Lentils (Lens Culinaris) are probably the oldest domestic pulse crop, originating in the Middle East and Asia, which makes them one of our earliest food sources. There are (surprisingly) far more varieties than the common, brown, green and red. The annual bushy plants produce a lens shaped seed, hence lentil. These nutritious seeds can be dried and will last for years if stored correctly, making them a perfect food in a time before cans and refrigeration. There’s even mention of lentil soup in the Bible (Genesis 25:30-34) and several mentions in the comic plays of Aristophanes (Athens 446 – 386 BC). Red lentils need no soaking before cooking and have a particularly sweet and nutty taste.
Goat with Red Lentil and Harissa recipe (serves 3):
1 Kg chopped goat (on the bone)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
5 medium tomatoes (grated)
1 preserved lemon (chopped)
250g red lentils
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds (ground)
1 dessertspoon tomato purée
2 big squirts anchovy paste
4 teaspoons harissa
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
a pinch of crushed chillis
4 teaspoons za’atar
2 bay leaves
1 heaped dessertspoon fresh chopped coriander (cilantro)
3 dessertspoons sherry vinegar
2 pints water
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Season the goat with salt and pepper before browning in hot olive oil. Do this in two batches, so as not to crowd the pan and reduce the temperature. Reserve to a plate when done.
Caramelise the onion slowly in the same oil.
When the onion is soft and sticky, grate in the tomatoes (cut them in half and grate the wet side, discard the skin) and stir in the garlic.
Warm the cumin and coriander seeds in a frying pan before grinding with a mortar and pestle – this wakes up the flavour and aroma.
Mix in all the dry spices. I included 4 teaspoons of za’atar, a popular Levantine spice mix (and family of herbs).
Return the goat to the pot, along with 2 pints of water, the chopped fresh coriander, anchovy paste, tomato purée and a squirt (about 2 teaspoons) of harissa. Harissa is a fiery chilli paste from Tunisia, available in most supermarkets. I try to buy Le Phare du Cap Bon Harissa, which is imported direct, as opposed to being a watered down supermarket brand. In point of fact, it is quite simple to make it at home, but it’s handy to have a tube in the fridge. It’s thought that the Spanish took the first chilli peppers to Tunisia, when they occupied the country between 1535 and 1574.
Chop up a preserved lemon, discard any pips and mix that in too.
Cover and cook for about 90 minutes, until the goat is tender.
Rinse the red lentils them before stirring into the cazuela, along with 3 dessertspoons of sherry vinegar.
Simmer for a further 30 – 40 minutes until the lentils are soft. Add additional water if the stew gets dehydrated.
When the lentils are done, check the seasoning and add more harissa (about 2 teaspoons) to taste or serve it as an accompaniment. Harissa tends to mellow and dissipate during cooking – if you keep adding it, the heat will still disappear, so a little at the beginning and end works best.
Serve the goat and lentils with crusty bread and a glass of Didona Réserve, from Tunisia, which has a rich history of wine making, dating back to the Carthaginians – apparently the Romans benefited greatly from this viticulture expertise. The world’s first viticulturist was a Carthaginian man called Mago – his guide to agronomy and wine making was promptly taken back to Rome (after the sack of Carthage in 146BC) and translated into Greek and Latin.
I absolutely love goat but my butcher is not going to love me when I phone him in the morning to ask for some ! Would you believe I learned to eat the meat in the Fiji islands ! Both husbands and I would get off the plane in Nadi on our many trips north and visit a delightful ‘caf’ there for some hot goat curry ere travelling to our holiday destination. Best curries in the world ! Well, with your harissa and chillies and the softer spices you are on the same path half a world away . . . want to try yours just as you made it . . . and red lentils are used in this house every week . . . best . . .
Ha ha , thanks Eha! I first tried goat at the Notting Hill Carnival. There was a stall selling curry goat with rice and peas – I ordered the lot, but it was the goat that I wanted to try. It was quite exotic back then! I hope you enjoy it with harissa and lentils.
I’ve had goat curry in Jamaica and roasted baby goat in Italy. It does have a gamey flavor but with your ingredients I know everyone would enjoy it.
Thanks Karen – I think the gamey taste stops the goat getting lost, next to the other strong flavours in the dish.
Sounds fantastic. Although I have to admit I’ve never tried goat unfortunately, I’m a big fan of lamb and mutton, and lentils as well, so I’m sure I’d enjoy this very much. Now just to find me some goat meat…
Thanks Frank – I’m sure you’ll like it, it’s not that gamey, especially with young goats, which is what’s normally for sale.
A real flavor-packed recipe you’ve given us in this post, not to mention the historical overview. I grew up eating Mexican cabrito and love it, so I’m excited to try this one. Goat is no problem here as our local halal butchery usually has it and they even deliver (via bike). However, I might wait until the early hot weather passes.
Thanks Ron – the historical bit about wine would have impacted viticulture positively throughout Europe and then later on the New World. I hope you enjoy the goat and how brilliant that they deliver!