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.
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.