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A slow-braised lamb stew with fall-off-the-bone meat is the ultimate comfort food. – Pictures BY CK LimA slow-braised lamb stew with fall-off-the-bone meat is the ultimate comfort food. – Pictures BY CK LimKUALA LUMPUR, Dec 14 – It’s that time of year again. Christmas carols are ringing from store to store in shopping malls. Yuletide sales beckon with signs promising further reductions with every passing week. Amazon wish-lists drop not-so-subtle hints on what you can get your boss, your best friend, or your better half to make it a truly jolly season (for them).

Oh dear. I do sound like the Grinch, don’t i?

Part of me just doesn’t understand how Christmas has gotten so commercialised (and in such a crass manner too) over the years. I remember as child watching Christmas specials and cartoons on the telly as a treat, and that was enough.

I remember my uncle’s wife, who is Portuguese Malaccan (what we call Eurasian or Kristang) making her famous sugee cake (which will now probably be frowned upon for its artery-clogging properties but hey – live a little, it’s only once a year!) and her hearty, belly-warming lamb stew.

These days our extended family is separated by countries, oceans, and yes, even the grave, morbid as that sounds. Time passes and life happens. Which is sad, because isn’t Christmas about family, not necessarily to swap expensive presents bought last minute at mad rush sales but to break bread and share a meal together?

Parsley is used for the gremolata of lemon zest, parsley, and garlic to serve with the lamb stew as a condiment (left). Cauliflower is a nutritious substitute for potato when creating a side of mash (right)Parsley is used for the gremolata of lemon zest, parsley, and garlic to serve with the lamb stew as a condiment (left). Cauliflower is a nutritious substitute for potato when creating a side of mash (right)I’m not a Christian but thanks to a diversity of race and religion in our continent-parted clan, it’s easy to appreciate the opportunity to celebrate with and give thanks to those who matter. What I’ve come to realise is that the definition of family goes beyond flesh and blood; family is who we meet and connect with along the way in this journey that is our life.

Christmas, then, is about reconnecting with those we care about. Everyone has been busy for the past 11 months and counting, fighting fires and keeping the roof above their heads. Now is the time to sit down to a lovingly home-cooked meal (say some lamb stew), catch up, laugh, and fill ourselves with the spirit of the season (and the merry lamb stew too).

Now you will forgive me if I get into the aforementioned seasonal spirit and butcher a beloved carol for the purpose of this weekend kitchen:

Have yourself a merry little lamb stew

Let your tastebuds come alive

From now on

Till all your guests arrive

Have yourself a merry little lamb stew

Make the Yuletide gay

From now on

And every single cooking day

Here we add some sweet rosemary

Its happy aroma we adore

Faithful flavours tomato will marry

With garlic – more, please, more!

Through the hours we all wait together

If the Fates allow

May the slow cooker not go...  kapow!

Then you’ll have yourself a merry little lamb stew now...

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Slow-braised Christmas lamb stew & curried cashew-cauliflower mash

Plum tomatoes add depth to the lamb stew (left). Aromatic garlic is one third of the gremolata condiment (right)Plum tomatoes add depth to the lamb stew (left). Aromatic garlic is one third of the gremolata condiment (right)Christmas isn’t all chilly, snow-capped and wind-blown nights in Malaysia, what with us being in the tropics and all. Still, there’s something about a hearty dish that warms both the belly and the heart. Lamb stew is comfort food, perfect for Yuletide and all year round, really.

A slow cooker is the secret to this stew. By braising the meat, you can leave it for 8-10 hours without worrying about the meat overcooking. Braising transforms even the toughest cuts into terrifically moist, fall-from-the-bone lamb.

Rosemary flavours the meat imperceptibly yet so deeply that your guests won’t be able to resist seconds (or thirds). A mixture of lemon zest, parsley, and garlic (what the Italians call gremolata) adds a kick to the dish.

Curried cashew-cauliflower mash adds a twist to your Christmas mealCurried cashew-cauliflower mash adds a twist to your Christmas mealMy Eurasian aunt always believed that the lamb stew tasted best a few days after cooking so you can prepare this ahead of time (meaning less work and frazzle on Christmas Day). For those fearing carbs, try a mildly-spiced cashew-cauliflower mash instead of the usual gravy-drenched mashed potato. Enjoy (guilt-free)!

(A) Slow-braised lamb stew

Ingredients

2-3 lamb shanks, about 1.5kg

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 carrots, roughly chopped

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 can of plum tomatoes, roughly chopped

250ml chicken or beef stock

250ml red wine

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Zest of one lemon

A bunch of parsley, finely minced

4 large cloves garlic, finely minced

3-4 red chillies, chopped (optional)

Method

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and brown the lamb shanks. Once done, transfer the lamb shanks into the slow cooker. Add the chopped carrots, onion and tomatoes. Next pour in the stock, red wine and balsamic vinegar. Finally stir in the chopped rosemary.

Cover the slow cooker and cook on the low setting for 8-10 hours. Before serving, season with salt and black pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped red chilli if desired. Serve with the gremolata of finely minced lemon zest, parsley, and garlic as a condiment, and curried cashew-cauliflower mash as a side (see below).

(B) Curried cashew-cauliflower mash

Ingredients

1 large cauliflower

50g cashew nuts

2 large cloves garlic

100ml coconut milk

¼ teaspoon curry powder

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

Add chopped red chilli as a garnish if desiredAdd chopped red chilli as a garnish if desiredWash and trim a large head of cauliflower into florets. Roughly chop the cashew nuts and garlic cloves. Put these into a saucepan and add the coconut milk. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Take it off the heat and use a fork to mash the mixture. Alternatively use a food processor if you prefer a smoother consistency. Season with curry powder, salt, and black pepper.

Yield: Serves 3-4 with plenty
of leftovers.. Both lamb stew and cauliflower mash reheat beautifully with deeper flavours.

For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit http://devilstales.com/ weekend-kitchen/

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