It’s the season of the Paschal lamb, hearkening back to that seminal sacrifice on the eve of Passover as the Israelites fled from Egypt. The ancient custom of sacrificing an entire lamb for the holiday was carried through Second Temple times. But when rabbis in the 1500s wrote the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, they restricted celebrants from roasting and serving an entire lamb because of its similarity to the ancient offering, and the pain still felt over the destruction of the temple.
In modern times, people have taken that restriction in different directions. Some serve lamb for the seder, but slow cooked, in liquid, to avoid any similarity to sacrificial roasting. And, let’s be honest, it makes for a tender portion of meat. Others avoid lamb entirely, and stick with other ‘offerings,’ whether poultry, fish or other meats.
The tendency to avoid roasting left out Bedouin preparations, as they often roast entire lambs, or serve it in chunks in makluba, a fragrant meat-and-rice stew. Rice works for some on Passover, but not all. So we turned to Daher Zeidani, an Arab chef and restaurant owner of Alreda in the up-and-coming Nazareth, which has become a new stop on the local cuisine journey.
Zeidani, a former social worker “who got stuck in the restaurant business,” always has at least three or four lamb dishes on Alreda’s menu, some familiar, others less so. But besides his classic preparation of lamb that is roasted with garlic, rosemary and sage, he has another favorite tagine of Persian and Moroccan flavors that infuses the lamb with red wine and cognac, offering the liquid immersion that would render it acceptable to many for the seder.
Ziedani, like many self-taught and professional chefs, doesn’t have exact measurements for his recipe, but we talked it through and came up with the following preparation:
Daher Zeidani’s Persian Lamb
Three pounds of cubed lamb
One cup red wine
Half cup cognac (you’ll need to leave this out for a kosher for Passover preparation, possibly substitute with sweet kosher wine, or a sweet white wine)
One cup water
One pound of carrots, peeled and sliced in chunks
Two eggplants, peeled and sliced
2 cups of dried prunes and candied ginger
Several chunks of fresh ginger
Fresh slices of orange as well as powdered or orange peel
Salt, black pepper
1. Transfer the meat into a bowl, pour in the wine and leave for 1 hour in the fridge.
2. Soak the prunes in the white or sweet red wine.
3. Take the meat out and tap dry.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. Heat olive oil in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or slow cooker.
6. Brown cubes of lamb in oil, in batches, remove lamb to plate.
7. When softened, add carrots and eggplant, cooking for several minutes.
8. Add salt, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and orange peel.
9. Stir to mix in well, then add water, leftover cognac (or sweet wine) and red wine. Raise heat and let it come to a boil. Lower heat, then add the lamb cubes.
10. Add dried fruits and oranges.
11. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more water if the stew seems too thick.
12. Cover pot, and place in oven for 75 to 90 minutes, or more until tender.
13. From time to time, check stew, adding water as needed to keep it moist. When lamb is tender and dried fruits and eggplant have softened almost enough to become part of the sauce, remove from oven and let rest before serving.