Sometimes making dinner is an exercise in spontaneity. You may have certain ingredients on hand and a general notion of the outcome, but not necessarily a plan for getting there.
That’s part of the fun of cooking: leaving room for spur-of-the-moment ideas, or even a shift in direction.
I had a nice boneless lamb shoulder roast, and first thought of steaming it to tenderness in the Moroccan style and eating it with harissa oil, toasted crushed cumin and coarse salt. Or I could have prepared it in a more French manner, studding it with garlic, rubbing it with rosemary and thyme and roasting it medium-rare. It’s an easy dinner, and the shoulder roast, to me, is tastier than the leaner and pricier hind leg.
What I really wanted, though, was something brothy and stewlike. I appreciate soups, stews and braises year-round, but warmer weather calls for a lighter approach.
I cut the lamb into rough 3-inch chunks, seasoned them well and put them into a soup pot with a cup of dried chickpeas I had soaked the day before. I stuck some cloves into a couple of onion halves, added them to the pot, and then covered the meat with water and simmered it for an hour or so, until completely tender.
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I could have stopped right there, so succulent were the meat and chickpeas, so flavorful the broth they produced. It would have been a fine meal, but it would be even better with lots of vegetables. And my market bag was bulging with leeks, green garlic shoots and glorious colorful chard, fat yellow carrots and fava beans.
So, in a separate pot, I softened the leeks in olive oil, let the garlic shoots sizzle, splashed in some broth and instructed the carrots to braise themselves. Then I added a pound of chopped chard leaves, another ladle of broth and some salt. Stirring with a large wooden spoon helped wilt the greens. Finally, I tossed in the fava beans, turned off the heat and kept everything in the pot to meld for a few minutes.
On a big platter, I arranged the meat on one side, and the vegetables on the other, along with a healthy sprinkling of roughly chopped mint. The extra broth went in a little pot.