Can you read a recipe and recognize what ingredients are responsible for sweet, salty/savory, sour, pungent/spicy/earthy, or bitter notes? They are different in different cuisines, and they are part of a cuisine identity.
During the cooking, we combine basic tastes to achieve a good balance on our taste buds. Let’s look at one of them, sour. European and Mediterranean cuisines are known for their use of fruit and wine vinegar. Tamarind pulp is common as a souring agent all over Asia. Latin-American recipes often list lime or key lime juice instead. Easter-European cuisines widely use pickled and fermented vegetables.
The Middle East and Mediterranean spring dishes feature sour (unripe, with soft white pit) stone fruit as their favorite seasonal souring agents — almonds, apricots, and plums. Combined with fresh greens and spices, they magically transform meat and poultry stews into refreshing, flavorful dishes. In Austin, you can find fresh green almonds and plums around Easter in Pheonicia Bakery. The season is now!
The recipe below is a modified version of Chakapuli (Georgian: ჩაქაფული), a Georgian stew made with onions, lamb neck, unripe cherry plums (tkemali), fresh herbs (parsley, mint, dill, cilantro, tarragon), garlic and salt. It is considered to be one of the most popular dishes in Georgia.
Choosing the right lamb cut for the dish is crucial. This dish is cooked low and slow to make sure all flavors are developed. Lean lamb will become tough and dry at the end of the process. We need something with bones and connective tissues. The best cuts, in this case, are the leg and the neck of lamb. The neck is often sold as a cross cut steak and makes this dish very flavorful. This recipe doesn’t use any additional liquid. The meat is cooked in its own juices.
Lamb can be substituted with chicken thighs, boneless or bone-in.