A portuguese lamb stew to awake the tastebuds and bring me back to the land of the living

And then, without a big trumpet announcement, without gales blowing outside to the sound of falling rain and echoing thunders, without November's ability to prepare us and get us in the mood, just like Glenn Miller's famed theme, December reached us unexpected. 'Tis the season and what not, and even though temps have been cooler, and the wind has been playing carroussels with the leaves and my hair whenever I walk outside, it feels like December came too soon, and the season reached us far too soon.

I have only just begun my periplus through cold months comforting array of foods, I haven't even baked cinnamon rolls, and the queen of Fall around my home, the pie - whatever the filling might be - as only just begun making its first outings. It doesn't feel like December, my body is not yet in December mode, and my usually high Christmas spirit seems to have been taken out of me while sleeping. I feel more like Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas than ever before. I'm quite certain that all that happened - minor though it may seem in comparison to what other people may have been going through - last September and October has had a very strong hand in it. It's like my giddy joie de vivre has been ripped right out of me and I am having a terrible time finding it once more.

So because of that I decided to play along to my son's wants, and spent last weekend decking the halls, literally. I told him we could put up the Christmas village and spread the Christmas knick knacks around the house, over shelves and hanging from their long lived favoured places, but that we would leave the tree for next weekend. I just wasn't feeling it, and I hated myself for it. Christmas is twenty three days away from me and I am still not quite feeling yuletide grabbing me by the balls - well, actually by the boobs an' all. I am just not finding a way into the spirit. I have no idea what it will be like, this year, as I feel like I need to get my juju back and still I don't know why. In the end, I told myself what the heck, and got the tree up as well. Maybe if I sit by it and stare at it long enough, I will start to feel something.

I only wished I wouldn't feel so numb, as if nothing really matters and nothing really makes me excited about things I used to hold dear to heart just a year ago. I turn to cooking in the hopes I come up with dishes that pull me out of this sleepy state, this numbness of feelings that is leaving me listless. I focus on ingredients I love, like potatoes, and come up with ideas of things I would like to try cooking with said ingredients, but then it's like I couldn't be bothered, because, in the end, what's the point? If the point is gobbling down food, well, I could do with loosing a little more weight and volume, and if the point is to photograph it and post it in this blog... why bother? is what I feel most days. It's like I am stuck in the middle of nowhere and I have no desire of getting out of there.

But then something comes up that seems to wake me from my slumbers, if only momentarily, like some particularly good mulled wine with clementines that turn juicy and spicy and are a treat to eat as dessert, or a lamb stew that is so portuguese as to make me gag in its commoness and regionality, such a paragon for what in my eyes the gastronomic culture of this country stands for. Because, let's face it, Ireland has a lamb stew recipe, I'm guessing most UK must have regional recipes of lamb stew, as well as New Zealand and I'm gonna risk Australia too, India has lamb curry - and that's fancy for stew! - but none of those can come close to a good ole' portuguese "Ensopado de Borrego", our very own lamb stew. There are many variations on this theme, with more of this and less of that, with seasonings that might slightly differ from place to place and cook to cook, but they all share one simple thread: it's a thick, warm, hearty stew that makes use of certain lamb cuts that are not prime quality when it comes to meatiness and tenderness. It cooks for hours to make sure it becomes tender, and that will bring forth all the flavours of the meat.

For our version we use:
  • 500 gr lamb that is cut in medium to small size chunks
  • 3 large carrots
  • 5 medium potatoes
  • 2 large onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 5 very ripe tomatoes - or passata if you prefer
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 1 good glug of olive oil
  • flour, salt, pepper, laurel leaves and water
Start by covering the lamb pieces with flour, make sure every space is covered in the flour. On a large pan fry the lamb in a good glug of olive oil - now, traditionally, in the Alentejo region, this is done in lard and not olive oil. I cannot stomach lard, so I always cook with olive oil, but if you want to, go ahead and cook with lard. - once the lamb has browned slightly, take it out of the pan and keep.  Peel and dice carrots and potatoes, reserving, peel the onions and slice thinly, adding these to the olive oil in the pan, and let them cook gently, until they are slightly translucid. Add the garlic, which you have peeled and sliced and allow it to fry and set free the flavours. Add the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan, and throw in the lamb, stirring carefully. Add the salt and pepper, the laurel leaves and cover. Dice the tomatoes, and once the water has been brought to a boil, throw these in along with the carrots, turning the heat down real low. Allow to cook for one and a half hours, then bring up the heat slightly and bring to a boil once more. Once it is boiling, check the seasoning and add the potatoes, turn down the heat once again, and allow to simmer for yet another hour, untill the meat is falling off the bone. At this point, I personally like to add some runner beans but they are in no way part of the traditional recipe and my hubby wouldn't have them,so we left them out. Feel free to add them if you want to increase your daily vegetable dosis. Once the potatoes are tender and cooked, and the lamb is falling apart, the dish is ready to be served. A good knob of crunchy, homemade bread will not go amiss in sopping up the creamy, thick gravy, and a good glass of Alentejo wine is welcome with this!


  1. é incrível, não é? como é que já se passou praticamente um ano! e já me fartei de rir contigo! ;)
    quanto ao teu ensopado até estou a babar! fabuloso!

    1. Oh, eu tenho andado pouco humorista, na verdade ahahahaha!!

  2. Eu ainda não entrei mm no espírito de Natal, normalmente em Novembro já estou a decorar tudo... Desta vez acho q só hoje o vou fazer. Mas.. ainda não fizeste rolos d canela nem tarte!!!!!!??? Se te soubesse a viver cmg e c esses hábitos vincados, ias ter sermão dos grandessss ^^ PIE PIE PIE

    1. Fizémos uma empada/ tarte - o que eu chamo de pie - mas os rolos de canela nem vê-los, n tenho andado nada motivada, para nada mesmo...

  3. Mal li Glenn Miller fiquei logo derretida, adoro-o! Não vou muito com carne de borrego e isso talvez aconteça por ter comido essa carne mal cozinhada no entanto, a minha mãe comprou isso e quer cozinhar e não sabe como, vou mostrar-lhe a tua receita. Também tenho um amigo que anda maluco pra experimentar a tua receita de mulled wine.

    1. A carne de borrego é complicada, tem um sabor muito especifico e ou se adora ou se detesta - claro que o bem ou mal cozinhado tb ajuda. Se a tua mãe vai fazer ensopadinho, convém meeeeeeeesmoooooo deixar cozinhar bastante tempo em lume brando para ficar a descolar do osso. Mas p quem n aprecia borrego e quer voltar a experimentar, eu acho sempre q o melhor é uma pá assada no forno durante pelo menos 3 horas... o meu mulled wine? loooool, sabes q a minha receita n é lá mto fiel ao verdadeiro mulled wine, eu uso tangerinas ou clementinas em x de laranja pq gosto mais da intensidade do sabor destas, e depois pq comer as frutas meio mornas cozidas no vinho... pá!! Melhor ainda quando lhe junto peras e deixo-as cozinhar no mulled wine, ficam de chorar por maiiiis!!


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