Written and Photographed by Rebecca Peters-Golden
I always delight in reading novels that totally love their food—feasting, snacking, cooking, smelling; I love it all. There is, however, something almost shiveringly good about a delicious description of food in a book where food is scarce. This is the case in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (hi, the title kind of says it all).
When kickass Katniss Everdeen isn’t trying to find enough food to survive or interacting with Greasy Sae, the old woman in District 12 who famously says, “Once it’s in the soup, I’ll call it beef,” she’s, you know, killing other teenagers to provide a vicious propaganda of bread and circus for the overprivileged and overfed citizens of the Capitol. In short, for Katniss, food has always been a necessity and very rarely a pleasure.
It’s for this reason, I think, that Katniss’ fondness for lamb stew stands out. On the train that will take her to the Capitol, Katniss views each meal as a chance to build up her strength, to perhaps help her stay alive a little longer in the Game. Although she tastes many of the Capitol’s delicacies, it is a homely stew that she likes the best, “made with tender chunks of lamb and dried plums” and served on a bed of wild rice. Although she shovels it into her mouth without thinking on the train, when she is interviewed in the Capitol, it’s very much on her mind:
“So, Katniss, the Capitol must be quite a change from District Twelve. What’s impressed you most since you arrived here?” asks Caesar. . . .
I rack my brain for something that made me happy here. Be honest, I think. Be honest.
“The lamb stew,” I get out.
Caesar laughs, and vaguely I realize some of the audience has joined in.
“The one with the dried plums?” asks Caesar. I nod. “Oh, I eat it by the bucketful.”
And, never has hunger so been nature’s salt than in a scene during the Games, when (*spoiler*) Katniss and Peeta are rewarded for their first kiss with the only real meal they’ve had since the Games begun. “There’s a feast—fresh rolls, goat cheese, apples, and best of all, a tureen of that incredible lamb stew on wild rice.” As a reader, it’s like you’ve been hungry for delicious food descriptions as Katniss has been deprived of food, and this stew definitely hits the spot . . . even if you aren’t fighting for your life at the hands of a corrupt government.
Hunger Games Lamb Stew
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Makes 4-6 servings
- 3 beef bouillon cubes (although any bouillon will do) or homemade stock, if it’s concentrated
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup dried plums (prunes), about 30, if you’re buying in bulk—whole or halved
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- crusty white bread or other delicious carbohydrate to sop up the stew
Make a concentrated broth by adding the bouillon cubes to 2 cups water and microwaving for about 2 minutes. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add half the lamb and brown on both sides (about 3 minutes per side). Set aside on a clean plate and repeat, adding 2-3 tablespoons more olive oil.
Lower the heat to medium and 1-2 tablespoons more oil if necessary. Add the onions and cook until soft, stirring so they don’t stick; they’ll take on the brown color from the meat, but shouldn’t caramelize (about 8 minutes). When the onions are soft, add the garlic and cook for a minute, but don’t let the garlic burn. Add the lamb and any juices that have run out back into the pot and stir.
Add the wine and broth to the pot and lower the heat to a simmer. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper. While the stew is cooking, if you find it getting too thick, add up to another 1/2 cup of water or wine. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add the dried plums and thyme and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring regularly. Serve with bread or other side of your choice.