Syrah and lamb are often served together in the south of France, and tasting this dish, you'll see why. Syrah often has a meatiness of its own, plus a hint of spice and a rich fruitiness. Each of these characters is mirrored in the dish. I serve this over couscous, which adds a nutty flavor. Any ruby port will do fine. I used Cockburn's Special Reserve Porto, $16, which belongs to a category of port known as Vintage Character Port. (Avoid using tawny port, which has a deep toffee character that will conflict with the fruitiness of the wine and the food.)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 cups (1-inch-thick) slices parsnip
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 cup ruby port or other sweet red wine
1 teaspoon chile paste with garlic
12 small dried figs, halved (about 5 ounces)
1 (14-ounce) can less-sodium beef broth
1 3/4 cups water, divided
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup uncooked couscous
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 325º.
Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle lamb with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add half of lamb to pan; cook 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with 2 teaspoons oil and the remaining lamb.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper, parsnips, cumin, and garam masala; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Return lamb and accumulated juices to pan. Add port, chile paste, figs, and broth; bring to a boil. Cover and bake at 325º for 1 hour or until lamb is tender, stirring occasionally.
Combine 1/4 cup water and cornstarch, stirring with a whisk. Add cornstarch mixture to pan; stir well to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 1 minute or until sauce is thick and bubbly, stirring constantly.
Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in 2 teaspoons oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve lamb mixture over couscous. Garnish with parsley, if desired.
Perfect wine: Grant Burge Barossa Vines Shiraz 2001 (Barossa Valley, Australia), $ This Australian shiraz (syrah is known as shiraz Down Under), has exotic, spicy flavors, which mirror the spices in the dish. And finally, this wine's thick, blackberry fruitiness and almost syrupy softness cushion the bold spices in the wine and the dish.