Holy Mockingjay, Batman - I am so excited about this post! Food 'n Flix and Cook the Books have teamed up to do a double post for The Hunger Games, with Heather from girlichef hosting! Announcement post is here.
The Hunger Games is the first book of a trilogy about a dystopian alternate timeline where war has reduced America to 12 Districts ruled by a Capital. As punishment for a rebellion, all 12 Districts must offer up 1 boy and 1 girl between the ages of 12 and 18 as a tribute to compete in the Hunger Games each year. These children must then fight to the death in a televised spectacle with only 1 survivor. To make things even worse, all of the Districts are purposefully kept in a state of starvation except for the District of the winner - which is given ample food for a year until the next Hunger Games (hence the name). Food, therefore, is extremely important and a focus throughout the series.
The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is an extremely tough teen who would do anything to protect her family and especially her little sister, Primrose. When Prim is selected as Tribute (a death sentence for the timid 12 year-old), Katniss volunteers to take her place. Before being entered into the death-match proper, the Tributes are primped and pampered and paraded around the Capital. It is here that Katniss experiences luxury and an overabundance of food for the first time in her life.
Her favorite dish is a Lamb Stew with Dried Plums - it is mentioned frequently and even sent to her as a present when she is fighting for her life. I decided that the stew would be the perfect dish to make for this post, served on some wild rice that seemed fitting for the setting. I also served it with goat cheese rolled in herbs (inspired by the cheese that Primrose makes from her prized pet) and rustic seed bread (inspired by Peeta - Katniss's love interest and fellow Tribute, whose family owns a bakery).
Food is such a big deal in the series that there have actually been a couple of Hunger Games cookbooks published. I don't own one, however, and I kind of wanted to put my own spin on it. After browsing around the internet, I decided to combine a couple of ideas and merge a classic French style stew with more exotic flavors. The Capitol is a mishmash of all kinds of style and tastes, so I thought it would be appropriate.
I took a sort of Eastern approach to seasoning the lamb by making a paste of olive oil, tomato paste, ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, cardamom, coriander, salt, and pepper. I tossed the lamb into the paste to coat, then browned it in a cast iron dutch oven. I removed the lamb to a plate temporarily.
Then I cut up a small onion, some shallots, a parsnip, and a couple of carrots and cooked them for about 5 minutes, and then a couple of cloves of garlic for a minute more. Then I added a cup of wine to deglaze, and let it cook down by about half.
I wanted the stew to be thick and the flavor to really permeate throughout, so I went ahead and used a stick blender to turn the veggies into a chunky puree. I knew I would be adding butternut squash and prunes later, so I didn't mind losing the chunks of color.
I added chicken stock, dried orange peel (for brightness and depth of flavor), a bouquet garni (mine had bay leaf, parsley, and thyme) and a sprig of rosemary, and the browned lamb and brought to a simmer. I put the lid on, reduced the heat, and let it simmer for an hour and a half.
Finally it was time to add the other title ingredient - dried plums, aka prunes. I added prunes, raisins (for extra pops of sweetness), and cubed butternut squash (for color, texture, and because they are in season) and placed the pot in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes (to make sure the squash cooked through). I removed the herbs, adjusted for salt and pepper, and that was that. I meant to chop up a bunch of fresh parsley and toss it in just before serving, but I forgot.
It know that it sounds like a lot of ingredients, strange flavor combos, and odd techniques, but trust me - this is so rich and complex, deeply flavored, savory with pops of sweetness... It's just awesome.
I made the cheese by taking a log of goat cheese and rolling it in a mixture of chopped parsley, lemon zest, salt, and pepper (I threw in the remnants of a tube of basil puree, too); and served it with Seeduction Bread from Whole Foods (my absolute favorite bread). The wild rice pilaf was Near East brand from a box (hey, that stew was hard work and I needed some shortcuts, ok?). Served with a big glass of red wine, this was so fantastic. Thanks for the idea, Katniss!
And now, since I feel like I should - a bit of discussion on the differences between the book and the movie. As I mentioned, food is a BIG DEAL in the books, but the screen adaptation made it less so. The sense of starvation and desperation in District 12 didn't really come across. They did have a few of the important food based scenes - Peeta tossing Katniss the burnt bread, the feast on the train and in the Capital, the goose in the arena - but the overwhelming sense of food being the most important tool to survive was missing. As was the dialogue on how different food for survival and nutrition versus food for pleasure (in the Capital) is.
The reason for that lack of dialogue is that we are missing a key factor in the movie: Katniss's internal monologue. The books are written from her perspective, with her thoughts laid out. The movies struggle to make those thoughts apparent without using a voice-over. This also makes Katniss seem cold and flat, because you don't know what she is thinking. Even in the books I didn't find her hugely likable, because she is constantly in survival mode and has no sense of how she affects others - but in the movies she was even more unreachable.
One thing that I really liked about the film was that because we were no longer limited to Katniss's view of the Games, we got to go behind the scenes and see how the Capital was controlling the arena. That was very cool.
One thing I really did not like was that they cut the scene where Peeta describes to Katniss the different types of bread in the 12 Districts. This is crucial to understanding the implications of Katniss reviving bread from District 11 as a gift during the Games. She recognizes the origin, thanks to Peeta, and realizes that this gift was meant for Rue. *SPOILER ALERT* District 11 scraped all of its resources together to get that gift for Rue, and after she died they chose to send it to Katniss instead. Sending a gift to a tribute from another District is unheard of and this emotional scene shows just how much Katniss affects people.
I cannot remember if the film included the scene where Katniss finds out that Peeta only eats stale bread. If not, then it should have. That realization is crucial to Katniss becoming closer to him. She had always thought that the bakers got to eat however much hot, fresh bread they wanted and never knew that they lived off of the stale, old bread that nobody bought.
Anyway, enough of that. Read the books, watch the movie, and make this stew.
2 lbs lamb top round roast – trimmed of fat and cut into 2 inch cubes
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 tsp dried orange zest
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig fresh parsley
1 very small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 cup dried plums, halved
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley for garnish
In a mixing bowl add 2 tbsp oil, tomato paste, ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, cardamom, coriander, pepper, and salt. Mix well until the mixture has turned into a paste. Add the lamb to the bowl and toss to coat well.
Heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in a cast iron dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 of the lamb and brown well. Remove to a plate, and repeat with remaining lamb.
Add onions, shallots, carrots, and parsnip to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to remove the browned bits of lamb from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the fresh garlic and continue cooking for another minute.
Pour in the wine and deglaze, then reduce by half. Puree all or part of the vegetable mixture to your liking. Return the meat to the pot, add the chicken stock and zest. Add in the herbs. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 1.5 hours.
Heat the oven to 350. Add in the squash, plums, and raisins. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the herbs. Serve over wild rice pilaf and garnish with parsley.