Chanakhi1 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into small strips (save the bones for stock)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 large eggplant, cubed, unpeeled
6 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups lamb stock (*see below the recipe)
5 cloves garlic, pressed
3 yellow waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed, or small salad potatoes, peeled (immerse them in cool water until ready to use)
1 tbsp khmeli suneli (**see below the recipe)
1 dry cayenne pepper
1 tbsp fresh dill
1 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tbsp fresh cilantro
3 tbsp cooking oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2. Place the cubed eggplant in a colander, sprinkle lightly with salt and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

3. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan. Sprinkle the lamb with a small amount of salt and fry over high heat until the strips form a crust. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to (preferably) a clay pot or a Dutch oven. Sprinkle with about 1/3 of the kmeli suneli and add 1 cayenne pepper.

4. Add another tbsp of oil to the pan and saute the onion until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the bell pepper and garlic and continue to saute on medium heat, stirring frequently, for another 20 minutes or so. Transfer the onion-bell pepper mixture to the pot and arrange as a layer on top of the meat, but do not mix. Season with another 1/3 of the khmeli suneli.

5. Add a layer of tomatoes on top of the onion-bell pepper mixture, followed by a layer of eggplants. Sprinkle the eggplants with the remainder of the khmeli suneli.

6. Bring the lamb stock to a simmer and pour over the eggplants.

7. Drain the potatoes and pat them dry. Season with salt and pepper and arrange on top of the eggplants.

8. Cover the pot and put in the oven for 1 hour. Then, remove the cover, drizzle the potatoes with the remaining 1 tbsp of oil and return to the oven for 1 more hour or until the potatoes are cooked through and crisped at the top.

10. Remove from the oven and stir in fresh dill, parsley and cilantro, reserving a small amount of the herbs for garnish, and mix the stew.

11. Transfer to a warm serving dish and sprinkle with additional fresh herbs before serving.

Lamb stock is rarely available commercially, at least in the United States, but you can easily make it in a slow cooker using lamb bones and/or riblets. To make strong lamb stock, place the bones into the slow cooker, add a small carrot, a small onion, 1 or 2 bay leaves, salt to taste and a few black peppercorns. Add enough water to cover and leave on “low” for 10 hours or overnight. Strain the stock, and strain off any fat (there will be some fat if you use breast riblets).

Khmeli suneli is a traditional spice blend often used in Georgian cuisine to add a distinctive savory flavor to soups and stews. It is not spicy, but has a strong flavor, so if you are sensitive to something like that, try it out by adding some to a small quantity of meat stock or perhaps pasta sauce, and see if you like it. Packaged khmeli suneli is sold in Russian grocery stores, but if you don’t have access to one, you can make your own. To do so, mix equal parts of the following powdered ingredients: basil, parsley, celery, dill, coriander, bay leaf, summer savory, mint, marjoram, fenugreek, hyssop (plain hyssop, not “anise hyssop”) and saffron. (I suggest you make a check list.) Hyssop and fenugreek can be hard to get hold of in ordinary grocery stores, even gourmet stores, but you can find these ingredients at Indian and Middle-Eastern markets. Store khmeli suneli in a cool, dry place, in a container with a tight-fitting lid. As long as all the ingredients are dry, the blend will keep pretty much indefinitely, although its flavor will begin to fade after about 3 years.