- Heat the olive oil in a flameproof casserole or large heavy-based saucepan over a moderate heat. Add the garlic and fry for 1 minute, stirring frequently, then add the onions and stir to coat with the oil. Turn the heat to low, put a piece of dampened greaseproof paper on top of the onions and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for 20 minutes or until the onions are very tender and sweet.
- Add the lamb to the casserole. Pour in 1.2 litres (2 pints) of water or enough to cover the lamb and onions. Increase the heat and bring to the boil, skimming to remove any foam. Reduce the heat to low. Add the figs, ginger, cinnamon and star anise. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until the meat is very tender.
- Meanwhile, for the saffron rice, put the rice in a bowl, add water to cover by 2.5 cm (1 in) and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain the rice well and set aside.
- Heat a dry frying pan over a high heat, add the saffron threads and toast for 30 seconds or until they give off their aroma. Immediately tip them out of the pan into a measuring jug and pour in 450 ml (15 fl oz) of boiling water. Stir to mix, then set aside to infuse for at least 30 minutes.
- When the lamb is tender, use a draining spoon to remove it from the casserole and set aside. Remove the star anise and cinnamon stick and discard. Transfer half the liquid, onions and figs from the casserole to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Stir this mixture back into the casserole to thicken the sauce. Alternatively, remove the lamb and discard the spices, then use a hand-held blender to purée some of the onions and figs in the casserole. Stir well.
- Return the lamb to the casserole and add the carrots. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the courgettes and continue simmering for 5 minutes or until both vegetables are tender but still crisp. Then leave to cook over a low heat while you finish the rice (cover the pan if you do not want the sauce to become any thicker, or leave uncovered if you want to reduce it a bit more).
- To cook the rice, bring the saffron-infused water to the boil in a heavy-based saucepan and add the salt. Tip in the rice and bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave, still covered, for 5 minutes.
- Taste the lamb stew and stir in chilli sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and coriander, and serve immediately, with the saffron rice on the side.
Some more ideas
Replace the dried figs with dried apricots or dried dates. * To make a vegetarian version of this dish, replace the lamb with drained and rinsed canned beans, such as chickpeas or butter beans. Use 2 cans, about 400 g each. After the onions have cooked for 20 minutes, add the figs, spices and water, and simmer for about 30 minutes to blend the flavours. Add the beans with the courgettes.
Although lamb still tends to contain more fat than other meats, changes in breeding, feeding and butchery techniques mean that lean cuts only contain about one-third of the fat they would have 20 years ago. More of the fat is monounsaturated, which is good news for healthy hearts.
Each serving provides
A, B6, B12, niacin, iron, zinc * B1, C, folate, potassium * B2, calcium, copper