Hunger Games Lamb Stew with Dried Plums

Post Edit: This recipe won Hunger Games Lamb Stew recipe contest with Stapleton-Spence and published in Huffington Post for Best Children’s Book Food.

In the third book of the Hunger Games Trilogy,  The Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, by this point, a heroine who is mentally and physically flattened, yet not defeated, delivers a powerful commentary on the wonderfulness of comfort food:

“I’m starving and the stew is so delicious—beef, potatoes, turnips, and onions in a thick gravy—that I have to force myself to slow down. All around the dining hall, you can feel the rejuvenating effect that a good meal can bring on. The way it can make people kinder, funnier, more optimistic, and remind them it’s not a mistake to go on living. It’s better than any medicine.”  -Katniss Everdeen.

Collins, Suzanne (2010). Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) (pp. 238-239). Scholastic Books. Kindle Edition.

By now  you have heard of the Hunger Games trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. Originally written for teenagers and young adults,  as a futuristic boy meets girl with a gladiator theme, the Hunger Games have swept the country.  The above quote from the third book isn’t about this lamb stew but it was to me the most poignant statement regarding the allure of food.

I had avoided the books for a long time because, reading anything with gruesome violence and blatant injustice is not my thing. As an artist and writer, I become too affected by fictional details to remember it’s fiction. Once I saw that the first movie was coming out this month, and people were already buying tickets, I downloaded it to my iPad and  was hooked on page one , reading all three books in a few days. But not for the reasons you may think.

The theme is domination. A new government (the Capitol) now exists in  Panem, what used to be the United States, and is divided into 12 regions. A previous attempt to rebel against the harsh domination and control of a big brother type regime  has resulted in the cruelest reality television the world has ever seen. The Hunger Games.

Every year, a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 will be chosen from each region and put into a technologically manipulated arena equipped with mutated creatures and incredible unexpected hardships all employed by the gamemakers behind the force field, which keeps the tributes from escape.  It is mandatory that every citizen must watch the games. Twenty four tributes go in.  One tribute comes out alive. Many are killed in the first hour by the mass hysteria to grab weapons from the landing point and run. Some are killed by the gruesome manipulation of nature that the gamemakers have rigged up. Some lose their soul. Some find their soul, although any mention of God or any higher being is noticeably silent.

The winning  tribute will then become a mentor for the rest of their life, helping future tributes survive and mostly watching them die. Even if you win, you lose, because you can never escape your role in the Hunger Games. Promoted as a teenage love triangle (as there is a boy meets girl meets another boy plot), I found that to be  quite secondary to the theme of survival, dominion, the brutality towards children and the devaluing of life and in a unexpected twist, the power of good food.

The love story for me was not the story here.  The story is man’s inhumanity to man, as the romance is clouded by the depths of darkness in which man will go to in order to gain and maintain power. They use hunger to weaken the people.  They use children to terrify them into submission. Those same terrified people get caught up in watching the games and cheering tributes on. They choose sides and each region needs its tribute to win, for there is a food payoff for the people for a whole year.  It’s the government’s way of slowly sucking the life out of any humanity that is left. Except one thing.

What perked me up along the pages of torture and deception, was the attention the author gave to food. The protagonist, Katniss, comes from what was formerly Appalachia, a poor region, where it was vital for her family’s survival to sneak into the woods and hunt rabbits, wild turkeys, squirrels and then some animals we may never consider food and either eat them or sell them in the black market. In such a culture, even strawberries can bring a nice bounty.

Hunger Games Lamb Stew with Dried Plumsby Angela Roberts

At times, the pains of hunger are drawn out over the pages, as meat is eaten raw, evergreens are used to make soup, tree bark becomes dinner and cubed rat becomes a good meal. At other times, there are mouth watering descriptions of banquets in the Capitol where gluttony prevails as it did in the Roman Empire.  People gorge on vast amounts of rich,  succulent food, drink a vial of medicine,  throw it up and return to the feast.  During the preparation for the games, the twenty four tributes are treated like celebrities, dressed by a team of stylists and fed like kings and queens, because after all, for twenty three tributes, these are their last meals. In between the starkness of not enough and the over indulgence of feasting on 30 different dishes, are the days Katniss  simply eats what I would call good comfort food, savors every bite and experiences momentary happiness. Katniss has a favorite meal. During a macabre live interview to generate enthusiasm with the crowds, Katniss is asked a question.

“So, Katniss, the Capitol must be quite a change from District Twelve. What’s impressed you most since you arrived here?” asks Caesar. What? What did he say? It’s as if the words make no sense. My mouth has gone as dry as sawdust. I desperately find Cinna in the crowd and lock eyes with him. I imagine the words coming from his lips. “What’s impressed you most since you arrived here?” 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.”

Collins, Suzanne (2009). The Hunger Games (p. 127). Scholastic Books. Kindle Edition.

Lamb Stew with Dried Plums. It’s hard not to try to envision how this must taste to Katniss, because it’s one of the few times she seems to take pleasure in anything. She is a tragic character, haunted by the terror forced upon her. Only when she is enjoying a meal, does the reader get any rest or reprieve from the intensity of  human sacrifice. The lamb stew with dried plums shows up in all three books, as does attention to the details of food. We learn a lot about what they eat for breakfast lunch and dinner, whether it’s in their own home regions, before after or during the games. The author understands the basic satisfaction that food provides, especially when it is prepared properly and elevated in flavor, and  she uses it to help the reader understand the pains of hunger, and the difference a good meal can make to the spirit of survival. The joy of good food that hits so many senses at once in the human body (many we probably don’t understand) can never be replaced by a pill, or a needle that might be able to keep one alive.

Good food transcends tragedy and brings the human spirit a sense of hope. I chose to make the lamb stew because it was the favorite meal in all three books, and when Katniss ate it, you could feel her momentary happiness.

The Stew and My Secret Ingredient

I have never made a lamb stew before, but I felt a kindred spirit with Katniss if only in what a pleasure a good meal could bring in a harsh time. Her descriptions of food tell me that if she were here today,  she would be called a nose to tail foodie who eats everything, fresh from the land, wasting nothing.

I have never cooked with dried plums before (prunes) and now I wonder why. The savory lamb with rosemary and thyme, sweetened by the dried plums created a very unique flavor, and I brought it all together with a bottle of beer in the stew.  I decided to load the stew with slices of onions, not diced, and build my flavors from there. I used fresh rosemary and thyme from own garden (two herbs that I can enjoy year round.) I minced  some of the herbs into the flour that I used to dredge the lamb before browning.  I added ingredients in stages and went back and forth about how to address the dried plums. I had a discussion with other foodie types. Once thought I should mince the  dried plums and one thought I should quarter them. I decided to leave them whole because they are so beautiful in the pot. This is a winning dish and one that deserved to be mentioned in all three books. I pulled it all together with a bottle of beer.

Stay tuned as I bring a few more Hunger Game food recipes to you. Tell me have you read the Hunger Games  and did it ever make you crave your favorite comfort food?

 

Collins, Suzanne (2009). The Hunger Games (p. 127). Scholastic Books. Kindle Edition

 

4.9 from 12 reviews
Hunger Games Lamb Stew with Dried Plums
Recipe type: Main Course
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Lamb Stew with Dried Plums appears throughout the trilogy of the Hunger Games. Slowly braised with beer, and herbs there is a special earthiness that makes this dish belong to the book's main character, Katniss.
Ingredients
  • 4 pound leg of lamb
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons finely fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsely
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil or canola oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large onion, sliced into long slivers about ¼ inch wide
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 1 bottle beer (see note)
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 12 ounces of dried plums
  • 2 large sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • handful fresh Italian Parsley
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 3 potatoes, cubed
Instructions
  1. Trim fat and any grizzle off of the lamb. Cut into two inch cubes.
  2. In a shallow bowl add the finely chopped herbs to the flour.
  3. Season the meat with salt and pepper.
  4. Dredge the lamb in the herb-flavored flour.
  5. Heat a heavy pan with enough oil to brown lamb.
  6. You may have to do several batches so the lamb browns easily. Don't crowd pan.
  7. Slice onions into long slivers. Heat a dutch oven or large sauce pan with oil. Add onions and mix cook over medium heat for about five minutes until softened. Add in celery.
  8. Add in garlic. Mix well. Add meat back in.
  9. Add in ½ cup of beef broth. Add in 1 bottle of porter beer. Cook down for about five minutes. Add remaining beef broth.
  10. Add in dried plums (seeded and cut in half, which is how they are often purchased)
  11. Cover and place in oven at 350 degrees for 1½ hours.
  12. Add in chopped carrots and potato and cook until potatoes and carrots are soft.
  13. Remove herbs. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
  14. Serve over wild rice or as it.
Notes
You can use a stout beer or if you want to try something lighter a wheat ale. I made two batches, one with wheat ale (which turned out sweeter) and one with Porter, which turned out a little richer. Both were good.


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65 Responses to Hunger Games Lamb Stew with Dried Plums

  1. Rosa says:

    What an original story and book. That stew definitely looks appealing and tasty.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Kristina says:

    I read all three books and loved them. I wasn’t expecting to, because they are considered “young adult” but the attention to detail, including the food, thrilled me. I am looking forward to the movie and hope it does not disappoint. Your stew looks fantastic.

  3. You may have almost convinced me to read these books :) This looks like perfect rejuvenating comfort food! I actually bought the first book for Book Club and couldn’t bring myself to try it and ended up giving it away. I did, however, LOVE “Divergent”, by Veronica Roth, which is also YA dystopian fiction…maybe I’ll have to jump the Hunger Games bandwagon too.

  4. This looks and sounds amazing! We’ve read the Hunger Games and are going to see it for the midnight showing. Maybe we should take a bowl of this with us to keep us warm! :)

  5. Wow! I ahd never heard of this book but it seems to have captured you Angela! This lamb stew is pure comfort food…I’m always on the look out for different lamb recipes and I have bookmarked this to make in winter!

  6. Ever since I saw this on your facebook I’ve been waiting for your recipe! I might download it this weekend, it looks to be a rainy one and the perfect time to read it! And even better with a bowl of this stew too! :D

  7. I am an avid reader, I am a lover of stew…and lamb…and this recipe. It looks beyond good. T

  8. Jamie says:

    Fabulous stew and actually the trilogy sounds fascinating, mostly because of the food element. I need to take a look at it. And how I love lamb and prunes together, maybe one of my favorite food combinations. This stew is so different than what I usually make with lamb and prunes (more a North African tagine) – I must try this!

  9. Angela, just this morning as I drove my 11 year old to school, he made me promise to read the Hunger Games. He says the books are awesome. And I’ve heard the same from some of my girlfriends. Now here you are with a Hunger Games post!
    Your stew looks just perfect – rich, meaty and good.
    -E

  10. This post is AWESOME! Anything Hunger Games = Yes!

  11. Helene says:

    I am going to my book club tonight. I get I should recommend that book. Never heard of it before.

  12. Joan Nova says:

    I haven’t read the series, but now I’m kinda ‘hungry’ to do so. Your stew and the photos are very enticing.

    I’ve been using prune in stew-like dishes for years. One of the brands (I can’t remember the name right now) has orange-(and lemon)-essence prunes in packets. Not only does it add a bit of sweetness, it helps thicken the sauce.

  13. Hotly Spiced says:

    I haven’t read The Hunger Games but now I want to! Great looking stew – wonderful comfort food!

  14. Maureen says:

    I love this recipe and I want to read The Hunger Games too!

  15. Barbara says:

    I too have been avoiding Hunger Games. After reading this, I guess I better download it. Really only had a vague idea what it was about and thought it was for teens.
    Lovely post, telling the story and cooking the stew. My mother often made lamb stew when I was a child and served it with dumplings as I recall. (Be lovely with your biscuits.) The flavors sound wonderful!

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  17. jen says:

    I think there’s some extra steps in there? Shouldn’t it stop at step #14?

    either way, this sounds delicious & I will attempt a slow cooker version, to keep it cooking while I go to the movies, and it will be ready when i get back!

    graywithruffles.wordpress.com

  18. Peggy says:

    My book club actually just got done reading the Hunger Games series last month – I LOVED it! And this lamb stew looks picture perfect =)

  19. Hi Angela:

    Great recipe and I love the inspiration from the book! My kids are looking forward to the movie and I will inevitably go see it with them – both have read the books as well.

    Your take is very interesting to me, because lamb with plums is a Central Asian standard, but beyond those two ingredients, there would be lots more onions and garlic and if spices were used to flavor, they would probably include cinnamon and lots of black pepper. Notably, they would use their delicious sour plums that would lend a strong tang to the stew. If, on the other hand, greens were used for flavor, they would probably include cilantro and other traditional Central Asian greens like dill or tarragon.

    I was also raised in a mixed Italian-American household and that is how I too became interested in food. . .

    Cheers,

    Laura

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  21. Maia says:

    This looks amazing. I can’t wait to make it. I am interested to read the book too.

  22. i’ve not read the hunger games trilogy yet but your amazing descriptions have me wanting to now! you’re an excellent writer, truly. + this stew? looks absolutely divine. will definitely be trying it!

  23. Norma says:

    Have to look into this and this soup is amazing…

  24. Ivy says:

    I am not a fan of lamb but I do love a good stew and use plums with pork. Thyme and rosemary are herbs I use in a lot of recipes. The books sounds very interesting but don’t seem to find any time for reading any more.

  25. The hunger games are so popular right now. we actually don’t have the new book in our elementary school library but the kids come and ask for it everyday. The stew looks amazing, sounds wonderful with the addition of dried plums.

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  27. Luke Smith says:

    Great recipe!

  28. Sarah says:

    I LOVE the Hunger Games books! My friends and I are having a Hunger Games potluck before the midnight showing and this just might be my contribution. Thanks for the recipe!

  29. I haven’t read the Hunger Games and from reading this post I know more about it than I did 5 minutes ago! :) Your stew looks incredible!

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  32. Erin says:

    I think your stew is simple gorgeous. I love the literary inspiration you’ve been using lately. Gavin’s in his room on Spring Break right now devouring book two! When he emerges, I’ll show him this gorgeous post, he’ll love it.
    I’ve been making a Turkey Meatloaf (for myself! ha!) with walnuts and dried figs lately! A similar deal. The dried, stewed fruits and meats is a winning combo, which is one reason I love Iranian food so much. They use a lot of cherries with meat dishes which sends me to the moon.

  33. Erin says:

    I just wing it, you know!!! Love you so much, Angela.

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  35. Chris Bednar says:

    Made it this weekend on a strong recommendation. In fact I was told that it might have been the best stew that they ever had. I am a huge fan of lamb… The smell that came out of the pot was unbelievable! My kindergartener even wanted to take leftovers for lunch today! I used an Oatmeal Stout and when (not if) I make it again I am going to use something a little less bold.

  36. Doug says:

    Chris, I agree. Although it was good with theYorgey, my favorite was the Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat.

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  38. Rebecca says:

    Looks yummy, making it this weekend. Is it necessary to place it in the oven though?

  39. ~Kris says:

    I was wondering, if the 4# of leg of lamb included the bone in or not? If so, how much cut lamb do you think the recipes uses?

  40. Bryan says:

    I’m looking forward to making this not just for myself but for my best friend who got me hooked on these books in the first place. And when I read the hunger games I mostly just wanted to cook my favorite comfort foods like chicken carbonara, but then again I cook when something upsets me, like the injustices of what happened in the book did.

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  42. Joy says:

    Hi Angela!

    Firstly, let me say congratulations on your beautiful dish – it is truly stunning, and so yummy looking! I had a question I was hoping you could help me with; I am a Muslim and so I do not drink alcohol, but would love to be able to make this dish. Do you think it would work with something like non-alcoholic ginger ale? If not, what other alternatives are there?

    • angela says:

      Joy,
      Just skip the beer. I think a gingerale would be too sweet and the dried plums are sweet enough. An alternative to add would be a splash of Worcestershire sauce, but not necessary. Thank you for your kind words.

  43. Carole says:

    Angela, thanks for adding to the collection. Hope you have a good weekend. Cheers

  44. Roberta says:

    I’ve been rereading Hunger Games to refresh myself before Catching Fire comes out in theatres. I was reading the description of Katniss’ favourite lamb with dried plum stew, and my mouth watered (I was also pretty hungry late at night but it was too late to eat anything). I found this and tried it today. I followed all the steps except, I used 2lbs of lamb, and I had to do it over the stove (didn’t have anything to put it in the oven). This is really good! The entire time making this, the aroma from thyme and rosemary was so good. Even when I cooked the lamb on the pan. I’m TOTALLY going to remake this, and maybe try another kind of beer. Thank you for sharing this!

    • angela says:

      Roberta,
      thank you so much for you kind words. It’s been a while since I’ve made this stew and now I’m going to have to get this recipe out again. Doing it on top of the stove is perfectly okay. I might even think of a new way to do it in crock pot.

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  46. Renee says:

    The excerpt you gave and ingredients are not for Katniss’ favorite lamb and dried plum stew. The description in the passage from the book was about a beef stew served up in district 13. Not to be picky but it’s just not the capitol’s lamb stew over rice that Katniss fell in love with. They were very different stews.

  47. Lindee says:

    I made this for a dinner party we hosted to celebrate Catching Fire coming out on dvd. I followed the recipe almost exactly as directed and it was absolutely spectacular. Served over a mixture of steamed white rice and wild rice, with croissants and butter on the side. Can’t wait to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow!!! Every single person cleared their plate. Thank you so much for this fabulous recipe!

    Side note: The changes I made were due to my own method, or lack there of. I was in a hurry and didn’t worry about getting the excess flour off of the lamb, so I had to add about a cup more beef broth. I used a porter beer and it provided a wonderfully earthy tone. Absolutely will make again for a special occasion.

    • I remember the weeks I was testing this recipe, coming off of a bad flu. Now I think back and I’m so glad that I kept going because people like you have gotten to enjoy.Thanks so much for writing to me.
      It means a lot to get comments like this.

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  53. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I want to make this for my family, but there are some recovering alcoholics in the bunch. I know that actual alcohol is burned off during the cooking, but at least one is wary of even a hint of it (we had to get rid of spaghetti sauce because it was made with vodka). Is there a way to make this without the beer? Will it significantly change the stew if I leave it out?

    • Mauve
      Of course, you can leave the beer out. Just make sure you use plenty of liquid to substitute. You can more beef broth or even just plain water. A shot of worcestershire sauce or even a tablespoon of dijon mustard would add something.
      Good luck. I’m sure it will turn out just great.
      Thanks
      Angela

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  56. Andrea says:

    I have made this recipe 4 times and LOVE it! My 3 year old loves it and has developed a taste for lamb, which I love because we can get it local at the farmers market. I am making it again today for Mother’s Day, and the house is smelling wonderful with all of the rich flavors.
    Thanks for the recipe.

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