The Washington Post

Sumerian Lamb Stew

Sumerian Lamb Stew 4.000

Laura Chase de Formigny for The Washington Post; styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Oct 13, 2020

This fragrant lamb stew, which tastes like a prototype for borscht, was adapted from a 4,000-year-old Sumerian recipe found on a cuneiform. It’s a fantastic way to experience how people ate millennia ago and how advanced their culinary practices were. To suit contemporary palates and blunt the strong taste of the lamb, however, we tweaked the recipe adding pomegranate and date molasses, both of which were being made at the time the recipe was recorded. The ancient Sumerians would have accompanied this stew with steamed bulgur, boiled chickpeas and bread, but you can also customize the accompaniments to suit your tastes.

Storage Notes: Leftover stew can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Where to Buy: Pomegranate molasses and silan (date molasses) can be found at Middle Eastern markets or online.

Servings: 4
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, trimmed and cleaned of dirt in between its layers
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound lamb stew meat, trimmed of excess fat and patted dry
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped (4 ounces)
  • 2 large shallots (5 to 6 ounces), chopped
  • 1 pound beets, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup (3/4 ounce) baby arugula
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 cup sour beer, such as gose
  • 3/4 cup water, or more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tablespoon silan (date molasses)
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, crushed, for garnish


Trim a 2-inch piece of the white part of the leek, finely chop it and reserve for garnish. Chop the rest of the leek and set aside.

In a 6-quart Dutch oven over high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Liberally season the lamb all over with salt, then add it to the pan and sear until dark brown on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Add the onion, shallot and leek and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the beets, arugula, 3/4 cup of the cilantro, the garlic and cumin and cook, stirring often, until the excess moisture evaporates and the bottom of the pot is nearly dry, about 5 minutes. Add the beer and water, stir to combine and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the pomegranate molasses and silan until incorporated.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover the pot, and let the stew simmer until the sauce thickens, the flavors meld and the lamb is tender, about 1 hour. Halfway through cooking, stir the stew. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired.

Divide the stew among the bowls. Sprinkle with the reserved leek, the remaining cilantro and top with the coriander seeds. Serve hot.

Rate it

Recipe Source

Adapted by food writer and cookbook author Allison Robicelli.

Tested by Olga Massov.

Email questions to the Food Section.

Email questions to the Food Section at

Avg. Rating (2)

Rate this recipe

Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving: 349

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 13g 20%

Saturated Fat: 3g 15%

Cholesterol: 74mg 25%

Sodium: 456mg 19%

Total Carbohydrates: 27g 9%

Dietary Fiber: 5g 20%

Sugar: 14g

Protein: 26g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

Most Read Lifestyle