Braised Meat with Artichokes (Aginares me Kreas)

The meat, cooked together with the artichokes, takes on a delicious sweetness that is complemented by the tartness of the lemon juice. In many parts of Greece the sauce is often thickened with egg, making it avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce). But I prefer this much lighter version of the dish, based on the recipe given to me by Claire Ksida, from Chios.

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Claire and her husband, own the tiny Perleas hotel, which they created by restoring an old Genoan villa, beautifully situated among extensive orange and tangerine groves, in Kambos, just outside the island’s capital. Claire prepares the dish for her guests in the spring, with the fresh tender artichokes she grows in her garden. “I have plenty of artichokes so I freeze some because I like to be able to continue making the dish throughout the summer” she told me.

Aginares me kreas is usually served on its own, but it can equally well be accompanied by homemade hilopites or egg noodles, that take on a delicious taste when tossed in the lemony sauce.

TO SERVE 4

2 ½ pounds shoulder lamb chops, trimmed of most fat, cut into serving portions or 2 pounds lean pork, cut in 2 inch cubes
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ cup coarsely chopped onion
1 ½ cup chicken stock or water
2 lemons and 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
8 medium tender artichokes
1 ½ cup dill, chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry the meat with paper towels. In a heavy, stainless steal sautee pan, heat the olive oil and sautee the meat, turning often, until golden on all sides. Add the onion and continue sauteing, for another 3-5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Pour in the stock or water, and when it boils, lower the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until meat is almost done.
Halve the lemons. Pour about 2 quarts of cold water in a large bowl and add ½ cup lemon juice. To prepare the artichokes snap off several layers of leaves, pulling them downward to break them off at the base. Rub the cut parts often with the lemon halves to prevent discoloration. When the inner leaves feel soft and have a yellowish color, cut off the top, and trim the area around the stem with a sharp knife, always rubbing with lemon. Halve the artichokes, remove the inner fuzz with a knife or grapefruit spoon, and drop each prepared artichoke in the bowl containing the lemon water.
Add the artichokes to the meat, together with half of the dill and about ¼ cup lemon juice. Pour in a little more water if needed, to almost cover the food, add salt and pepper and place an inverted plate over the meat and artichokes to keep them from floating in the sauce. Simmer for another 20-30 minutes, until the artichokes are tender. If there is too much sauce in the pan, remove the plate, increase the heat to high and cook a few minutes to reduce. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon juice, salt and pepper, to taste. Add the rest of the dill, toss and serve warm.

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