Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Finally, lamb with za'atar!

So, you may or may not have noticed, but we have a little list in the right column (waaaay down) titled Coming Soon to Wednesday Dinners! Which is great, except that soon hasn't really meant soon, so far. But last Wednesday, we finally fulfilled one of these promises and made lamb with a za'atar spice rub. Za'atar is a (Middle-Eastern) mix of thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac, which we tossed with big chunks of lamb and a few splashes of olive oil, before threading the lamb chunks on skewers and broiling them. We ate these with a warm salad of chickpeas, yams, red peppers and portabello mushrooms, with a mint-orange-spice vinaigrette. Recipes for both follow, so you can try this easy-but-tasty, warm, and exotic meal on a Wednesday of your own.

Lamb with Za'atar Spice Rub
Serves 4

This is one of those recipes I first made years ago, whose origin I really can't remember. I have a hunch that it was one of the many things I picked up from a customer while working at South China Seas in the Granville Island market. Regulars were always coming in to say "I made the most amazing thing with lamb last night..." while buying more sumac, or sesame seeds. This is one of the reasons I abandoned vegetarianism, because I just had to try every single thing they raved about.

1/4 cup dried thyme (this used up my entire supply of thyme, but it was worth it!)
2 tbsp sumac
1 tbsp sesame seeds (we used raw, but some recipes I've seen call for toasted – experiment and see what you like best)
1/4 tsp sea salt

Cubed fresh lamb, enough to fill 8 skewers

1/4 cup olive oil

1. Mix the spices together, using a mortar and pestle if you have one. What tool you'll use will depend on how finely you'd like them ground. You can see from the photo above that ours were combined but still mostly whole. I've seen others recommend using a spice grinder to make the za'atar into a fine powder. So, once again, here's a chance to experiment and see what texture you prefer. I've found that I enjoy the unusual texture that the whole sesame seeds and thyme leaves provide, but now that I think about it, I'd like to try the powder version of this as well, to see if it melds the flavours in a different way. Anyways, moving on...

2. Toss the lamb chunks with the olive oil in a large bowl or container. Sprinkle on the za'atar and stir to coat. At this point, you can let it sit and marinate for a while if you like. Or, if you're in a hurry, go ahead and get it on to the skewers!

3. Thread lamb chunks onto skewers (if you're good, you'll remember to soak them in water first to avoid burnt wood – we weren't and all was still well) and place them on a broiling pan or cookie sheet. Broil for about 10 minutes or so (5 minutes on one side, flip over, 3-5 minutes on the second side). We enjoyed our lamb medium-rare – if you like it more well-done just leave it in there longer.
Alisha working magic with the mortar and pestle; the lamb as it comes out of the oven.
Warm Yam and Chickpea Salad with Orange-Spice Vinaigrette
My mom and I made this up a few weeks ago when I was visiting Victoria and we wanted something yummy to go with our spring minestrone. Since then, both her and I have made it again, so it's a keeper!

3 med-large yams, peeled and cut into large dice
1 red pepper, cut into large dice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

2 portabello mushrooms, stems removed
olive oil, salt, and pepper

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp olive oil (whoa, is there enough olive oil in this recipe yet? More to come...)

1/3 red onion, minced
a large bunch of mint leaves, minced

juice of one orange
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp honey
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp ras-el-hanout spice mixture*
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste

* The ras-el-hanout I used was made by Salt Spring Island's Monsoon Coast and contains a mix of “aromatics such as mace, allspice, cardomom, cinnamon and nutmeg with three pungent peppers and the flowers of rose, lavender and Spanish saffron.” Yum!

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. Pour olive oil and salt on a cookie sheet and place in hot oven for a couple of minutes. Remove from oven and toss yam and red pepper pieces in the pan to coat with oil. Roast for 30–45 minutes, stirring a few times, until the yams are soft in the centre and a tiny bit crispy on the outside. Try to use the biggest pan you have – if the veggies are crowded on the pan, they'll steam rather than roasting.

2. Once you get the yams and peppers in the oven, you can prep the mushrooms and put them in to roast at the same time. Place the whole mushroom caps upside down on a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper. Roast until they're tender and juicy (about 20 minutes).

3. Warm 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add chick peas and toss to coat. Cook for 5-10 minutes, just until the chickpeas are warmed and softened a bit.

4. Whisk together dressing ingredients. Combine onions, mint, roasted veggies, and chick peas in a large bowl and pour dressing over. Stir well to coat. Eat warm.

Michelle dicing many many yams; the just-roasted veggies; Laura working on the dressing.

Time to hit the couch! Mmmmm.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Hey Meg - truly great post! How happy I am that we've finally managed to take something off the 'coming soon' list! I think this is quite a revolutionary post in a couple of ways - firstly, I like the way you've presented the recipes. Your manner is thorough, and you get all the directions out there, but keep it friendly and engaging. Secondly, I like the recipe of your own devising! That's a Meg trademark, for sure, but I think even more kitchen experimentation, kitchen scavenging, and recipe-devising has occurred of late. Finally, I think the captions on the photos work a treat (to use a British expression). What a great way to work the pictures into the body of the post. All in all, very cool!