I don’t believe that I’ve yet to rave about my love for this highly under appreciated meat. Growing up, lamb was never cooked in my house; my mom said it made her sad to think of cooking the lamb of God. I find that idea to be pretty ridiculous since in my line of thinking, all creatures are of God and I happily consume others, so why leave out the lamb?
My first introduction to lamb was at a wonderful Greek restaurant that is sadly now closed. The place was in North Charleston and looked a bit dingy on the outside but once you walked in, the smells were intoxicating. I remember going as a little girl and marveling at the two gigantic fish tanks in one of which a huge eel slowly crept. North Towne, as it was called, had the best of just about anything you’d expect to find it your standard Greek restaurant. Most people probably don’t know this but Charleston has a large and long-standing Greek population; our local cuisine has been graced with that of the Greeks for well over a century. That being said, I owe it to Charleston Greeks for introducing me to lamb as a young child who refused to order from the lacking kid’s menu. The subtleties of its taste are outstanding. Provided it is properly prepared, lamb is tender, succulent and bursting with flavor. I would gladly denounce beef for the rest of my life it was reasonable to replace it with lamb. As it is, lamb is not the easiest meat to come across in the U.S. Americans don’t seem to appreciate it like so many other regions of the world.
With my introduction to lamb being Greek, it’s not surprising that my favorite preparations tend to be Mediterranean. When people think of the Mediterranean, they’re usually thinking of Europe – Greece, Italy, southern France. However, the Mediterranean is vast and includes the Middle East and Northern Africa. With borders touching Israel, Jordan and Syria, Lebanon is right on the Mediterranean. Among my cookbook collection is a small, old Lebanese recipe collection, much like one that you’d have from any of your local Baptist churches. The recipe I am sharing today borrows heavily from these Lebanese antecdotes.
I also have to add that hickory nuts are particularly delicious with the eggplant, although you could just as well use walnuts, pecans or even hazelnuts. I happen to have more hickory nuts than I know what do with at the moment because I ended up a collecting a very large bucketful during an unsuccessful dove hunt this past weekend.
Pan-Seared Lebanese Lamb Chops
5 shoulder lamb chops
2 T cumin
2 T cinnamon
2 T oregano
1/2 T paprika
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 mint leaves, chopped
1/2 c fruity dry red wine (I used my favorite red blend – Save Me, San Francisco’s Drops of Jupiter)
1 T tomato paste
1/3 c lemon juice
Place lamb chops In a 9×9 glass baking dish. Rub both sides of each chop with sea salt (salt as you like, I use very little). In a small bowl, combine cumin, cinnamon, oregano and paprika; rub lamb with seasoning mixture on each side. In another small bowl, whisk together garlic, mint, wine, tomato paste and lemon juice; pour over lamb. Marinate lamb for at least one hour, flipping once halfway through.
Once marinating has completed, place lamb chops on a meat cutting board and pat dry. In a heavy pan, pour just enough olive oil to coat the bottom; bring to high heat. Once heated, sear lamb chops for about three minutes on each side. Lamb should be rare to medium rare, depending on your taste. Be very careful to not overcook lamb, as it becomes dry and tough. Also remember that the meat will to continue to cook once removed from direct heat.
I served with a red wine reduction and the roasted eggplant included below.
Roasted Eggplant with Toasted Hickory Nuts
1-2 large graffiti or regular eggplant
sea salt, to taste
herbes de provence
15 hickory nuts, chopped
Heat oven to 375°F.
Slice eggplant in half lengthwise. Slice halves once more so that there are four eggplant slices about 1/2″ thick each. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste and liberally sprinkle with herbes de provence.
Roast for about 10 minutes. While eggplant is roasting, place a small pan over medium-high heat and toast hickory nuts until fragrant and lightly darkened. Nuts should have slightly more crunch than before.
Remove eggplant from oven and top each slice with desired amount of crumbled herbed chèvre and an even amount of toasted hickory nuts. Return to oven for three more minutes.
And there you have it. I made this to serve two with enough for leftovers to bring to work for lunch. This meal would be great for entertaining guests or for a romantic evening. I just really wanted lamb.