Pan-Seared Lebanese Lamb Chops and Roasted Eggplant with Toasted Hickory Nuts

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.

Served

Pan-Seared Lebanese Lamb Chops

5 shoulder lamb chops
olive oil
sea salt
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

Ingredients

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.

Marinating Lamb Chops

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.

Drying Marinated Lamb ChopsSearing Lamb Chops

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
olive oil
sea salt, to taste
herbes de provence
herbed chèvre
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.

Prepared Eggplant 2

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.

Toasting Hickory Nuts

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.

Finished Eggplant

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.

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Poached Shrimp with Warm Fennel & Beet Salad

Served - Adjusted

After a few days of slackened attention to healthful eating, last night’s dinner was refreshingly light and flavorful. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m a huge fan of beets. I’m such a huge fan, I’ve been purchasing two bunches each week, slicing, roasting and using to snack on at work. With fresh shrimp sitting in my refrigerator for two days, I had no choice but to make something shrimp-y and I had just so happened to have a hankering beets, fennel and shrimp – all together.

Shrimp is one of those things a person has to like for me to be friends with them and even for non-shrimp lovers, it’s hard to resist fresh Lowcountry shrimp. We’re kind of known for it, i.e. shrimp and grits. All too many people prefer their shrimp fried which often ruins the delicate, sweet simplicity of this fruits de mer. I, on the other hand, adore poached shrimp. As opposed to boiling, which is an all too violent approach to shrimp, poaching gently simmers your desired food item in just about any liquid found to be palatable. Typically, I poach shrimp in butter and sauvignon blanc, but wanted something a little different this time. I chose to poach in a coconut milk combination which yielded such subtly vibrant flavor. 

I have to admit that I’m terrible at measuring ingredients. Mostly, I eyeball anything I can and operate in the kitchen with a monitor-and-adjust attitude. Take this ‘recipe’ with that in mind. Taste it as you make it so you’re finished product is to your liking. 

PS – the leftover poaching liquid made a great base for a Tom Kha-ish soup! 

Poached Shrimp

1 lb. fresh shrimp, deveined 
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup sodium-free stock
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T fresh basil, chopped
1/2 T lemongrass paste

  • Combine all ingredients except shrimp in a pot. Stir and thoroughly combine. Slowly bring to a simmer.
    photo 3 photo 4
  • Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, turn off heat and let sit for 10-15 minutes.
  • Bring poaching liquid back to a simmer and add shrimp, leaving peel (you can remove after poaching). Keep a watchful eye over the shrimp and remove from liquid as soon as it is just barely cooked. 
  • I warmed a large kale leaf in a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil, served the shrimp atop the leaf and poured a little poaching liquid on top.

Warm Fennel and Beet Salad

1 large beet, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 bulb fennel, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
splash lemon juice

                             photo 2photo 1

  • In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. 
  • Add sliced beet and cook for a about 3-5 minutes or until just softened. 
  • Add minced garlic and sliced fennel and cook until the fennel gains translucence. The beet will make the fennel a lovely shade of magenta. 
  • Add a splash of lemon juice, stir to combine and serve alongside the coconut milk poached shrimp. 

    Wanna know a secret? When I made this last night, I accidentally added a much too large splash of lemon juice and it ended a little too tart for my liking. Don’t do what I did. Be conservative with your splash and only add more if you think it needs it.

Served - Adjusted

The little bit of a tan in the top corner, that’s a PBR. Yep, Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s still my everyday beer of choice, Caleb’s too.

 

 

 

 

What’s In My Fridge

Aside from the basic butter, milk, eggs that are given kitchen necessities, there are a few things that I keep in my refrigerator and pantry at all times. If these things aren’t there, I’m like a lost puppy trying to get meals together. No matter what I find myself fixing, these things help me to ensure the plates I serve are full of flavor. They might seem like no brainers but its taken me a few years to really figure out what my refrigerator necessities are – aside from the actual poultry, seafood, meat, grains, fruit and vegetables.

Heavy Cream
Heavy Cream
“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” – Julia Child

While not the healthiest thing in my refrigerator, heavy cream has many uses. A splash of cream will add depth and richness to any dish or sauce. It’s not that you should drench your food in cream but a little goes a long way. You’ll find that I use a splash of cream in many of my recipes. Not enough to take away from healthful qualities of what is being served but just enough to add that extra little bit of something.

Stock 

Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock

Kitchen Basics is my preferred brand. It’s easy to find low-sodium stock but unsalted can be more difficult at times. This one is a keeper.

Whether it be chicken, vegetable, mushroom, beef or seafood stock, stock will give you a flavorful basis for any soup or sauce. It also gives you a flavorful alternative to water for preparing rice, couscous, pasta, etc. The key is to find sodium-free stock so as not to unnecessarily increase your sodium intake. Oh and don’t use bouillon instead. Just don’t.

Lemon Juice
Lemon Juice

Nothing beats freshly squeezed juice but a large bottle of lemon juice can help you out in just about any situation. As with heavy cream, I usually just add a splash to what I’m serving. Typically, I’ll add a little bit of lemon juice to vegetables. I use very little salt in my cooking and the bitterness of lemon juice provides great balance, especially when accompanied with fresh herbs. 

Fresh Herbs

Fresh Herbs

My favorites to keep on hand are mint, basil, cilantro, dill, lavender and lemongrass.

An otherwise bland meal is automatically elevated by adding fresh herbs; they add life, flavor and brightness without any unhealthy additives. A dish can be taken from Latin to Italian to Southeast Asian to French to Middle Eastern, all depending on the herbs one uses. If fresh herbs are too difficult to keep up with, I’ve found that Gourmet Garden herb and spice pastes offer a great alternative to 100% fresh herbs and can be a money saver if you find a large quantity of your herbs going to waste. 
Gourmet-Garden-Herb-Blend-Mediterranean-Paste

Chilled Cucumber Soup

I’m a huge fan of just about any cold soup. Vichyssoise speaks to my soul and any sort of gazpacho is a regular summer craving of mine. With an excess of cucumber in my refrigerator, kindly given to me by Caleb’s mother from their garden, I couldn’t think of a better way utilize the cukes than a summer soup. I’ve been eating a variety of cucumber salads since spring and thought I should change it up. There are so many cool cucumber soup recipes floating around and while they’re all similar, they tend to differ slightly when it comes to flavor and quantity used. After reading over twenty recipes I whipped this up. Like most things I come up with, this is easily altered to suit individual taste; simply add, omit, increase or decrease desired herbs and you’ll have a new concoction. My end result is well balanced and somewhat on the Thai side of the flavor spectrum.

Chilled Cucumber Soup
5-6 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
2 small banana peppers, seeds removed and thinly sliced
2 c plain Greek yogurt
1 T lemongrass paste
1 T basil
1 T dill
1 T mint
Ingredients

  • In blender or food processor combine half of cucumbers, half of yogurt and 1 pepper. Pulse on high until well combined.
  • Add in herbs. Combine.
  • Add remaining cucumbers, yogurt and pepper.  Pulse until thoroughly blended.
  • Chill for at least two hours or until cool.
  • I chose to serve with a spoonful of coconut milk and chopped canary melon.Served