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.

Gaulart & Maliclet Fast & French

I have to brag on my favorite little place to grab a bite in downtown Charleston, Fast & French. Mon favorit petit café is now 30 years old. It’s a bit of a hole in the wall and yet well-known enough to be packed every time I go. I would eat there every day if I could and with their prices, it wouldn’t be unreasonable if I lived or worked downtown. One of the great things about it is the crowd. College of Charleston students, lawyers, businessmen/women, locals, Europeans, any person imaginable. They can all be found here.

Panoramic

My poor attempt at a panoramic shot.

Don’t go expecting the average American dining experience. This is a quintessential European nook on Broad Street. The seating is communal and servers are not there to be your buddy but are still plenty cordial. Go to enjoy some simple yet delicious café food. The lunch special is always to die for and comes with a glass of house wine (or other beverage). When available, I highly recommend a bowlful of their vichyssoise but all of the soups are delightful. I used to hate mushrooms with a raging passion but this place helped change my mind with their earthy pâté.

While the overwhelming majority of reviews are raving, I’ve read some of people complaining that the food is bland and poorly prepared – I couldn’t disagree more. They use fresh herbs and ingredients and offer flavorful simplicity. Not to mention the outstanding prices. On my most recent visit, my bill was ~$23 for a soup & sandwich, lunch special with wine and a dessert. Pas mal, n’est-ce pas?

Lunch Special

Lunch Special 8-16-14 : Seafood Creole with aioli, melon, cheese, baguette.

Wine

The house white wine – crisp, dry sauvignon blanc.

 

Peach Almond Tart

Dessert. Peach Almond Tart. This was orgasmic and had the best crust I’ve ever had on pie or tart.

Almond-Crusted Chicken

I have been feeling dreadfully uninspired in the kitchen lately which is probably due to weekend trips that have kept me from my Saturday morning trips to the market. But I am happy to say that after getting some amazing news which is sure to impact the rest of my life, I have perked right back up and am glad to say I’m out of the culinary doldrums.

My most reoccurring food challenge is to give Caleb food that feels hefty enough to satisfy the appetite of man who works fourteen hour days in the hot, humid Charleston sun while also satisfying my desire for food that doesn’t sit like a rock in my stomach and clog both our arteries. I’ve begun making one true ‘man-food meal’ a week – heavy, meat and potatoes stuff. The rest of the week, I focus on what I always do – well-rounded, healthy meals.

This almond-crusted chicken works wonders in my house because it gives Caleb the feel of fried chicken while eliminating the actual fried element. He loves for me to use the leftovers in his sandwich for lunch the next day. Imagine almond-crusted chicken on toasted focaccia bread with a slice of provolone and sundried tomato pesto. I’m salivating already.

Almond-Crusted Chicken

6 chicken cutlets
2/3 cup crushed roasted almonds
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 egg, beaten
salt to taste, if desired
olive oil

  • Using cutlets cuts out the meat pounding process here. If you’ve had a frustrating day, just use boneless skinless chicken breasts and pound away until breasts are about 1/4″ thick.
  • Set oven to broil.
  • Combine flour and crushed almonds in a shallow dish. Add a dash of salt if you wish. (Feel free to use almond flour or rice flour here. Either would a lovely substitute.)Ground Almonds

Dip chicken in egg and transfer to dish with flour and almond. Even and thoroughly coat.

Place chicken on greased baking baking sheet and lightly drizzle with olive oil.
Pre-Oven

Cook under broiler for 4-6 minutes on each side, until golden and juices run clear.
Fresh Out The Oven

I served with one of my favorite veggie sides – spinach aglio e olio (aka spinach with garlic and olive oil, add a splash of lemon juice and white wine). I have to confess that I used a cheat in this meal – French brie ravioli that I did not make. I pick up my pasta from the farmers market and freeze any excess. Rio Bertolini’s makes wonderful fresh pastas, ranging from squid ink spaghettini and saffron papardelle to the most amazing raviolis you can imagine. The brie ravioli is no exception and I served it simply with a quick creamy basil sauce.

  • Plated