08 August 2007
I think we will all agree that middle eastern food is awesome. You cannot go wrong. On our next vacation I want to lie around in an olive grove eating labneh and naan, sucking lemons, grinding sesame seeds in my teeth. I would not mind a grape leaf, a plate of hummus or baba, a pickled turnip bright pink down the middle of a falafel roll. I would not mind red wine, mint tea, or both.
I expect there are actually some visitable olive groves in our part of California. I'm going to have to look into that.
Anyway, this brings us to lamb.
I barely ever eat meat-oriented middle eastern. Lentils and eggplant and chickpeas, oh my. However, there are weeks like this past one in which I am clearly iron-deficient. I go to the store and buy only meat and dark greens. Then I stand in front of the spice shelves for a while, examining everything in detail to figure out what I actually want to do with said meat and greens. The spicing of choice this time was za'atar.
Za'atar consists at base level of toasted sesame seeds, thyme, and salt, with sumac added for red za'atar. The blend I got had some other things in it, such as marjoram and savory. Clearly you can change the proportions however you like. You can also do interesting things such as grinding up the sesame seeds; mine were whole. You can also say screw the lamb and just use it while cooking eggplant or whatever. It is definitely worth trying in some form, whether or not your body is having any particular iron drive at the moment.
Get a decent lamb chop or two, or a bunch of stew chunks. I got some ridiculous bright red cut marketed with the name of a certain abhorrent diet. It was clearly the best quality cut in the store, so I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the labeling. Anyway, I also got a pound of rice. Take that!
Cut the lamb into small chunks. Break up a head of garlic and peel the cloves. Peel and slice some eggplant into small chunks. Then toss everything together with olive oil and za'atar, and leave refrigerated to marinate for at least a half hour.
Also, get some plain yogurt into a bowl with a handful of chopped parsley and maybe some minced shallot. Let it sit as well. Use a lot of yogurt, more than a single cup; we didn't have enough.
When things have marinated sufficiently, put on the rice and heat up your frying pan. You want a pretty hot pan to sear the meat and seal it well.
Swirl some olive oil around the pan; add the lamb and garlic. It will be loud and smell delicious. Turn and sear other sides as appropriate. When all the sides are at least a little browned, add the eggplant. You may need more oil. You also may not, since the meat will have given off some fat by this time.
Turn down the heat a little and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is soft and the meat is cooked through.
Notes on yogurt. We added the yogurt into the pan directly, to cook it into everything. This seemed like a good idea, and the food remained tasty, but it also produced a lot of little spots of dairy solids all over everything. They then turned pink from the meat juice. It was classy. In the future, I would just use it as sauce to stir into the finished product.
Ok. Is everything done? Take the lamb and eggplant pan off the heat. Fluff up the rice and turn it directly into the meat. Stir at all up and get it well combined and give some steam a chance to escape. Then add yogurt and stir to combine again. You may want to reserve a little yogurt to pour delightfully over servings for presentation, but whatever. I know you will definitely want another handful of parsley for each serving.
This was exactly what I wanted.