Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tahini and pomegranate molasses marinated lamb with mint yoghurt

Alas, I don't have time this week for a longer post, but I would like to share this fabulously convivial spread with you. I made it over the weekend for friends, and it went down a treat. It's a very simple, throw-together meal but it’s tasty and satisfying. The deep savouriness of the lamb is balanced by lots of fresh lemon juice and creamy mint yoghurt, but be warned if you’re squeamish about garlic, because there’s a lot of it! Feel free to halve the quantity or leave it out altogether (I am incapable of restraining myself when it come to the bulb). A great spread for balmy evenings and casual al fresco eating with friends and family.

Okay, I lied. I do have time to write a longer post, but it feels weird to prattle on about my thoughts on nothing in particular when so many people's lives have been devastated by the tsunami. Every time I try to writing something, I just stop, stare at it, and then delete it because it seems so pointless, or hypocritical.

I promise to be over my existential crisis by next week. If your soul is in need of nourishment, as mine was, make this — to me it feels like the food equivalent of a long, warm hug from my imaginary Mediterranean mama.

Tahini, rosemary and pomegranate molasses
marinated lamb with mint yoghurt

Serves 4

About 1 kg free-range, deboned and butterflied leg of lamb,
trimmed of fat
1 cup tahini
juice of 2 medium lemons
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses*
Sea salt, to taste
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
two sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Mint yoghurt:
500ml thick, full cream yoghurt
1 handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
Juice of half a lemon
Sea salt, to taste

1. In a bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients. Before you rub the marinade into the lamb, make sure it is no thicker than 5 cm. If it is, place the lamb between two sheets of cling wrap and gently pound with a rolling pin until you have the desired thickness. Then, using your hands, rub the marinade into the lamb, cover and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the lamb and as much of the marinade as possible into an oven-proof dish and cover with tin foil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until cooked but still very rare in the middle. Remove the tin foil and grill on both sides until golden (keep an eye on it, as the marinade has a tendency to char quite easily). Remove from oven, wrap the lamb in tin foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes or so (this will make the meat more tender and allow the flavours to develop). Reserve the leftover marinade in the oven-proof dish.
3. While the lamb is cooking, place the yoghurt, mint, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a bowl and blend using a hand-held blender.
4. Slice the lamb into strips and return to the oven-proof dish, sloshing them around to coat them in the marinade, which should be thinned by the juices from the lamb. Serve with the yoghurt, some pita bread and a bowl of what I like to call ‘deconstructed hummus’: 2 cans chickpeas, drained; one small red onion, finely sliced; ½ cup tahini; 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil; juice of 1 large lemon, all mixed up in a bowl. Add a side salad of finely diced cucumber and tomato (not pictured), and you have the makings of a fabulous Middle East-inspired feast.
*Pomegranate molasses is available at most good delicatessens and Middle Eastern foods stores.

Pssssssst! If you're in Cape Town, join me at the Eat In Awards at the Old Biscuit Mill this Thursday: A night market, fabulous food and Dave Ferguson. It's going to be more fun than a bag of squirrels in a banjo, that's all I can say.

Also, if you have time (and a heart), please sign this petition for Woolworths, Spar, Pick n Pay and Checkers to stop stocking battery eggs and chickens, or using them in their products.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Call it supper: spinach, artichokes, chickpeas, poached egg

Do you ever get the sneaking suspicion that you’re an unwitting guinea pig in some sort of sophisticated sociological experiment? (I think that’s actually pretty close to the truth about Life, but you don't need to hear about my Views On the Nature of Reality right now).

I like to go out for dinner on a Monday night, just to take the edge of the jolt of starting yet another week; to distract myself from the uncomfortable feeling that a thousand previous weeks have begun with precisely the same sense of repetition, and will continue to do so, ad infinitum, like a mirror reflecting into another mirror. This feeling of Monday, of another week beginning, another week having slipped by, is not really grounded in reality, because of course our lives do change — that is the only certainty. But it is, perhaps, a sign that one is stagnating, or has been in the same place, doing the same thing, for too long.

Luckily, it's Friday, which means I have more of a 'Hey! Everything's gonna be just fine... How you doin'?' kind of feeling. Also, I had a wonderful evening last night, at home.

We moved house a few months ago, and only in the last few weeks have we started to emerge from the chaos into a semblance of what our lives were like before. The first two months have been buried deep in the recesses of my subconscious (living in the lounge with all one’s earthly belongings piled up high next to your mattress-on-the-floor bed because the builder — who promised he would be finished before one moved in — is still busy with the bedroom floors, will do that). In the last few weeks, though, my dream kitchen has been taking shape.

Shelves were put in two days ago, which has made a spectacular difference, and next week my new (name-dropping alert) Smeg oven will be installed (a very generous, greatly appreciated wedding gift from my parents).

So last night we put on some Brian Ferry, opened a bottle (and then another) of wine, and toasted our shelving and each other as I concocted this dish from a hurried sweep through Woolies on the way home: artichokes, chickpeas, spinach, chilli and eggs. It's my take on a recipe I found on The Wednesday Chef blog.

It is a gem of a dish — but it's one of those which, when you see the ingredients, you either get or you don't. Those who think a meal is not complete without meat probably won't get it. But if you're the kind of person who understands why someone might feel compelled to write a poem about an artichoke, then you will get it. It's not showy, and not exactly exploding with umami, but it is delicious and satisfying. Served with some toasted, buttery sourdough bread... Well, try it.

Spinach, artichokes, chickpeas, poached egg
Serves 4

12 artichokes
400g baby spinach
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of one large lemon
1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
4 large poached (or soft boiled) eggs
Generous glug (about 4 tbsp) best-quality extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Add water to a pot (large enough to contain the artichokes) until half full, and bring to the boil. Add the spinach and cook for five minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon (reserving the cooking liquid) and plunge into ice-cold water to halt the cooking process. Drain and squeeze out the excess with your hands, then lay on a cloth or paper towel.
2. Add the artichokes to the large pot and top up with water to just cover if necessary. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover for 10 to 15 minutes, until the stems are tender and yield easily when you insert a fork.
3. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into cold water as before. When the artichokes have cooled, remove all the tough outer leaves and trim the stalks. Cut in half and removed the fury inner choke with a pairing knife (or you could read more sensible advice here). Cut in half again, so you're left with quarters.
4. Combine all the ingredients (except the eggs) in a large bowl and mix well. Divide between bowls, plop a poached (or soft boiled) egg on top, serve with buttery slices of toasted sourdough — and call it supper.