Okay, since my aforementioned taste of culinary victory at (the now-defunct) Paper Chef has fanned my competitive flames, I'm giving it a go in the Royal Foodie Joust over at the Leftover Queen's joint. My best work has always been under pressure, which is a good thing since I only found out about this yesterday and only have until Tuesday to get my shit together and make some magic happen.
This month's theme ingredients are pomegranate, pistachio and mint. Here's where it gets eerie: I have just purchased a half a lamb from my hobby-farmer boss who just took his wee little bebbehs to slaughter last week. The three ingredients lend themselves so beautifully to other Moroccan flavors that I couldn't have picked better partners for lamb if I tried. Imagine my glee!
Although I've drooled over many a tagine in my time (Ikea has great cheap ones), I've never been able to justify buying one because I only make this kind of food once or twice a year and have limited shelf space in my kitchen. I usually end up preparing my lamb by giving it a good massage of my dry rub - toasted cumin seed, coriander seed, cinnamon stick and an allspice berry or two, all whizzed up in my spice grinder and mixed with a bit of fresh-ground pepper and good, smoky paprika, and then grilling it in my cast-iron grill pan for a nice maillard and finishing to a rosy medium-rare in the oven. Sometimes I like to serve it this way with home-made lavender or quince jelly, depending on the season. Since I've never been a proponent of fixing what ain't broke, I'm gonna just stick to what I know this time.
Caveats: Unfortunately, my 18lbs of bleating goodness is still at the butcher, but time's a wastin'! I ended up having to buy some lamb from the store to save time. Also, I have been unable to locate pomegranate molasses ANYWHERE (except the intarwebs) so I made my own interpretation by simmering pomegranate juice into a viscous reduction. ALSO, I didn't want to buy confit lemons when I already had a bag of fresh ones, so I simply roasted fresh lemons with sea salt and olive oil until browned and slumpy. Now that I've got that off my chest...
And so I present to you, my inaugural entry in the Royal Foodie Joust. Game on!
Pistachio-Crusted Lamb with Mint Pistou and Pomegranate Reduction
A dry rub of Moroccan spices gives smokiness to the pistachio crust, while the mint and pomegranate enhance the flavors with cool and tart. Serves 4 generously.
2.5 lbs. lamb leg steak (remove from fridge an hour before starting)
3/4 c shelled pistachios, crushed or chopped
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp coriander seed
1 2" cinnamon stick
2 allspice berries
1/4 tsp black peppercorn
1/2 dried pasilla chile, stem and seeds removed
1/2 tsp paprika (smoked if you can get it)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Prepare the spice rub by toasting all of the spices except the paprika in a small pan over medium heat until aromatic. Grind spices to a fine powder in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Add paprika and salt and stir together.
Rinse and pat dry the steaks and rub a generous amount of spice mix onto each side. You should be able to massage about a tablespoon onto each side, depending on the size of your steaks. Set aside for a minute to let the flavors soak in. Drizzle steaks with a little olive oil and then dip them into the pistachios, packing the nuts on a bit to help them stick.
Get a grill pan (or your grill) rippin' hot and gently lay the steaks on. I like to go for the criss-cross hatch grill marks but it doesn't really do any good with the pistachios on there, so you may as well just take it easy this time. I really don't know how long I cook them on each side - I check for some good Maillard on the bottom before I flip them, and then I pop the whole pan in a 375oF oven for 3 minutes to finish the steaks to medium-rare. When cooked to your preference (PLEASE don't ever cook lamb past medium, just please don't) set on a plate to rest while everything else is getting ready. When rested, slice lamb into 1/4" thick slices.
Scott's friend Chris calls this sauce "minty awesomeness". Makes about 1/2 c of pistou. This pistou is also great with fava beans for a simple springtime risotto.
1 c mint leaves (packed down)
1/4 c olive oil (extra virgin)
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted lightly
pinch kosher salt
Process all ingredients to a thin paste.
I couldn't find any pomegranate molasses so I had to think on my feet. Makes about 1/4 c of syrup.
1 16oz bottle pomegranate juice (100%)
Simmer juice over low heat for ~20 minutes until reduced by 2/3 or until a syrup is formed. If it gets too thick it can be thinned with a little hot water and stirred.
Israeli Couscous with Roasted Lemons, Eggplant and Red Bell Peppers
Roasted lemons provide a mellow acid balance to the roasted eggplant and roasted red peppers, and good olives are always a welcome touch. If you had a little forethought, you were roasting the lemons, eggplants and peppers while you were getting everything ready for the steaks. Serves 4 with leftovers.
1 3/4 c Israeli couscous
2 c hot chicken stock
2 Indian eggplants (or half an Italian one), halved lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, sliced crosswise
3 small lemons, quartered lengthwise
1 clove garlic, minced
10 saffron threads
1/2 c chopped cilantro
~10 cured olives
pinch of kosher salt and coupla cracks of pepper
Drizzle eggplant, peppers and lemons with olive oil and toss with a pinch of salt. Arrange in a baking dish with the eggplants cut-side down and lemons cut sides up. Roast for 30 minutes in a 375-degree oven. When slightly browned, cool and chop eggplant and peppers into bite-sized pieces.
In a large ceramic bowl combine couscous, eggplant, peppers, lemons (reserve 4 wedges for presentation), garlic, saffron and olives. Add chicken stock and stir. Cover bowl with a plate and microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and microwave another 2 minutes. Add cilantro and S&P to taste.
Plate by piling couscous on a large platter and arranging lamb slices over the top. Add lemons and more olives to the sides of the platter for some prettiness. Drizzle mint pistou and pomegranate reduction over the lamb (there will some leftover to pass around the table).
We drank this with a Willamette Valley pinot noir and it was really nice.