I knew this day would come… I have been dreading it but in the back of my mind I knew it was inevitable. I’m not sure why I resisted for so long but even now, afterwards, it just seems tacky… it seems pretentious. But at the core, it’s honest at least. Yes, today is the day I open up my blog with a self aggrandizing statement. Damn, I am good at what I do and damn this meal was one of the tastiest I have ever had, much less made. Ok, there, got it out of my system.
Excessive indulgence is always a gateway to enjoyment as long as it isn’t taken to too much of an extreme. This meal was extravagant and decadent. It far outreached the necessities of an individual’s dining needs. But hey, sometimes, that’s just what the doctor ordered. This meal centered around a whole leg of lamb, roasted Mediterranean style on a bed of vegetables, offset by cauliflower stewed in tomatoes and spinach with chickpeas. It may not sound extravagant at first read but the divergent flavors, textures and color combinations made for a gorgeous and delicious plate of food. This truly was an amazing feast and I am extremely happy that I have leftovers to last for the next week. Well, maybe they will last, as good as the food was it may not…
All the recipes here were sourced from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food which I will go out on a limb and say is an essential volume if you enjoy food from the region. It’s diverse, well written and accessible. I think I am starting to sound like a salesman but really, you should buy it.
Leg of Lamb with Onions, Potatoes and Tomatoes: This dish proves my constant point about using good ingredients cooked in the proper manner and getting outstanding results. The preparation isn’t complicated, a bit of work followed by a bit of waiting for the roasting followed by a lot of enjoyment. Exactly my sort of thing. Throughout this meal, I made the slightly unusual substitution of red onions for all onions called for in all recipes, this is because to a last one, all yellow onions at my local store were of questionable quality. And by questionable, they were practically rotting in the bins. I have no idea how a produce manager could in good conscience leave poor produce like this out for sale but I have long ago stopped asking silly questions about military stores. Suffice it to say, I used red onions. A leg of lamb is a fairly large piece of meat to work with, probably one of the more unwieldy things I have cooked. The sheer size of this particular leg drove me to have to break it down into two pieces. I am by no means a professional butcher but I do understand a bit about the anatomy of knees so I had an advantage there. This being said, it was still a difficult process of separating the upper and lower portions of the leg to fit in my grossly inadequate pan. It took quite a bit of strategic cutting and muscle to get the job done. But done it was, two manageable pieces that would fit side by side in my cooking vessel. All this digression aside, this dish is dead simple.
Quarter two onions and spread on the bottom of a roasting pan. Add to this two large potatoes cut into chunks and three large tomatoes cut into large pieces. Take your leg of lamb, brought to room temperature, and pierce the flesh all over, inserting around 15 cloves of garlic all through the meat. Salt and pepper both sides of the lamb and place atop the vegetables. sprinkle liberally with oregano.
Roast in a preheated 325 degree oven for two and a half hours or done to your satisfaction. Use of a probe thermometer is highly encouraged. I would have but mine is in Colorado with the rest of my life so I had to made due with timing and visual inspection. The last time I made a leg of lamb I had undercooked it a bit so I opted on the other side this time and came away with a beautiful piece of meat with a crispy layer of fat on the outside, wonderfully tender and flavorful. Also, using this method, the vegetables will be slow cooked in the drippings from the lamb, outstanding!
Spinach with Chickpeas: I have been on a spinach kick lately, something about the vibrant green and slightly astringent flavor, yeah, it suits me just fine. This is a great method of preparation coming out mild and flavorful and quickly done in about 25 – 30 minutes from inception. I used canned chickpeas and frozen spinach but fresh of both can be used as well, just ensure you soack the fresh chickpeas overnight and thoroughly wash the fresh spinach. In a large pan, fry six cloves of chopped garlic with 1 1/2 tsps of ground coriander in a bit of oil until they get really fragrant. Drop in the spinach and put a lid on the pan, dropped the heat to medium low to give the spinach time to mix in with the spices. After the spinach has fully incorporated with the spices, stir in the chickpeas, add salt and pepper to taste, not too much and cook covered for a few more minutes. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon overtop and serve hot (or cold according to the cookbook but I would go for hot…)
Okra in Tomato Sauce: Funny story here, well funny to me at least… I had initially planned on making Okra with Garlic and Coriander which is the recipe next to this one but when I made my shopping list, I wrote down the ingredients for this recipe not the one I had originally slated. Strange, I got home and was wondering what exactly I needed a bunch of cilantro for… then I noticed that yup, transcribed the wrong ingredients to the list… improvise, adapt, overcome. I used frozen okra for this dish, whole pods, not the insipid chopped battered ones that I enjoy in a certain frame of mind… I was a bit lazy here as well and skipped the step of chopping off the stems and caps of the okra, choosing to cook them whole and unaltered. Turned out great as well… start with a large onion cut into thin slices and fry in a bit of oil until caramelized. Add four cloves of chopped garlic and fry for another few moments. Add the okra and cook, stirring often until the okra soften. Add 3 large chopped tomatoes, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt/pepper. The recipe called for 1 – 2 tsps of sugar as well but since I used red onions which have a higher sugar content to my taste, I skipped the added sugar. Cook until the tomatoes break down and a sauce forms, around 20 – 25 minutes. Stir in a small bunch of chopped cilantro, cook very briefly and serve…
Well, I think I gave a glowing enough review of the results in the opening paragraph that I don’t need to flog the deceased equine.
Suffice it to say it was really, really good and I am looking forward to the leftovers… enjoy.