When I was younger I didn't have much exposure to lamb. That is with the exception of an occasional Greek gyro at the county fair...the kind that's wrapped in foil to gently steam the pillowy pita, filled with seasoned, processed, rotisserie meat that melts in your mouth, and topped with cool Tzatziki sauce, warm tomato slices and paper-thin onion slices. But this isn't really something a purist would consider to be a true lamb experience...so I guess it doesn't truly count.
It wasn't until a few years ago I had even thought to make anything with lamb. Which I suppose could be seen as strange with all of the recipes I would continually see on television cooking shows and in my magazine subscriptions. I'll admit I was fairly intimidated by it since I lacked familiarity. So if you haven't cooked lamb yet, never fear, we all were in the same position once.
If you're a newbie, I recommended starting with lamb chops. They seem fancy but are surprisingly simple to cook and work wonderfully when prepared just like a simple steak - with a brushing of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. And even though they are kind of a pain to get all of the meat off the little bones when eating, they taste quite lovely.
I was given a cookbook years ago called Contemporary Southwest - The Cafe Terra Cotta Cookbook by Donna Nordin (you can still purchase it here). Although there are a lot of great Southwestern-style recipes in this book, this is one of my favorites. It's fairly simple and a modern take on what you would expect to be served in an upscale restaurant in New Mexico or Arizona. It's hearty, simple, yet elegant. And very flavorful and satisfying.
I like a lot of things about this dish. First, the smoky, spicy, and sweet sauce, next, the hearty, chewy, nutty, rice cakes, and third the warm, earthy lamb. The cakes reminded me of something I might have had at a contemporary vegetarian restaurant like Cafe Sunflower in Atlanta and I highly recommend them as a side dish for any sort of meat dish -or- as a main element of a hearty vegetarian meal.
Lamb Chops with Dried Cherry-Chipotle Sauce
- 1/2 cup sun-dried cherries
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 c dry red wine
- 2 small chipotle peppers (canned chipotles in adobo), chopped
- Lamb Chops
- Soak the cherries in enough water to cover overnight or for at least one hour. Do not drain (you will be using the liquid).
- Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until slightly caramelized.
- Add the cherries and their soaking liquid, stock, and wine, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the chipotle peppers.
- When the mixture has cooled, pour into a blender and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Preheat the broiler in the oven. Lightly coat the lamb chops with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place under the broiler (~4-6" away from the heat). Cook for 5-6 minutes per side or until desired doneness (this will accomplish med-to-med well for 1" thick chops).
- Balance on top of rice pancakes and drizzle with chipotle cherry sauce.
Wild Rice Pancakes
- 1 cup wild rice (dry)
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 4 green onions, sliced thinly (both whites and tops)
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 t cayenne pepper
- 1 t kosher salt
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 c flour
- Cooking spray
- Prepare the rice according to package instructions (Most wild rice blends will cook 1 part rice to 2 parts water, simmering covered for 50 minutes with 10 minutes of rest).
- Combine the celery, onions, garlic, and seasonings and set aside.
- When rice cools slightly, add to the vegetable mixture. Stir in the eggs and then the flour to form a moist batter.
- Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Coat bottom with cooking spray.
- Spoon batter onto pan, pressing down with the spoon to form pancake shaped patties.
- Cooked until golden brown approximately 2-3 minutes per side.