“Eating what stands on one leg is better than eating what stands on two legs, which is better than eating what stands on four legs” – Chinese Proverb
I came across this little bit of traditional Chinese wisdom in Michael Pollan’s brilliant book Food Rules (which I have been meaning to do a proper post on and will do soon, but in the meantime buy it and read it. It is the single most useful, intelligent, simple and sensible book I have ever read on food, it costs a fiver and you can read it in less than an hour). While I totally agree with the sentiment, it does really leave open too many questions, at least for somebody whose nerd brain works in the way mine does. Presumably fish and snakes are the best things to eat, then? And octopus really bad? And is it OK to eat flamingoes?
Of course, the real point is that we should be eating less meat, both for health and environmental reasons. I didn’t really think we ate that much but when I sat down and thought about it I realised how easy it is (particularly during the cold weather months) to eat meat every day without really noticing – a chicken or ham sandwich at lunch, a packet of beef mince a week to go into a chilli or spag bol, sausage and mash one night, bacon or chorizo to liven up vegetable dishes, maybe a Friday night steak, chicken in at least one form or other and a lamb or beef casserole. Sound familiar? So I (this was very much not a unanimous household decision at first) decided that we’d try and cut meat back to 2-3 times a week. Become flexitarians as I believe it is called only with fish twice a week rather than a full-on vegetarian set-up. The idea was that we’d start to think about the meat we were eating, choose really great recipes to cook when we did eat it and only buy good quality meat from the butcher (which in itself helped cut back as I am too lazy to walk there most of the time).
Do not get me wrong – I am a very committed omnivore and think meat is very good for you, provided you don’t eat it all the time, avoid the processed stuff and don’t exist entirely on salted pig product. Meat is an important source of nutrients (especially iron and vitamin B12, the latter not being available in any plant foods), bioavailable (i.e. easily absorbed) protein and fats – all of which help the body build tissue, generate energy and maintain healthy skin and glossy hair like the Duchess of Cambridge. If you don’t believe me just look at how important protein-rich grains like quinoa (and B12 supplements) are to those on vegan diets. Outdoor raised, pasture (rather than grain) fed animals tend to produce meat with a better nutrient and fat profile, being lower in overall fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids and linolenic acid (look it up) so it is worth shelling out for the good stuff, which is easier to do so if you are eating less of it.
It is thought that eating meat with green vegetables (rather than rice, potatoes or starchy veg) makes it easier to digest and may assist with something to do with free radicals and cholesterol that I don’t even begin to (want to) understand, but there can’t be a downside to eating it with vegetables, can there? Plus, as it slowly starts to get warmer meat with salads or vegetable sides suddenly seem a much more appealing option anyway.
But now, with no further ado and pseudoscience, here is the lamb that I cooked last night, which seemed quite popular when I stuck the picture on Instagram and Facebook (mainly with boys, admittedly). We ate it with (homemade!) baba-ganoush, these Nigel Slater flatbreads and a tabbouleh made with a little bulgur wheat (a wholegrain which is much healthier than refined cous cous and loaded with fibre, manganese and magnesium) and lots of parsley (vitamin K, antioxidants), mint (great for digestion) and tomatoes (beta-carotene, vitamin C and superstar nutrient lycopene).
The baba-ganoush was an almighty faff so unless you have some time you want to kill (and, really, if you do watch TV or clean your wardrobe or get a pen pal or something) shop-bought would definitely do the job here. Ditto the flatbreads – shop-bought pitta would be better than fine.
BAHARAT LAMB WITH TABBOULEH
(Tabbouleh adapted from Moro by Sam & Sam Clark)
Crazy Ingredient Rating: Medium – Baharat spice powder (but see substitution below)
The lamb does benefit from some time marinading in the fridge in the spices – the longer the better but an hour minimum really. I left it for about 3. Do remember to take it out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook it to come up to room temperature.
I made this with a very lean rack of lamb (which my butcher calls a Supertrim Rack, which amused me for reasons I still can’t really explain). But you could make it with whichever cut of lamb you like and grill, or barbecue it or whatever. It’s not really a recipe this – just a suggestion to put a Baharat spice blend on lamb and cook it.
Baharat is a spice blend found in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey and unsurprisingly there is no definitive ingredient list but mine comprised pepper, cumin, coriander, mint, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. I bought a little tub of it on my recent excursion to Spice Mountain but the internet tells me that Bart and a few other places make a blend and the Ottolenghi online store stocks it too. If you are lucky enough to live near a Middle Eastern supermarket it should be easy to pick up. If you have a well stocked spice (supertrim!) rack, you could make this up yourself (see here, for example) but I think that something like the North African blend ras-el hanout would also work very well here and is easy to get in supermarkets.
Authentic tabbouleh is supposed to be predominantly herb with a small scattering of grain, rather than the bulgur wheat with a fleck of parsley versions you tend to see in shops. This is somewhere in between but it is one of those things that you can adjust quantities to suit you. You really must try this dressing from Moro though – the cinnamon and allspice really elevates this into something interesting in a way that the more usual lemon and oil dressing doesn’t. The quantity of dressing will make a little bit more than you need for the salad but I really can’t be bothered to get into 1/8th of teaspoons of things so just made up the whole lot.
Quick word on bulgur wheat – I used the regular coarse stuff that you get in the supermarket, which needed about 10 minutes cooking. If you have the more authentic fine grain bulgur if just needs to be rinsed well and soaks up enough water that way. Medium bulgur should be soaked for 3-4 minutes.
For 2 (with the possibility of some leftover tabbouleh) you will need:
- 1 rack of lamb, trimmed (approx 400g)
- tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tsp Baharat spice powder
- 50g bulgur wheat (see note above)
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- 160g tomatoes, seeds removed and chopped into small pieces
- large handful flat leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- small handful (about 2/3rds as much as the parsley) mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- salt & pepper
- Chop the lamb into 2 bone cutlets. Put the olive oil into a shallow dish and add the spice powder. Mix well and add the lamb, turning to coat all the sides. Cover with cling film and leave to marinade in the fridge (or on the side if you have an hour or less).
- Make up the tabbouleh: cook the bulgur wheat in boiling water for 10 minutes – if should be just cooked with some chewiness left. Drain well and spread out on a plate to help it cool quickly. Mix together all the other ingredients. Take care not to bruise the herbs by hacking at them wildly with a blunt knife. Use a very shape knife or a mezzaluna so that you only have to go over them once. Once the bulgur is cool, stir it into the other ingredients.
- Make the dressing by mixing everything but the olive oil together first (so that everything disperses and dissolves evenly) and then stir in the olive oil. Dress the tabbouleh and season with salt and pepper to taste (and a bit more lemon juice if you think it needs it).
- Sear the lamb in a hot frying pan for 2 minutes each side, until brown. Make sure you use a pan with enough space around each cutlet so that they sear rather than steam. You shouldn’t need to add any oil beyond that which has coated the lamb in the marinade. Remove the cutlets from the frying pan, place in a roasting tin and put into the hot oven for 6-7 minutes (for medium cooked lamb). If you have an ovenproof frying pan you can just put it straight in.
- Let the lamb rest for 5 minutes when it comes out of the oven. Then eat!
Leftover tabbouleh? Grill some halloumi and you are sorted for lunch the next day:
Kitchen Song of the Day (for Duggers): Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds (Glittering Prize 81/92)