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The other red meat: try lamb on the grill

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Lamb and veggie kebabs are quick and easy, but the trick is to give your veggies a head start on the grill. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Lamb and veggie kebabs are quick and easy, but the trick is to give your veggies a head start on the grill.
The arrival of spring means the start of the outdoor grilling season after a long winter  of indoor cooking. For most people, that means busting out the same old burgers, sausages, and hotdogs. But if you’re looking for a break from the monotony, lamb is an approachable, easy alternative to standard backyard BBQ fare for even mildly adventurous cooks.

Lamb is the often-overlooked other red meat. But it is plentiful, flavorful, and versatile. Personally, I can’t get enough lamb. I eat more lamb than I do beef or pork during the spring and summer, and have converted more than a few skeptics over the years.

People who say they’re apprehensive about trying lamb for the first time are often surprised to learn they’ve already had it and enjoyed it. Those gyros at Greek diners and food festivals? Lamb. It’s more common than you might think. Lamb is an everyday dietary staple in some parts of the world. Cultures within the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, and Northern Africa all have outstanding and widely varied methods for cooking lamb, and some of the best raised lamb comes from Australia and New Zealand.

My first experiences with lamb were in sampling Greek and Mediterranean foods as a kid. I loved sitting down at a restaurant and ordering a gyro or souvlaki with spanakopita and seeing the servers nod their approval. As I got older, I began to appreciate the wonders of grilled lamb and the diversity it can bring to any meal.

Properly cooked and seasoned lamb is delicate like veal, but with a more unctuous flavor profile. Lamb is nutrient dense, rich in protein, high in the good kinds of fat (such as Omega-3), and provides substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Lamb is also organically raised more often than not.

So, spice up your spring grilling routine and make your cardiologist happy in the process with these dishes.



Grilling lamb chops and topping them with mint chutney is just one of the ways to prepare the versatile but often overlooked meat. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Grilling lamb chops and topping them with mint chutney is just one of the ways to prepare the versatile but often overlooked meat.
Lamb chops with Homemade Mint Chutney
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
8-12 bone-in lamb chops
Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

For the mint chutney:
2 jalapeño peppers (seeds removed, diced)
1/2 packed cup fresh mint leaves (stems removed)
1/4 packed cup fresh cilantro (stems removed)
1/4 packed cup fresh baby spinach (stems removed)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 cup water
Olive oil (optional, mustard seed oil also an option)
Salt & pepper to taste

Step 1: Making the mint chutney
Carefully wash, drain, and pat dry the mint, cilantro, and spinach. Combine with the jalapeños, lemon juice, water, and salt and pepper in a food processor or blender.

Pulse on a low setting until the mixture reaches the desired consistency (thick or thin), fine tuning with small amounts of olive oil as needed. I recommend leaving the mixture thick enough to spread on top of the lamb without it dripping over the sides. This chutney can be prepared a day in advance and can be frozen in small amounts for future use.

Step 2: Grilling the lamb
Starting at room temperature, wash the lamb with cold water and pat dry.
Gently rub olive oil over each individual chop and season with salt and pepper.

Starting your grill on a high heat, sear the chops on both sides and reduce to medium high heat (if using gas) and allow to cook to desired done-ness. Ideally you want the chops to be nicely seared on the outside, very rare in the middle. Cooking time will vary depending on your equipment, but a good rule is 10 minutes per inch of thickness, so if your chops are about 1 inch thick, they will need roughly 5 minutes on each side.

Let rest 5 min before serving, plate the lamb chops and garnish the top with a dollop of mint chutney. Pairs well with grilled asparagus, yellow garden squash, and eggplant.

Cut into large cubes, a boneless leg of lamb is a flavorful accompaniment to grilled mushrooms, squash, onion, zucchini, and eggplant. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Cut into large cubes, a boneless leg of lamb is a flavorful accompaniment to grilled mushrooms, squash, onion, zucchini, and eggplant.
Lamb & Veggie Kebabs with Lemon and Ras el Hanout
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
2-4 lbs. of boneless leg of lamb (cut into large cubes)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup fresh parsley (roughly chopped)
1 fresh lemon (cut in quarters)
*Ras el Hanout (to taste)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
1-2 lbs. of mixed grilling vegetables cut into cubes such as: mushrooms, yellow squash, red onion, zucchini, eggplant
*Ras el Hanout is an aromatic North African spice mixture, commonly available at grocery stores and locally at Niblack Foods (900 Jefferson Rd. #6)

NOTE: If you are using wood or bamboo kebab sticks, be sure to soak them in water for at least 20 min before preparing the kebabs.

Step 1: Prep the lamb
Starting at room temperature in a large mixing bowl, combine the lamb, parsley, yogurt, Ras el Hanout and salt and pepper and mix well. Let the mixture rest for at least 15-30 min (or overnight in the fridge) before cooking.

Step 2: Prep the veggies
In a separate mixing bowl, mix the veggies with a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Step 3: Kebab assembly
Using kebab sticks or skewers, thread all the meat and veggies separately onto the sticks. It is important to keep the meat sticks separate from the veggie sticks because they have completely different cooking times. Avoid the urge to layer meat and veggies on the same stick.

Un-skewer the meat and veggies and set them over a bed of couscous and olives. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Un-skewer the meat and veggies and set them over a bed of couscous and olives.
Step 4: Grilling the kebabs

The veggie kebabs take roughly twice as long to cook as the meat kebabs, so timing is important and will vary depending on how rare you would like your lamb. Starting your grill on a high to medium-high heat, cook the veggie kebabs for roughly 10 min on one side, then flip each veggie kebab and add in the meat kebabs. Cook the meat kebabs for roughly 5 min on each side (10 min total) and both should finish at exactly the same time.

Let rest 5 min before serving and top with a squeeze of lemon. Pairs well over a bed of golden couscous with green olives.

Crumbled feta cheese mixed into the patties really makes these lamb burgers pop. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Crumbled feta cheese mixed into the patties really makes these lamb burgers pop.
Greek Lamb Burgers with Feta and Homemade Tzatziki
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
2-4 lbs. ground lamb
Greek feta cheese (crumbled)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped)
1-2 egg yolks
Salt & pepper (to taste)

For the Tzatziki:
2 cups regular low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh garlic (chopped)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped)
1 tablespoon fresh dill (chopped)
3 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 English cucumber (peeled, seeded & diced)
Salt & pepper to taste

Step 1: Making the Tzatziki
Carefully wash, drain, and pat dry the parsley and dill. Combine with the cucumber, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, water, and salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and pulse on a low setting until the mixture reaches the desired consistency (thick or thin), fine tuning with additional yogurt or water as needed. This sauce should be prepared at least 30 min before cooking and allowed to rest in the refrigerator prior to serving. Tzatziki will keep well in a refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Step 2: Prepare the burger
In a mixing bowl combine the ground lamb, feta cheese, egg yolks, parsley, and salt and pepper and mix well. Allow mixture to rest in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (or overnight) before cooking. Form into 1/4 to 1/2 lb. patties prior to cooking (depending on preference).

Step 2: Grilling the burgers
Starting your grill on a high heat, sear the burgers on both sides and reduce to medium high heat (if using gas) and allow to cook to desired doneness. Ideally you want them to be nicely seared on the outside, very rare in the middle. Cooking time will vary depending on your equipment, but a good rule of thumb is 10 minutes per inch of thickness. So, if your burgers are about 1 inch thick, they will need roughly 5 minutes on each side.
Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Best served with lettuce, tomato, and onion on a toasted potato roll with a dollop of Tzatziki between the burger and the toppings. Pairs well with roasted Greek potatoes and sautéed spinach and beet greens.

J. Nevadomski is the author of the long-running "Highlife for Lowlifes" series and is a food and culture contributor to CITY. For more visit: highlifeforlowlifes.com, instagram.com/jnevadomski, and facebook.com/highlifeforlowlifes. Feedback on this article can be directed to Rebecca Rafferty, CITY’s life editor, at becca@rochester-citynews.com.