Flavor, friends, fantastic times: How lamb, hummus, and pita bread become comfort food
YOUR OWN PRIVATE LONGITUDE: BUTTER LAMB, EGGPLANT, HUMMUS, TZATZIKI
I've had a chance to visit countries and islands all around the Mediterranean. Sardinia, Sicily, Bahrain, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, their big floppy waves against my sandy shoes, the salt air skipping across the fresh market flags. Sardines grilling on open flames on the beaches of the Bosporus. Chili-spiked yogurt in Istanbul. Eggplants and poached eggs in Santorini.
In part it was the food and friends made on these travels, and in part sweet memories -- like leaving my heart in a monastery outside of Ankara (my sweetheart, a stuffed Snoopy) -- that have made Mediterranean cooking my comfort food.
The Mediterranean was and still is a source of comfort food for dozens of cultures and countries, and, after you taste these recipes, maybe you’ll find some comfort too. This food is more similar to what you normally eat than you might think. Cucumbers. Lamb. Rice. Molasses. These are ingredients you likely have in your fridge and pantry -- just rearranged through the lens of a different longitude.
I like this dish made ahead so the lamb and the herbs have a chance to marry a bit.
But you know. You cannot be deterred sometimes from devouring food this good on the day you make it. Been there.
- 1 butterflied boneless leg of lamb
In your largest EuroCAST soup pot heat 4 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add lamb fat side down and season the top side really well with
- 2T. kosher salt
- 1T. black pepper
Searing the meat is critical step, so don’t rush through it. How you sear the meat creates the real depth of flavor and character in this dish. You want it well browned in every crevice. Take the time, about 20 minutes or so.
Flip meat and do the same on the other side. (You might want to preheat the oven at this point to 350F.)
Once the lamb is well-browned, add these ingredients into the pot:
- 10 cloves peeled whole garlic
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 1 T. fresh thyme leaves ( in my case, I used partially dried thyme, picked from my garden)
- 1T. fresh oregano
- 1T. fresh marjoram
- 1T. Aleppo flakes
- 4 cups homemade or excellent quality chicken stock enough cover up to just to the middle of the meat. Do not cover the meat!
- Place in your 350F preheated oven uncovered for 4 hours.
- Baste with juices every 30 minutes or so. The garlic will begin to soften and, as it does, you can (indeed, should) smash the garlic into the braising meat. Work the paste in the crevices.
- Remove from heat and cover with lid until ready to serve, or if you're enjoying the dish the next day, wait until it comes to room temperature, and place the entire pot in the refrigerator overnight.
Check seasoning. I like a fresh crack of good black pepper and a few chili flakes.
No reference intended to Citizen Kane's core mystery (can you tell I love a good movie). Instead, this is a beautiful addition to OUR Mediterranean-inspired menu -- and a nifty turn on the standard hummus.
In my version I'm recommending dried rose petals. You can usually find these as specialty markets. In Los Angeles, I get them at my local Armenian grocery store, but you can get them at Middle East markets and often your organic grocery store of choice. Totally edible, totally amazing, totally love.
Just a thought. Or a hint. This could be a recipe you keep handy for Valentine's Day. Wink.
Swirl 2 cups of your favorite hummus into a wide set bowl.
Add into the center:
- Garlic confit and its oil (see here on how to make these little gems)
- Aleppo flakes
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Dried rosebud petals
Using the handle side of a small spoon make a trench around the rosebuds.
Pour in pomegranate molasses.
A friend of mine who has the same hankering for this kind of food as I do believes he could literally live on tzatziki. Nothing beats the real deal while you sit, say, in a cafe in Thessaloniki, but you're going to love this one.
- 2 cups Greek yogurt
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 2 Persian cucumbers diced
- 1 shallot finely minced
- 1 teaspoon
- 2T. flat leaf parsley finely chopped
- 2T. fresh mint finely chopped
- 1T. dried dill weed
Stir together and refrigerate.
I've heard tell that EuroCAST has a lot of customers making their own tortillas, pita, and naan bread using the cookware. I believe it. There's nothing easier. It takes some time, though, as does any bread-making. But there's nothing better than this pita to dip into the tzatziki, or lamb, or eggplant dish (which we've not even gotten to yet -- see below!).
This recipe is borrowed from our friends at the New York Times, with the gentle addition of a little more salt.
This makes 8 six-inch diameter breads.
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- ½ tsp sugar
- 35 grams whole-wheat flour (1/4 cup), preferably freshly-milled
- 310 grams unbleached all-purposed flour (2-1/2 cups)
- 1 T. kosher salt
- Make sponge: Put 1 cup lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl. Add yeast and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add the whole-wheat flour and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and whisk together. Put bowl in a warm (not hot) place, uncovered, until mixture is frothy and bubbling, about 15 minutes.
- Add salt, olive oil, and nearly all remaining all-purpose flour (reserve 1/2 cup). With a wooden spoon (or, as the Times recommends -- and my own preference -- use a pair of chopsticks), stir until mixture forms a loose mass with ingredients incorporated. Dust with a little reserved flour, then knead in bowl for 1 minute, bringing in any stray dry dough.
- Turn dough onto work surface. Knead gently -- don't overdo it -- for 2 minutes, until smooth. Cover and let rest 10 minutes, then knead again for 2 minutes. The dough should be soft and a bit moist, so don't add too much flour. At this point, dough may refrigerated in a large zippered plastic bag for several hours or overnight. When you take the dough out of the refrigerator, make sure to bring it completely back to room temperature, then knead into a ball and continue on below.
- Clean the mixing bowl and put dough back in it. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, then cover with a towel. Put bowl in a warm (not hot) place. Leave until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Heat oven to 475F degrees. On bottom shelf of oven, place a heavy-duty baking sheet or ceramic baking tile. You can also use the EuroCAST griddle with the handle removed. Punch down dough and divide into 8 pieces of equal size. Form each piece into a little ball. Place dough balls on work surface, cover with a damp towel and leave for 10 minutes.
- Remove 1 ball (keeping others covered to maintain their moisture) and press into a flat disc with rolling pin. Roll to a 6-inch diameter to begin. (This is about the size the pita will end up after baking.) Then roll a bit more until the disc reaches an 8-inch diameter, between 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch thick to ensure good "pocketing" in the result, dusting with flour if necessary. The key is the thickness. You want all the dough discs to be consistently thick.
- Carefully lift the dough circle and place quickly on hot baking sheet. After 2 minutes the dough should be nicely puffed. Turn over with tongs or spatula and bake 1 minute more. The pita should be pale with only a few brown speckles. Watch carefully -- you do not want to bake these too long.
- Transfer warm pita to a napkin-lined basket and cover so bread stays soft. Repeat with the rest of the dough balls.
I like to think of this as a lovely, plant-based caviar.
A generous glug of olive oil in your grill pan and run a cut piece of garlic on the flesh side- place flesh down to get those gorgeous marks- flip on its back then into the oven at 375F for 20 minutes, or until the flesh is soft and the interior is spoonable.
Pictured here topped with chopped flat leaf, fresh mint, kosher salt, toasted pumpkin seeds, Aleppo flakes, pomegranate molasses and flowers. Serve with crackers or homemade pita
And so, after putting together all these things, it's time to bring the last ingredients. Friends and family. Because there's no better pairing with comfort food than people who comfort each other.