Anissa Helou’s Moroccan Kefta

from Mediterranean Street Food, pp. 166-67.

My summer project of learning to grill over a charcoal fire continues. Eating all the lamb in freezer also continues. Both goals have combined to send me back to the cookbook shelves for further ideas. I noticed this one, which has lain unopened for a few years now. The title is what made me buy it. I love buying things to eat from vendors in the cities around the Mediterranean Sea where I’ve spent time. But I have to admit I can’t remember if I’ve ever before cooked anything from this book. In any case, I decided to divide the pound and a half of ground lamb in half, cook Helou’s Morrocan keft tonight, and try her Lebanese kefta or Claudia Roden’s kefta tomorrow night. A weekend-long workship on grilling ground lamb.

Planning for tonight’s meal led me to a grocery that I’d heard about, doubted its existence and only discovered yesterday. Now that I’ve found the Mediterranean Market in north Sacramento, I can’t believe I’ve lived here eight years without it. It’s the only place in Sacramento I know of where you can buy various kinds of olives and French, Bulgarian, Greek, or Egyptian feta in bulk. The butcher is halel. It’s also the only store where I’ve seen fresh lamb tongue and sheep’s testicles.

I’ll never despair of finding obscure Middle Eastern spices again. Helou calls for a Moroccan spice combination called ras el-hanout. It was dumb of me not to write it down, because of course by the time I found the store on Fulton Ave, I’d forgotton exactly how it went. Fortunately, a fellow customer at the cash register where I asked about it helped out. In addition to correcting my pronounciation with a laugh, he said it was just the Moroccan Arabic word for Allspice. I have a feeling not Allspices are Allspices, so even though I had allspice at home, I bought twenty-five cents worth.

Helou’s recipe:

1 medium onion, quatered

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

8-10 mint leaves

1-2 Tblsp marjoram leaves

2 lbs ground lamb, preferably from the shoulder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp ras el-hanout (optional), available at Middle Eastern markets

salt

bread

tomato and onion salad

Preheat the broiler to high or start a charcoal fire.

Put the onion and herbs in a food processor and process until very finely chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the ground lamb, spices, and salt to taste. Mix with your hands until evenly blended.

Divide the meat into 24 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball and wrap it tightly around a long skewer, preferably a flat one, squeezing the meat up and down to form a sausage 4 or 6 inches long. Pinch it quite thin at each end. Prepare the rest of the meat in the same way.

Cook the brochettes under the broiler or over a charcoal fire for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until done to your liking. Serve immediately with good bread and the tomato and onion salad.

The way I did it:

I liked the promise of Helou’s spices, so I followed her instructions — almost. Since the man in the market translated ras el-hanout as “allspice”, I decided to dispense with the allspice. How do I know Anissa Helou knows what she’s talking about when it comes to spices in Arabic? One allspice dose is enough.

But when it came to the meat, I followed the legendary Claudia Roden, who in a little contribution to Splendid Table here, recommended turning the meat into a paste in the food processor. So, I did that.

No doubt about it, the processed onion, herbs, and ground meat becomes a paste. I added the spices.

When it came to squeezing the meat around the metal skewers, things got a little tricky. Anissa and Claudia don’t tell you that the meat squeezed on metal skewers will fall off very easily. You’ve got to treat the kefta as if they were fragile. I got the meat wrapped around the skewers, but then I rolled them on to a cutting board to carry out to the grill. When it came time to put them on the fire, I had to carefully roll them, nudge them off the board on to the grill. But I’m getting ahead of myself

I made a hot fire of coals, which I spread over half of the bottom grate. I then put the upper grate on so that the grill ran perpendicular to the half-filled bottom grate of coals (see image above). When the coal had died down a little, I put the skewers on perpendicular to the grate (again see image above). I’ll tell you about the peaches in a minute. Two minutes on each side for the kefta was plenty. I let them rest a little longer, because I was dealing with the peaches, and I regret it. The trick, I know see, is to get them off before they dry up. Kefta apparently dry up rather quickly. After 4 or 5 minutes, I took them and the peaches off.

The peaches. My peach tree has turned out to be a magnificent beast. It produces deep yellow, firm-flesh, sweet fruit. Right now, I have a lot of them. So, I found a quick recipe for a reducation sauce on line that I used. I’ll give the proportions I used. You can double them.

While the coals are burning in the chimney, cut one peach in half. Squeeze lemon over it.

In a small saucepan, reduce on medium high heat the following ingredients:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/8 cup brown sugar

the juice of 1/2 lemon

1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Reduce to a syrup. Take out to the grill. When you’ve put the kefta on the grill, put the two halves hollow side down on the grill on a cooler part of the grill but still near enough over the coals to feel the heat. When you turn the kefta, turn over the peaches and brush them with the reduction. Let them grill for a minute or two longer than the kefta.

Last thoughts:

I see now that the important point is to avoid drying out the kefta. I’d also slightly adjust the spices upward, except for salt. Maybe it does need an extra kick of allspice. On the other hand, maybe all those spices are overkill. The only spices Claudia Roden calls for are parsley and onion. Maybe she has a point. I’ll consider that tomorrow.

A Little Dorrie Greenspan, A Big Dollop of Martha Stewart in a Fruit Tart

The crust is here, the original recipe is there, and the fruit comes from everywhere, in particular the peach tree in my backyard.

The whipped cream dominates the image above for a reason: it’s the secret to this tart’s success. I had five friends over for an early Sunday dinner in mid-summer. Continuing my project of diminishing my supply of lamb in the freezer, I grilled a butterflied leg of lamb according to the Gourmet Cookbook’s instructions. When the lamb reached the right temperature, I replaced it on the grill with unshucked ears of corn. I put on the lid with the vents partially close to diminish the fire slowly so that the husks didn’t catch fire but the corn would cook. The lamb rested for the twenty minutes or so it took for the corn to finish. A tomato-cucumber salad finished off the dinner.

For dessert, I decided to improvise. That morning, I picked up a flat of crimson red strawberries and a small container of blueberries. The day before, I had picked a few peaches off the tree in my garden. I wanted to make a fruit tart whose constituent flavors stood out sharply from one another, so I decided to forgo the risk of a goopy pie. No cornstarch, as the one recipe called for; no crème anglaise custard, as the other required. I decided on Dorrie’s Good-for-Almost-Anything-Pie Dough, sliced fresh fruit with only sugar and lemon, and the whipped basil-infused cream and mascarpone from a Martha Stewart recipe.

I admit I’m just enough of a snob to feel slightly abashed at posting a Martha Stewart recipe. But snobbery never pays. One post in the near future will involve her excellent cookbook for hors-d’oeuvres. The recipe I’ve adapted here came to me from a friend who’s a very good cook. Lynda brought the strawberry tart with the cream to a dinner we both attended. Everyone gushed over the unusual flavor of the basil-infused cream in combination with the strawberries. Yesterday, I wondered, “if basil works with strawberries, will it work with peaches?” Now I can say, yes, and I think everyone at my dinner last night would agree. So, here’s the tart as I made it. Follow the link above for the complete strawberry galette.

1. The pie dough

When I made Dorrie’s pie dough, I partially baked it, first for 25 minutes with the pie weights (as in the already-posted recipe) and then for 4 minutes (slightly less than she calls for, since I was going to bake it for much longer with the fruit in it)

2. The cream

Two hours before serving, combine 3/4 cups heavy cream, 1/3 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water, and stir until sugar dissolves, about 4 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 2 hours for a more pronounced basil flavor — but don’t over do it). Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Add 3/4 cup mascarpone, and whisk or beat with an electric mixer until medium peeks form. Cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 2 hours

3. The filling

After the pie dough cooled, I spread Damson plum jam on the surface of the crust (apricot jam would work very well, too). Then I crushed two graham crackers and sprinkled it over the jam. Martha’s recipe calls for adding corn starch to the strawberries, which didn’t appeal to me. Dorrie’s strategy of dusting the bottom of fruit pies and tarts with graham cracker crumbs to soak up fruit juices makes a lot of sense to me.

I sliced the strawberries as Martha’s recipe described: cut off the tops and the tips, and slice the remaining berry into 3 cross slices for round pieces. I put the slices in a bowl, sprinkled them with lemon juices, sprinkled 1 tablespoon of sugar over them and mixed it all together. Then I thinly sliced the peaches and add them to the strawberries slices with additional lemon juice and another tablespoon of sugar. I mixed in blueberries.

Pressed for time, I eschewed arranging the fruit in a pattern and simply poured all the fruit into the partially baked crust. I liked the riot of color of the jumbled fruit.

I put the tart on a baking sheet and baked it in 350 oven until the fruit started to caramelized just a little, about 40-45 minutes. I thought of turning up the heat, but the crust would have turned dark and hardened.

Let the tart cool a bit before serving with the cream.

A final note:

Everyone agreed the two noticeable benefits of this tart were the cream and the unadorned fruit with distinct flavors. You can’t get much more seasonal than this dessert. It is only possible when at the height of the fruit season.

Martha recommends frying basil leaves and serving it with the tart, but I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Still, if you want to try it…

Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly’s Sautéed Lamb Chops with Balsamic Vinegar and French Mint Vinaigrette

from The Complete Meat Cookbook, p. 458.

Lamb, lamb, lamb. Ever since I bought thirty-eight pounds of freshly slaughtered lamb, it’s been a non-stop lamb extravaganza in this house. Last night, I cooked up some of the little lamb chops and tomorrow I’m grilling a butterflied leg of lamb. When I was making up my mind what I wanted to cook last night, I knew I had to reduce the little pile of packaged chops in my freezer. I also had about a pound of seldom-seen-in-these-parts FRESH cannellini beans that I was looking forward to cooking.

Cooking the beans was easy. I shelled them, put them in a pot, covered them with water, threw in a big sprig of sage and two whole garlic cloves and simmered them for about thirty minutes. I drained about a cup of the beans when they were still slightly firm to the bite and stored the remainder in the cooking liquid. But I did remove a third of a cup of beans’ cooking liquid for the following recipe.

I’m not sure if Aidells and Kelly’s cookbook is still in print, but I found a used copy of it. So far, I’ve made only one recipe from it, the grilled spare ribs recipe I posted here. That pleased me so much that I decided to keep on lambing with it. Last night’s attempt was mostly a success, even with the one crucial improvisation I made. What with the small hillock of lamb chops wrapped in white paper sitting in my freezer, I’m sure I’ll get this recipe to a state of near perfection. This book is turning out to be very promising.

So, Aidells and Kelly present their idea this way:

6-8 1-1 1/4 inch-thick rib or T-bone (loin) lamb chops (2-3 pounds total), trimmed of most external fat

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil or more if necessary

1/3 cup beef or chicken stock

2 Tblsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves

8 cups washed and dried frisée, arugula, or other greens (optional)

Season the chops well with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat and add 1 Tblsp of the oil. Put in the hcops (in batches if necessary, adding more oil as needed) and cook for 3 minutes. Turn and cook them for 2 to 3 minuntes longer for rare (120 to 130 F). For medium chops, add 2 more minutes per side, turning the chops two or three times. Remove the chops from the pan and cover loosely with foil to keep warm while you make the vinaigrette. The meat’s internal temperature will rise about 5 F or so as the chops rest.

Pour off all the fat from the pan, leaving any meat juice behind. Put in the stock and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil until the stock and juices are reduced to about 1 tablespoon. Add the vinegar and take the pan off the heat. Whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons oil to make a vinaigrette. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place the mint leaves in a small bowl and pour the vinaigrette over them. Steep for 3 minutes.

Spread the optional greens on a platter, arrange the lamb chops on top, and pour the vinaigrette and mint leaves over it all. If you’re not using the greens, arrange the chops on a platter and pour the sauce and mint leaves over them. Serve at once.

I improvised in this way:

I only sautéed 3 small chops. I cook them for only 2 minutes per side and then removed them. They were still a little too close to medium rare for my taste. I poured off the fat and returned the skillet to the burner. Then I poured in the 1/3 cup of the beans’ cooking liquid. Boy, did it splatter! When reduced, I added the vinegar and let it reduce a little more. Only then did I remove it from the heat and continue with the recipe as given. For the three chops, I used only half of the vinaigrette.

Last Thoughts:

Next time, I’ll sauté the chops only a minute and a half, I’ll use chicken broth, and I prepare bitter greens. But the beans were delicious with the mint, balsamic and chops. Very good, simple recipe that would work well if you have guests.