Lamb is a nutritious and delectable protein and one that I like to serve on special occasions or when I just want a change from beef, poultry or pork. But consumption of lamb in the U.S. has plummeted over the last 50 years. In the 1960s, Americans consumed on average 4.5 lbs. per year. Today, it’s about 0.7lbs. Why, when lamb is so delicious?
There are a couple of theories that help explain the decline. First, soldiers during WWII were fed a lot of canned lamb and mutton, so when they returned home, they wanted no more of the meat associated with being in the military. The other reason is the decline of wool as a material for clothing. If you check your clothing labels, wool is usually blended with synthetic fabrics to lower the cost and for ease of washing. Today’s ‘fleece’ jacket is much more likely to be made from recycled plastic bottles than from wool.
One-third of lamb sold in the U.S. today is direct from producer to the consumer. That could mean it comes from boutique local farms or New Zealand (where there are more sheep than humans!) and is sold online. Also, other cuisines, especially in Greece and the Middle East, feature lamb more prominently. As we Americans become more adventurous eaters, we are discovering recipes from other cultures.
Lamb is a red meat that has significant amounts of valuable FoodTrients such as vitamin B12, zinc, niacin, riboflavin, B6, phosphorus, selenium, iron, potassium and small amounts of copper and magnesium. A 3oz serving of lamb contains 23.5 g of high-quality protein, 6.6 g fat and 160 calories. Nutritionally, it sits somewhere between dark meat chicken and pork loin. As with any red meat, eat lamb sparingly and try to find organic grass fed for optimal nutrition.
The following recipes have an international flair, and it doesn’t take much to create these delicious dishes. Three ounces of lamb will go a long way.
‘Stuffed Shoes’ – Eggplant Stuffed with Lamb and Walnuts
In this recipe, eggplant is the star and lamb an important supporting player. Some version of eggplant stuffed with meat is found throughout Greece and the Middle East. The walnuts add crunch and are a good source of antioxidants, healthy fatty acids, and many nutrients. Walnuts are also good for brain function, your heart and healthy skin.
3 large eggplants
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground lamb
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. ground turmeric
¼ tsp. cardamom
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup pomegranate molasses*
½ cup parsley, chopped
*Available at Middle Eastern markets or make yourself by simmering pomegranate juice over medium heat until it thickens to the consistency of syrup.
It’s nice to create this dish in a traditional Moroccan tagine, but not necessary. A Dutch oven will work fine. The combination of spices gives this dish its exotic flavor. The garlic, ginger and cinnamon are excellent antioxidants.
4 lb. boneless lamb roast, cut into 1″ pieces
3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup dried apricots
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, scrubbed and sliced into coins
6 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp. freshly minced ginger
3 Tbs. tomato paste
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Small pinch of saffron (optional)
½ tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
¼ tsp. ground cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly chopped cilantro or Italian flat parsley, plus more for garnish
½ cup toasted almond slivers
¼ cup torn fresh mint leaves
Cooked couscous, for serving
1. In a large bowl, toss lamb with about 1 tsp. salt. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator.
2. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring vegetable broth to a boil. Remove from heat and add dried apricots. Let sit at least 15 minutes.
3. In a tagine or Dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add lamb and cook until just brown, about 4 minutes per side. Work in batches, if necessary. Remove lamb from the pot and place on a warm plate.
4. Reduce heat to medium and add onion and carrots to the pot. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more, then add tomato paste and stir until coated. Add cinnamon, saffron, and other spices and cook, about 1 minute more.
5. Add lamb, apricots, and broth to pot and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the lamb is tender, and the liquid is reduced, about 1½ hours.
6. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro or parsley. Garnish with toasted almonds, mint, and more cilantro or parsley. Serve over warm couscous.
Biryani Rice with Lamb, Spinach and Chutney
Biryani is a rice dish that originated among Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. It is made with Indian spices, fragrant basmati rice, meat, and vegetables. You can get creative with whatever you have on hand—peas, garbanzo beans, carrots, etc. If you don’t happen to have roast lamb on hand, a slow cooker recipe follows.
2 cups basmati rice
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
3 handfuls (about 3 cups) baby spinach leaves, chopped
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cardamom
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 Tbs. mango chutney
½ lb. roast lamb (or whatever you have left)
1 cup vegetable stock or water
1 Tbs. butter for greasing
½ cup toasted slivered almonds
¼ cup ghee or melted butter
Plain Greek yogurt to serve
Fresh cilantro to serve
1. Cook rice per packet instructions, then rinse under cold water and drain well.
2. Preheat oven to 390 degrees F.
3. In a large, oven proof dish or Dutch oven, add the oil, ginger, garlic and onion over medium heat and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the spinach and cook another 3-4 minutes. Add salt, pepper, curry powder, cardamom, flour, chutney and lamb. Stir well to combine. Pour in vegetable stock or water. Top with the rice, sprinkle with almonds and drizzle in ghee (or butter). Put on the lid and place in oven.
4. Bake for 40 minutes, removing lid after 20 minutes.
5. Serve topped with yogurt and cilantro.
Slow Cooker Roast Lamb
Here’s a prep-and-forget way to roast lamb to use in this or other recipes. Lamb sliders, anyone?
3 ½ lb. leg of lamb, bone out
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1⁄2 cup lemon juice
4 -6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1. Using the crock pot’s ceramic dish, mix oil, lemon juice, garlic and nutmeg.
2. Coat the leg of lamb in the mixture and cook on high for 6- 8 hours until falling apart.
3. Store cooked lamb in a tightly closed container for up to 2 days OR in a zip lock bag with the air squeezed out in the freezer for up to a month.
Lamb Ragu on Pappardelle, Ardente
‘Ragu’ is Italian meat sauce and ‘ardente’ means fiery. Ragu is a pasta sauce that’s usually comforting, but the dried chilis give it a kick. Cooked tomatoes and tomato sauce are loaded with lycopene, which contains antioxidant properties. It helps maintain skin health and support the cardiovascular system. It also provides additional health support for eyes, lungs and the prostate gland.
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 ½ lb. lamb steaks, cubed into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried Thyme
1 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
3 cups marinara sauce
2 Tbs. tomato paste
⅓ cup red wine (Chianti would be nice)
1 Tbs. powdered vegetable or beef stock
Pinch of sea salt
½ cup water
1 lb. package pappardelle pasta
Parmesan cheese to serve
1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan/skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots; sauté until onion is transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
2. Add the lamb, and sear until browned on all sides. Add the tomatoes; stir in the oregano, thyme and chili flakes and cook until tomatoes begin to soften. Pour in the marinara sauce and the tomato paste; bring to a near boil and reduce heat to a low simmer.
3. Add the wine, powdered stock and salt to taste; stir and cover with a lid. Allow to simmer over gentle heat, stirring occasionally. When lamb begins to soften, stir in the water. Continue to cook until lamb is tender, and sauce has reduced. Adjust spice and/or salt to taste.
4. While lamb is simmering, cook pasta to packet instructions until al dente. Once cooked, drain and add 2 ladles of sauce throughout the pasta before serving.
5. Top with a sprinkle of Parmigiana Reggiano.
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