Lamb a canvas for Mediterranean, Indian flavors

Camping trips have engendered some of my family’s signature dishes. Since my first stint cooking for a Lake Shasta houseboating excursion, lamb secured a spot on the menu.

It’s a fitting formula because by early summer, we’ve usually just stocked the freezer with a whole animal raised by local 4-Hers. And a whole, butterflied leg of lamb feeds a crowd of people if it’s presented properly. Pita or naan bread, of course, is a practically effortless filler, along with grilled garden veggies.

This time, for our smaller group, I scaled down the recipe and, at my husband’s request, swapped ground meat for the boneless chunks of leg or shoulder. Instead of threading the meat and veggies onto skewers, I formed the lamb around the skewers in the manner of kofta, a dish ubiquitous to the Middle East and India. The flat top of a new portable griddle that my husband spearheaded for camping made for easier, more even cooking of the skewers. And because the food doesn’t meet direct flame, we dispensed with soaking bamboo skewers ahead of time.

When grilling, however, wooden skewers can char if used right from the package. The Detroit Free Press recently offered a few more tips for cooking kebabs.

Make sure pieces are cut in uniform pieces and not too large. Large pieces take longer to cook and often can be too heavy for a wooden skewers.

Pair foods together that will cook in the same amount of time. If you’re unsure, thread meat and vegetables on separate skewers and cook them accordingly.

Avoid skewering delicate foods like tomatoes, which cook too quickly and will fall off the skewer during grilling.

I sidestepped skewering vegetables by pairing the kebabs with a chunky Greek salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, Kalamata olives and feta cheese. While our pitas were decidedly Mediterranean-inspired, the minty cucumber-yogurt sauce that I served with them would play equally well with Indian flavors.

The fruity glaze highlighting these lamb kebabs would be a good use for underripe apricots, common this time of year in grocery stores.

Tribune News Service photo

Indian-Spiced Lamb Kebabs With Apricots and Red Peppers

2 pounds boneless lamb leg or loin

2 teaspoons coriander seed

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 teaspoon mustard seed

2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced

1 tablespoon grated ginger

2 to 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup apricot preserves

1/2 cup apricot nectar

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

9 ripe (but firm) apricots

12 mini red, yellow or orange bell peppers

1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped

Cut the lamb into 1 1/2-inch pieces and place in a sealable plastic bag or bowl. In a small skillet over medium heat, place the coriander, cumin and mustard seed. Toast in skillet a few minutes or until fragrant. Transfer to a clean coffee grinder and pulse to grind spices. Place in a bowl and add the minced garlic and grated ginger. Use a fork to mash all ingredients together. (You can use a mortar and pestle to grind spices if you like.) Add enough of the olive oil so mixture is like a paste. Mix paste with olive oil and pour over lamb. Press sides of bag with your hands to massage paste into lamb chunks so it coats all pieces. Cover and refrigerate for least 1 hour or up to 6 hours.

While lamb is marinating, in same skillet you toasted whole spices, add the ground cumin, ginger and coriander and cook, stirring, until fragrant over medium heat. Stir in the vegetable oil and cook for 1 minute. Add the lemon juice, preserves and nectar and stir until smooth. Cook over low heat until glaze is slightly thickened, season with the salt and pepper; set aside. You should have about 1/2 cup.

Preheat grill to medium. Cut the apricots in half and remove pits and discard them. Cut mini peppers in half lengthwise, leaving the stem on for presentation. Thread lamb pieces, apricot halves and peppers onto skewers, beginning and ending with pepper halves. Season kebabs with salt and pepper and grill lamb for 10 to 12 minutes or until cooked as desired. Brush skewers with glaze as they cook.

Serve skewers sprinkled with fresh cilantro and any extra glaze.

Makes 6 (generous) servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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