August 17, 2012
Welcome back to the kitchen. Another hot, glorious week of summer lies before us like a panting dog. The sun bakes down, turning concrete and pavement into an unkind oven. Conversely, staying in a stuffy house and using the oven is about the furthest thing from my mind these days. I want to be out there, in or near the river, keeping cool and making the most of days that I hate to admit are shortening towards an eventual and inevitable change of season.
So I am looking to spend just a short time in the kitchen these days. I mean, when we are at the peak of the season for so many delicious local ingredients, we shouldn’t need to do much to prepare and adorn nature’s bounty. Also, I find my taste running a bit towards lighter foods; more vegetables and fruits, more raw ingredients. Less heavy grains, bakes, and stews.
I find that all this sun and activity leaves me wanting to eat a bit on the healthier side. But thankfully, this is mostly through what I am craving, not what I am denying. So I still intend to use some animal protein in tday’s dish, but I don’t plan for it to be the be all end all of the meal.
And as for side dishes, I’m going to eschew rice, potatoes, pasta, or other heavy, starchy dish and just go all out on the vegetables. I’m telling you, with kale and carrots and squash and onions and peppers and eggplant and more, I’m just in love with what the garden and farmers market has in store.
So today I want to make up some big beautiful summer salads, with a bit of grilled meat as one of the toppings. And I find my palate drawn in a middle eastern direction, towards mint and cumin and hot pepper and cinnamon, towards roasted peppers and zuchinni, and perhaps most importantly, to a lemony tahini dressing to top it all off.
Now, the more epicurean among you surely know that tahini is the principal ingredient in hummus and baba ganoush, that those dips would be bland nothings without tahini’s seductive touch. But for those who have never heard of this golden-tan ingredient of the gods, allow me to introduce you. Tahini is basically just salted sesame paste. And somehow, it is so. Damn. Good!
An ancient staple of middle eastern diets in particular, tahini can be used as a sauce on its own or mixed with other ingredients to make a variety of delicious things. It is rich, creamy, has a great nutty flavor, and some more complex flavors going on as well. In this particular dressing we are going to cut it with lemon, garlic, a little sweet and spicy, and freshen it all up with some parsley. Yum!
That dressing will go over some sliced marinated and grilled lamb (or pork or chicken if you prefer) on top of a bed of garden greens and veggies. We’ll toss on some roasted peppers and zucchini, and have an amazing summer meal that is full of flavor, filling, but not overly heavy. Oh, and because I love sweet and savory together, I’m also going to grill up some spiced peaches to go on the salad. Thankfully, the only cooking we do is going to be on the grill outside, so we wont heat up the house any more.
For this Middle Eastern Lamb and Tahini Salad for four, we will need:
-about 4 ounces of meat per person (I’m using lamb loin chops, but use boneless lamb chops if you can find them, or use pork chops or loin, or boneless chicken breasts)
-1 tablespoon ground cumin
-2 cloves minced garlic
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (the juice of about ½ lemon)
-1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
-1 teaspoon chopped mint leaves
-a small pinch of cinnamon and/or nutmeg
-small pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Put the meat and all the marinade ingredients together in a zip top bag, let all the air out, and seal the bag. Mix around the meat and marinade until it is all well mixed and coated, and put this in the fridge to sit for at least a half an hour.
Next, let’s cut 2 zucchini squash in half, or into ½ inch thick strips if you have mega squash. Let’s also cut 2 bell peppers, red green or whatever, in half and remove the seeds. Oh, and because I love the flavor, lets peel and slice up a sweet onion into ½ inch wheels. And finally, take two ripe but not overly ripe peaches and cut them in half, removing the pits. Brush the veggies and peaches with some olive oil, and sprinkle them all with a bit of cumin, black pepper, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little pinch of hot cayenne pepper. Set this stuff side while we heat up the grill and prepare the rest of this meal.
I think the next step here is to make the delicious and deceptively simple tahini dressing. There are many sesame based dressings, and I invite you to bring in your own creativity. The basics are tahini, lemon, garlic, and water. But I recently tried one of the best tahini sauces I’ve ever had, and a friend said the secret ingredient is a bit of white miso for salt and a bigger umami punch of flavor.
So for this lemony and herby version of the dressing, we’ll need:
1/4 cup tahini
the juice and finely grated zest of one lemon (I actually only use the zest of about half, so as not to over do it and make it bitter)
1 tablespoon white miso paste
2 garlic cloves, peeled and fienly minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
a small pinch of cayenne
water as needed to thin out the dressing (I like a thinner, drizzlier dressing, so I add more water)
Some recipes call for a little honey or other sweetener, but I don’t really think it needs it.
To make the dressing, just combine all the ingredients in a food processor or use an immersion blender to combine everything until it is nice and creamy. Don’t be afraid to try the dressing and adjust the flavors accordingly. But really, that is all there is to it! Tahini, lemon juice and zest, garlic, miso, parsley, water, and just a hint of heat. Yum!
You can make a big batch of this dressing and save it for dips, toppings, and salads in the fridge for quite some time. I tend to make up a lot whenever I get around to it, because it is so yummy. I usually leave the tahini dressing a bit thicker, then thin out smaller batches with water as needed.
So now let’s heat up our grill and get the lamb roasting. We want to do it fairly hot, so we can sear the outside without drying out the meat. The same goes for pork of beef, but you might want to do chicken on a bit of a lower, slower heat. Grill the lamb or what have you for about 5 or 6 minutes per side (use a meat thermometer to get it right, up to 165 degrees).
Grill the zuchinni, peppers, onions, and peaches around the lamb, on a slightly lower heat. We want those veggies to get some nice charring, but not to get completely over done.
While we are firing the grill, let’s get out some big plates or salad bowls and fill them with fresh salad greens, spinach, plenty of chopped heirloom or cherry tomatoes, and some shaved carrots. Of course you are free to add whatever other veggies you’ve got on hand to these super salads.
When the meat and veggies are grilled and done, set them aside so they can cool a bit and to let the meat reabsorb some of its juices. If you are using bone in chops, just serve them whole and beautifully encrusted in the herbs and garlic of the marinade. If the meat is boneless, when it is cool enough cut it across the grain into ¼ inch strips, which will make it much easier to eat in the salad. Also cut up the zucchini and peppers into more manageable pieces, and separate the grilled onion rings.
Lay the grilled lamb in the center of each salad, with a glorious grilled and spiced half a peach beside it. Surround that with some of the grilled zucchini, peppers, and onions. Give each salad a healthy drizzle of the lemon tahini dressing, and top with a final pinch of a bit more chopped parsley.
Beautiful! This meal looks as good as it tastes, and really doesn’t take all that long to prepare. The tahini tastes amazing with the lamb and veggies, both fresh and grilled. The spiced peach is a little out of left field, but I think the sweet, spicy, and savory flavors with the lamb all play really nicely together. What a glorious meal that the land has provided for us!
By the way, you could definitely prepare the hot stuff before hand, let it all cool sdown, and take these salads as an excellent riverside picnic. And if you aren’t a meat person, skip the lamb or chicken and just use some chick peas to get extra protein.
Nice work everyone! I’d love to hear what you’ve been cooking and eating this summer. Send me any questions, comments, or suggestions to Isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.