With Memorial Day weekend now under our belts, the summer season, and hence grilling season, is unofficially-officially upon us. This is my favorite time of year. And I know, I tell you that fifteen thousand times every June. It’s just that I get really fired up – no pun intended… okay, it was totally intended – about summertime stuff, because it turns me into a happier, healthier person. As soon as the sun starts shining and the weather warms up, I crave healthy food and being outside, while the rest of the year I just want to sit on the couch and eat cookies.
I hope you had a nice holiday and enjoyed the long weekend. We had one solid day on the beach, and since it was foggy and not super hot, we all neglected to slather on the sunscreen and developed that first (and hopefully last) roaring red sunburn of the season. It’s not good, I know, but secretly, deep down, I kinda love the feeling of warmth radiating off of my skin. I know, I know, skin cancer, etc. I promise I’ll be better about it next time.
I could go on a tangent about the beach, the farmers market, my garden, bike rides, long days, sun dresses, ice cream, bare feet and all the other things that make summertime the besssssst. But instead, lets talk about grilling, the sole cooking technique that defines the season. Grilling gives food lots of flavor with minimal effort, which is what summertime’s all about. Grilling is an excuse to hang outside, and the best part is that it leaves little in the way of clean-up.
We don’t eat a ton of meat in this house, but we definitely like to have a solid source of protein at least a few times a week. I love steak, but lamb has become my favorite red meat of choice. We never had lamb growing up, as my mother was opposed to eating the youngin’s, and for a long time I was too. It took me a few tries to get into lamb, but I’ve come to think it has more flavor and character than other meats. Because there’s far less demand for lamb in the US than there is for beef, pork and poultry, it also tends to be more sustainable. I bought these beautiful, big lamb chops from our local butcher Ernest and Son, and they did not disappoint. Having a local butcher is such a privilege, and I realize how lucky we are to have one right on the island.
These chops take inspiration from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, which have quite a bit of overlap, and both of which I’ve been really into lately. I recently had the pleasure of working with chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philly on “The Chef’s Kitchen,” the cooking show that I host locally. Mike is known for his fresh new take on Israeli cuisine and has gained quite a bit of national attention for it. In addition to being an all around great guy, his food is incredible, and I ran to pick up a copy of his new cookbook, which is also called Zahav. This recipe isn’t from the book, but it was inspired by the beautiful flavors and ingredients found within.
I marinate the lamb in a robust bath of red wine, lots of garlic, oregano, vinegar, Badia Complete Seasoning, honey and a touch of cinnamon. I chose Santa Rita’s 120 Hero’s Salute Red Blend for it’s fresh fruity elegance and balanced acidity. In addition to working well in the marinade, it’s also my pick for drinking with the meal. It’s bold enough to stand up to the meat, but light enough for a warm summer night. Santa Rita’s 120 series of wines was named after the historic event in which 120 soldiers took refuge in Santa Rita’s cellars in 1814 during Chile’s war for independence. I love a wine with a story, especially when it’s as tasty as this one.
After marinating, the lamb gets grilled, then nestled over top of a silky, garlicky roasted eggplant puree. It’s topped with a fresh tomato cucumber salad that’s accented with fresh mint and sumac, a tangy spice common in the Middle East. For an extra layer of texture and crunch, I roast chick peas until perfectly crisp and sprinkle them on right at the end.
This dish is light, but substantial, and oozing with bright summery flavor. It might seem like a lot of ingredients and cooking, but it actually comes together quite easily. Any leftover eggplant puree is wonderful as a dip served with pita, and the crispy chick peas are excellent for snacking. I hope you give it a try.
- 1/2 cup Santa Rita 120 Hero's Salute Red Blend
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon Badia Complete Seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 lbs lamb chops, trimmed
- 1 large or two smaller eggplants
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing eggplant
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- juice of 1 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 15 oz can chick peas, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt, for sprinkling
- Tomato Cucumber Salad
- 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup diced English cucumber
- 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons fresh mint, torn, plus more for garnish
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon sumac, plus more for garnish (optional)
- Combine the first 10 ingredients in a zip top bag, then add the lamb chops and toss to coat. Press out as much air as possible, seal the bag and place in the refrigerator. Allow the lamb to marinate for at least 4 hours, or up to 12. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature at least 20 minutes before grilling.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and prick the eggplant all over with a fork, then rub with oil. Place on a sheet pan and roast until it can be easily pierced with a knife without resistence, about 30-45 minutes depending on size. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then remove the skin and stem and place in a food processor. Add the olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt and pepper, then puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the chick peas out on to several towels and gently pat dry. You want to be sure to remove as much moisture as possible to ensure they turn out crispy. Pour the olive oil into a medium-large cast iron skillet and place over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, right before smoking, add the chick peas and shake the pan vigorously for about one minute. Transfer the pan to the oven, and bake for about 20-25 minutes, shaking and tossing them every so often to ensure even cooking. Remove from the oven and use a slotted spoon to transfer the chick peas to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt while still hot, and set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber, red onion, lemon juice, mint, salt, pepper, and sumac. Toss until combined, taste and adjust seasoning as needed, then set aside.
- Preheat a clean, well oiled grill to medium high heat. Remove the lamb chops from the marinade and allow any excess to drain off. Place the lamb chops on the grill and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare. Cook time will ultimately depend on the size and thickness of your chops. Remove from the grill once done to your liking, and let rest for about 5 minutes.
- Spoon the eggplant puree on to a large platter or individual plates, the top with the lamb chops. Spoon the tomato cucumber salad over top and sprinkle with crispy chick peas. Garnish with fresh sprigs of mint and a dusting of sumac if desired. Serve immediately.