Middle east feast

We really are making the most of the Chicago summer.  Yesterday morning I awoke to very sore shoulders after kayaking down the Chicago river Sunday afternoon.  Apart from dodging boats and taking a few waves in the face, it was a great way to spend a summer's Sunday.  

As I'm sure you can imagine, we were starving afterwards and I woke up early to watch the final stage of the Tour de France (oops... the tour de Lance) and prepare a few Middle Eastern dishes for a barbecue.  Lamb is probably my favorite meat, but it seems many Americans don't like the taste of it.  It's extremely popular in the UK and it's so flavorful- I love to slow cook it and buy it ground for burgers, like the ones below.

I like these lamb burgers because they steer away from the typical menu for outdoor eating.  They are also easy to prepare and with a selection of tasty dips and salads, they make a real feast.  I made a platter of fresh heirloom tomatoes seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, drizzled with olive oil and topped with crumbled feta.  I added some store-bought red pepper hummus that I again drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled on some smoked paprika.  

Greek yogurt and lamb are a match made in heaven so I spooned some into a dish so people could help themselves.  This recipe for the burgers suggests they are served with a black olive, parsley, tomato and lemon juice relish- it was a great combination.  

We grilled a pile of whole wheat pitta breads that had been split open so we could slide the burgers in.

Middle Eastern Lamb Burgers with Black Olive Relish
Adapted from Living and Eating by John Pawson and Annie Bell
Serves 4

1 1/3 lb best minced lamb
1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
sea salt and black pepper
4 pitta breads to serve

Put together all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly... using your hands is the best way to get everything combined.  Shape a quarter of the mixture into a ball and then flatten into burgers- tossing them back and forth between your hands will make a nice compact burger.  Do these ahead of time and then cover and chill them in the fridge.

For the Black Olive Relish:

1 tomato, sliced and cut into strips
1 large handful each of parsley and coriander (cilantro) leaves
50 g black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
squeeze of lemon juice

Combine the ingredients... you can give the parsley and cilantro a rough chop if you'd like or leave them whole.

Brush the burgers with a little olive oil then grill them over hot coals for about 4-5 minutes each side.  Grill the pittas for about 30 seconds each side and place a burger in each one with some of the relish to serve.

As a salad, this is to lamb what cheese is to macaroni.  This is another of my beloved Nigella's recipes and she serves it with pink seared lamb loins sliced and draped across it.  Try it-it's amazing.  Bulgar wheat is easy to find (in the UK it's in every super market and I found mine at Whole Foods here in Chicago).  It's apparently a wonderful addition to veggie chili, something I'll have to try in the colder months that I can't bear to think about right now.

So get out there, start chopping a ton of fresh herbs, squeezing limes and attack some courgettes (zucchini) with a vegetable peeler and you won't be sorry.

Bulgar Wheat Salad
Adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson
Serves 8

250 g bulgar wheat
large bunch of coriander (cilantro)
large bunch of mint leaves 
6-8 spring onions
1 fresh green chilli
2 small or 1 medium courgette (zuchinni)
juice of 4-5 limes
8 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

For the bulgar wheat, follow the packet instructions.  If your bulgar wheat came from a self serve section in Whole Foods, then just put it in a bowl, boil a kettle full of water and pour it over.  Leave for about 5 minutes and check it until it's tender.  Drain it in a sieve and squeeze as  much water out as possible.

Chop the coriander (cilantro) and mint.  Finely slice the spring onions, de-seed the chilli and finely chop that too.  If you're using 2 small courgettes (zucchini) then finely chop one, if you're just using one, reserve some to peel over the top of the salad.

Juice the limes and pour it over the bulgar wheat along with the olive oil.  Add salt and pepper and toss well.  Add the courgette (zucchini), chilli, coriander, mint and spring onions and mix thoroughly.  

Peel the remaining courgette (zucchini) with a vegetable peeler so you get thin slices and arrange over the salad with a few remaining sprinkles of mint and coriander (cilantro).  

To top off the weekend's birthday celebrations, Alethea and Philippe made this gorgeously zingy lemon/lime Love Cake which I promise to get the recipe for and share with you.  

You guessed it, we loved it.

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