Sunday, June 3, 2012

Middle Eastern Inspiration

In winter, I really love to eat food that is full of warm, aromatic and earthy flavours - and today's dish has this in spades. I have used a fragrant and warming middle eastern inspired spice mix to flavour frenched lamb cutlets, and added to this beautiful seasonal roasted vegetables, fresh herbs and seeds from one of my favourite fruits, the pomegranate. To top it off, a perfectly balanced sweet and slightly piquant dressing.

This dish is also my first experiement with using quinoa, that superfood favoured by the Incas and popping up on menus everywhere these days. It really seems to be the ingredient de jour, particularly amongst my vegetarian mates. I decided it was about time I gave it a try, so I included it in my lamb dish in place of the cracked wheat or cous cous I would normally use. I really loved the slight chewiness to the grain and the nutty taste. By all accounts it is also incredibly good for you - there is a reason the Incas called it the "mother of all grain"

This dish is really big on flavour, and although there are a few components, it is actually really easy. It really is worth hunting down fresh pomegranate if you can find it - the little bursts of juicy jewel coloured seeds are just beautiful, as well as looking fabulous on the plate.

There are potentially heaps of variations you could try with this recipe - try whatever veges are in season that you like - eggplant, squash, asparagus, sweet potato would all be great. If you are a vego, leave out the lamb and make the vegetable component as a dish in itself, along with the dressing. I was also thinking that chicken thighs or even fish or prawns would work well too. Toasted almonds or pistachios would also add another texture and flavour dimension.

This dish would be lovely served on a big platter as part of a shared, buffet style meal, even at a BBQ. You will fall in love with the middle eastern influenced flavours and the delightfully varied textures.


Middle Eastern Lamb Cutlets
with quinoa, roasted vegetables and fresh pomegranate

You will need:
(For the lamb) 6-8 Frenched lamb cutlets, 1 teaspoon sumac, 2 teaspoons ground coriander, pinch cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon mild paprika, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon warm water, salt and pepper.

(For the vegetables) 2 cups cooked quinoa, about 6 cups assorted raw vegetables cut into chunks about 3cm square (I used red capsicum, pumpkin, zucchini, red onion), 1 cup sliced cooked green beans,1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 cup fresh pomegranate seeds, 1/2 cup fresh parsley, 1/2 cup deseeded sliced olives, salt and pepper.

(For the dressing) 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon pomegranate balsamic (use plain balsamic if you can't find this), 1 clove minced fresh garlic, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 tablespoon warm water, generous pinch of salt, pepper.

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Combine the sumac, coriander, paprika, olive oil, cayenne, water and salt and pepper to make a paste. Rub the paste into the lamb cutlets and set aside to marinate.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients and set aside at room temperature until you are ready to serve.

Combine the chunks of vegetables with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the vegetables on a baking tray and bake for around 30 minutes, until they are well cooked.

Heat a grill pan (or BBQ) and cook the lamb cutlets - they will not take very long (about 5 minutes), so keep an eye on them so that they are not overcooked. Ideally, they should be a little pink in the middle. Set the cutlets aside to rest.

While the cutlets are resting, gently mix the quinoa, roasted vegetables, green beans, parsely, olives and half of the pomegranate seeds all together in a large bowl.

To serve, place a few generous spoonfuls of the vegetable mixture on the plate, top with the cutlets and then drizzle over a little of the dressing. Add the remaining pomegranate seeds and serve.

Serves 2 - 4 People

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