Given its distinctive taste derived mainly from its branched-chain fatty acids, lamb works particularly well alongside a wide range of herbs and spices. With lamb having been raised in the Middle East for over 9,000 years, it’s hardly surprising that it’s become such a staple of Middle-Eastern and Eastern-Mediterranean cooking given its versatility. This particular recipe prizes lamb chops, cheaper than rack of lamb and with a perfect ratio of fat and flesh, rubbed with a blend of spices typically used in Eastern-Mediterranean and Levantine cuisine.
This recipe calls for the lamb chops to be rubbed with a blend of cumin seeds, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, smoked paprika, cinnamon, and pul biber. Also known as Aleppo pepper, pul biber is a type of coarsely ground, de-seeded chilli pod, particularly popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It’s even the third most common seasoning used in Turkey, after salt and pepper. Although less common than standard chilli flakes in the UK, pul biber is available from some national supermarkets and from most Turkish, Cypriot, or European supermarkets, as well as from specialist retailers and online. If you haven’t already got a jar in the cupboard, I’d recommend doing all you can to get hold of some as it’s guaranteed to become a store cupboard staple in place of chilli flakes. Regular chilli flakes can be used as a reasonable substitution, however.
When it comes to marinading lamb, it’s important to avoid overdoing it, as marinading can cause the proteins to break down, resulting in a mealy, unpleasant texture. 20 minutes should be set as an upper limit, but personally I’d apply the spice rub to the chops as close to cooking as possible. The lamb will also cook far more evenly from room temperature – ideally removed from the fridge around 30 minutes of an hour before cooking, dependent on the size of the cut you’re using. For lamb chops, 30 minutes is plenty.
This dish is also accompanied by pearl barley cooked in a similar style to risotto, but without requiring as much energy. Start by sweating shallots before adding the pearl barley, dried cherries, and water to the pan. Once simmering it can be stirred occasionally while you prepare and cook the lamb chops. The pearl barley ‘risotto’ is then finished with a drizzle of yoghurt and lashings of butter quickly infused with pul biber. I’d also recommend serving with flat bread, to soak up all the juices from the pearl barley and the perfectly cooked lamb chops.
- Grinder or pestle and mortar
- Large, heavy-based saucepan
- BBQ or large frying pan (ideally cast iron)
- 4-6 lamb chops at room temperature
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- ½ tbsp black peppercorns
- ½ tbsp coriander seeds
- ½ tbsp fennel seeds
- ½ tbsp sesame seeds
- ½ tbsp sumac
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 ½ tbsp pul biber aka Aleppo pepper, alternatively use chilli flakes
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 250 g pearl barley rinsed under cold water
- 150 g dried sour cherries
- 6 shallots finely sliced
- 4 cloves garlic finely sliced
- 125 g butter
- 6 tbsp thick yoghurt
- 2-4 pita/flat breads
- Fine sea salt
- 25 ml Extra virgin olive oil
- Neutral cooking oil such as rapeseed or vegetable oil
- To begin, add the peppercorns, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and sesame seeds to a dry frying pan and toast over low-medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant, stirring often.
- Add the toasted seeds to a grinder or pestle and mortar and coarsely grind. Mix with sumac, paprika, oregano, cinnamon, ½ tbsp of pul biber, and a generous pinch of salt. Set aside.
- Add a glug of oil to a large, heavy-based saucepan and heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and sweat over low heat for approx. 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.
- While the shallots are cooking, heat the barbecue or prepare a large frying pan (ideally cast iron). Generously dust both sides of the lamb chops with the spice and salt mix, the drizzle with a little oil.
- Keep an eye on the shallots.
- On a medium heat melt the butter and then keep cooking it until it turns a nut-brown butter. Strain through a fine sieve into a large, heat-proof container (as it will puff up once you add the chilli) and then immediately add 1 tbsp of the pul biber. Finish it by adding the olive oil.
- Once the shallots are ready, add the garlic cloves and cook for another 3-4 minutes over low heat. Add the pearl barley and cherries to the pan and increase the heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or two then add enough cold water to the pan to cover the pearl barley and cherries by around 2cm-1 inch. Season with salt, bring to the boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the pearl barley is cooked slightly al dente. Stir occasionally and drain any excess water once cooked.
- While the pearl barley is cooking, cook the lamb chops. If cooking on the BBQ, add the chops to the grill once hot enough for direct cooking. If using a pan, heat the pan until screaming hot and add the chops, making sure not to crowd the pan.
- Cook over high heat for around 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare, turning only once during cooking, once a golden crust has formed. The meat will become firm as it cooks – gently press with your thumb to test for how well-done the chops are. The firmer the meat becomes, the more well-done it is. For a medium-rare chop, the meat should have a soft feel with a little spring back.
- Once cooked, leave to rest in a warm place for 5-10 minutes and add flatbreads to the pan or BBQ and cook for a minute or two, until coloured on each side.
- Serve by placing the lamb on top of the pittas, alongside the pearl barley. Dress the pearl barley with a heaped spoonful of the pul biber-infused butter to taste and drizzle with yoghurt. Optionally season with more pul biber and a pinch of sumac.
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