Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Exotic Rack of Lamb with Spiced Quinoa

What do you consider exotic? I wonder if the more I cook and eat, the fewer things will be able to fit in that category. I think of hard to find ingredients as exotic, so that would include things like kaffir lime leaves, zucchini blossoms and wild game. Dishes from other cultures that I’ve never tried certainly are exotic, if not always appetizing (fried grasshoppers, anyone?).

In my mind, the word exotic conjures up a stereotypical image of a sultan’s tent with bright fabrics flowing from overhead, music involving a sitar and the scent of warm, aromatic spices wafting through the air. That is what I had in mind when I made up the spice mix for my rack of lamb. I did not adhere to the culinary traditions of any particular culture, but included all my favorite exotic spices to create a vaguely Turkish blend, resonant with the bitter vanilla tang of cardamom, the smokiness of cumin, the wintry spice of cloves and the heat of pepper. I toasted most of the spices whole and ground them in a mortar. The result was an intensely sweet, smoky and spicy crust all over the edges of the meat due to a quick sear followed by roasting to a gorgeously rare interior.

The only thing that could go with the lamb was an equally exotic quinoa dish that took on a more Moroccan bent with its spicing of intense Vietnamese cinnamon and good, sweet paprika. This recipe came from a Passover menu in the latest issue of Bon Appetit. I love using currants in grain dishes like this or the couscous I made here.

The inspiration for this exotically spiced meal was our wedding anniversary. The actual date was Monday, but it has gotten a bit drawn out over several days of celebration. We went out for a romantic dinner on Saturday, but we also wanted to cook something special at home since that is one of our favorite ways to spend time together both now and before we were married one year ago. Even though I use my “exotic” spices as often as anything else in my pantry, they still transport me out of our Florida condo and into that mysterious sultan’s tent. That great bottle of Zinfandel, lush with blackberry, may have had something to do with it too.

Exotic Rack of Lamb
I like to grind whole spices because you get the most intense, fresh flavor this way. If you want to substitute any of the whole spices in the recipe for ground, go right ahead. If you don’t have one of the spices, leave it out. These quantities are just a guideline, so alter them to suit your tastes or your pantry’s inventory.

Serves 2

8 green cardamom pods
1 tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. whole coriander
½ tsp. anise seeds
¼ tsp. red chile flakes
5 whole allspice berries
½ tsp. black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 frenched rack of lamb (8 rib chops)
coarse salt to taste
1 tbs. olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add the first 8 ingredients to a dry skillet (not nonstick) on medium heat and toast until very aromatic, 2-4 minutes. Add the spices to a mortar or spice grinder, remove the cardamom seeds from their pods, discarding the pods, and grind the spices. Stir in the cinnamon.

Lightly score the fat side of the rack of lamb my making “X’s” with a paring knife. Rub the spice mixture all over the lamb, covering it thoroughly. You may have some leftover. Season all over with salt.

Heat the oil in a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Sear the lamb, fat side down, until browned. Turn with tongs and sear on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer the skillet to the center of the oven and roast for 12 to 15 minutes for rare to medium-rare meat. The meat should still feel somewhat soft when pressed with tongs. Let it rest in the skillet for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board and cut into individual chops. Serve immediately over the quinoa.

Spiced Quinoa with Carrots, Zucchini and Currants
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Serves 3

2 c. low sodium chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 c. quinoa
¼ c. dried currants
1 tbs. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 zucchini, diced
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. sweet paprika

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the quinoa and currants, return to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat until quinoa is done.

Put the vegetables over medium-low heat and add the cooked quinoa to the skillet along with the cinnamon and paprika. Toss to combine and cook for 2-4 minutes to toast the quinoa and bring out the flavor of the spices. Remove from heat, drizzle lightly with olive oil and serve.

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MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Sounds like this meal was infused with spice and history and memory and personality! Well flavored with love. I'm a firm believer in any thing worth celebrating is worth celebrating at least a week.

Lis said...

I have always wanted to try lamb! Hubbs won't allow it though. Yours looks beautiful and sounds delish!

Congrats on your anniversary! :D

Anonymous said...

This is quite a combo! Looks like something you would see on the menu at a fancy restaurant. :)

Ari (Baking and Books)

Kristen said...

Happy Anniversary to you and your husband. What a great meal to celebrate with!

Julie said...

Tanna: Yes, drawing out every birthday and anniversary celebration is definitely our modus operandi.
Lis: I guess the flaw of shunning delicious lamb is forgivable-as long as he's practically perfect in every other way:)
Ari: thanks for the very nice compliment!
Kristen: thanks a bunch!