Middle Eastern dishes are arguably the most aromatic in any of the worlds cuisines, blending and fusing intoxicating spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables; from almonds to zucchinis. Amongst which, is the resplendent pomegranate – a native fruit of Persia.
Outside Middle Eastern and North African cultures, the pomegranate remains somewhat of a mystery and to a large extent, an intimidating ingredient – in part, because of its unyielding red leathery exteria. Yet, the deliciously tart-sweet ruby red seeds and juice await their release with the swift thwack or two of a wooden spoon. Like it’s middle eastern counterpart, the lemon; pomegranates are used in endlessly toothesome ways from rich savoury meals to fantastically scrumptious sweets.
Ras el Hanout is a very popular Moroccan spice used in numerous dishes such as tagines and marinades, often with lamb and chicken. And like most Middle Eastern spice blends, there are copious derivations in every provence and community throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. However, they are all based on several core spices – most notably, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, rose, ginger, coriander, cumin and chilli. The name translates to ‘top of the shop’; and as it suggests, is a blend of spices reserved only for the best, blended with the most esteemed of the aromatics. In this recipe, it is used as an aromatic spice rub for the lamb.
500g Lamb back straps or fillets
200g salad leaves, washed and dried
1 large (or 2 small) zucchini or courgette, sliced length ways
250g baby roma tomatoes, halved
1 tblsp Dukkah*
2 tblsp Ras el Hanout (available from any good produce store)
1 lemon zest
Good quality olive oil
2-3 tblsp flat leave parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper to season
On a clean chopping board, rub a tablespoon of olive oil together with the Ras el Hanout all over the lamb, creating an aromatic spice rub. Set the lamb aside to marinade.
Prepare the washed salad leaves by tossing them in a tablespoon of olive oil and lemon zest and season well with salt and pepper. Place the salad leaves in a large serving bowl or large plate. Set the bowl or plate aside.
Heat a grill or frying pan and add the zucchini slices with a small amount of oil for about two minutes on both sides, until each slice is golden brown. Remove them from the grill or pan and place them aside. Next, place the roma tomato halves face down in the pan and gently caramelise the flat side. This takes no more than a minute. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.
In the same, searingly hot pan, add the lamb fillets. Sear each side for a few minutes, ensuring each side is caramelized. Remove the lamb and leave it to rest for a few minutes on a clean chopping board. Drizzle olive oil over the lamb and sprinkle with generous amounts of chopped parsley. Turn the lamb fillets to ensure each side is glistening. Slice the lamb fillets into one centimeter slices, continuing to massage the parley and olive oil over as much of the surface as possible.
To assemble the salad, scatter the zucchini and tomato pieces across the salad leaves. Gently stack the lamb slices on top. Dust the salad with the dukkah; and finally, with a large spoon (such as a wooden mixing spoon) whack the back of the pomegranate to release the ruby red seeds and juice across the salad.
Serve this salad from the table with freshly warmed Turkish or flat bread.
*Dukkah is available from most good food stores and even some supermarkets. I will be featuring my recipe for Dukkah in a future blog.