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Pistachio-masala lamb chops make for a different holiday feast

The kitchen has long been my father's domain, especially around the holidays. • Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's — it doesn't matter. • Over the years, I've sat back and watched as he's candied ham with scientific precision, smoked duck outdoors in below-freezing temperatures and perfected the art of making French onion soup. • Last year, I finally turned the tables on him. • For the first time, I played host over Christmas to my parents, who were in town from Iowa. I wanted the meal to be memorable. And I wanted to show off a bit. • No problem.

My girlfriend, Ileana Morales, operates the food blog alittlesaffron.com and writes a column that runs twice a month in the Tampa Bay Times Taste section. Both of us cook for it.

We wanted to make something special — different, vibrant and grandiose enough to be called a holiday meal.

We decided on pistachio-masala lamb chops with cucumber-mint raita.

Lamb is the star of this Middle East-inspired meal, which features a variety of easy-to-find spices pressed into the meat, along with a thin layer of crushed-up pistachios. It's rich and flavorful, with a nice combination of spice and crunch from the rub. Accompanying it is a refreshing cucumber mint raita (translation: yogurt sauce) that adds some balance to the meal. It's so good you can dip anything in it.

We ate this with tabbouleh, a light and fresh salad — perfect for warm December days here.

To finish the meal off, you can go in a lot of different directions. One dessert I'd recommend: a shortbread tart with apricot jam and hazelnuts. It's easy to make, and you can use whatever jam and nut combination you'd like. It's also good the next morning with some coffee.

The great thing about this meal is that it can easily be scaled up or down, depending on how many people you have. A lot of it can also be made ahead of time; both the tabbouleh and raita taste the same or better after chilling in the fridge. The tart also can be made the day before.

Pistachio-Masala Lamb Chops

These nut-crusted lamb chops make a beautiful centerpiece for a holiday meal. If you can't find chaat masala, try garam masala.

1/2 cup shelled pistachios

2 to 3 teaspoons chaat masala (garam masala will work, too)

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons paprika

pinch of cayenne pepper

6 small lamb chops (3 to 4 ounces per chop)

salt

black pepper

olive oil

To make the lamb chops, start by grinding the pistachios and spices (chaat masala, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper) in a food processor in short pulses until it looks like bread crumbs. Pour the mixture onto a plate.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Season lamb chops generously on both sides with salt and black pepper. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking. Coat a large saute pan generously with olive oil and set to medium-high heat. Don't let the oil get so hot that it smokes. Add the lamb chops, three at a time, and cook long enough to sear them, 2 minutes on each side. Lower the heat if the pan starts to smoke.

Hold each seared lamb chop by the bone end and dip it into the nut-spice mixture to coat on both sides. Lay out the chops on a large baking sheet. Place in the center of the oven and roast for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove lamb chops from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

Serve lamb chops with cucumber-mint raita and cous cous.

Serves four.

Source: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman.

Cucumber-Mint Raita

The raita seems to get better as it sits, so definitely make it before the lamb and feel free to make it way ahead of time.

1 cup full-fat plain yogurt

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup diced English cucumber

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of sugar

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Let it sit in the fridge, and it gets better. Adjust seasoning if needed once the lamb chops are ready.

Source: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman.

Tabbouleh

This requires a lot of chopping, but it's worth the effort. This salad is refreshing and light. Make it the day ahead and store in the fridge before serving at room temperature.

3/4 cup bulgur wheat

4 medium tomatoes (about 1 pound)

2 shallots

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley (5 to 6 ounces)

1 bunch fresh mint (about 1 ounce)

1 teaspoon allspice

juice of one lemon

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

salt

black pepper

Rinse the bulgur in a strainer until the water runs clear. Transfer to a large bowl.

Dice the tomatoes into small pieces and add to the bowl along with any juices. Mince the shallots and add to the bowl.

Trim the ends of the stalks on the parsley. Then take a few stalks at a time and chop the herbs finely. Add the parsley to the bowl.

Pick the mint leaves and discard the stems. Chop the mint leaves as finely as the parsley and add to the bowl. Stir in the allspice, lemon juice, olive oil and big pinch each of salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve at room temperature.

Serves four.

Source: Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi.

Shortbread Tart with Apricot Jam and Hazelnuts

This is an easy recipe that will adapt to whatever jam or nuts you'd like to try. The ingredients are basic, and it all comes together quickly, making this a perfect dessert to bring to a party or holiday meal. Who can resist the buttery crumb of shortbread? Serve with whipped cream for dessert or an indulgent breakfast.

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 ounces or 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup (3 ½ ounces) sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cup (7 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (2 ounces) apricot jam

1/3 cup (1 ounce) hazelnuts, chopped (blanched, if possible, but the browned skins of the hazelnuts add some nice contrast to the tart or some can be picked off afterward if you don't want them)

whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place butter and sugar in a bowl and use an electric mixer (with a paddle attachment) to beat on medium speed until the ingredients look whipped and lighter in color, about 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed to incorporate all the butter and sugar. Add vanilla extract and blend just until combined.

In another bowl, whisk the flour and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the whipped butter mixture and combine on a low speed just until combined. Reserve 1/2 cup of the dough on a small plate or bowl and place in the freezer. This will make the dough easier to crumble.

Press the rest of the dough into a 9- or 9 ½-inch tart pan. Try to get an even layer, though it's fine if the edges are a little higher than the rest.

Use a small offset spatula or a spoon to spread the jam in a thin layer over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.

Take the reserved dough from the freezer and crumble it in small pieces over the dough in the pan. Some of the jam should still peek through. Sprinkle the chopped nuts evenly over the dough.

Place in the center of the oven and bake until golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes. Place tart on a rack to cool completely. Cut into eight or 12 slices and serve, preferably with whipped cream.

Store the tart at room temperature and covered in plastic wrap for three to four days, though I doubt you'll let it last that long!

Serves eight to 12.

Source: Adapted from Food52.com and Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style.

Pistachio-masala lamb chops make for a different holiday feast 12/23/13 [Last modified: Monday, December 23, 2013 5:13pm]

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