This weekend, the Quincho Project takes a culinary side trip to Turkey and Armenia. Two very unlikely political compatriots to be sure, but when it comes to food, we are all somehow equalized. You can tell a lot about a country by eating its food – and respecting it. Both Armenia and Turkey use the same spices, and fall under the same Ottoman influences. Both are smack in the middle of trade routes to the far east. And both cultures are so cross pollinated that it’s tough to tell where Yerevan starts and Alepo ends (metaphorically of course). Easter is coming, and since I’m married to an ethnic Armenian (though born and raised in Argentina, her grandparents are from Armenia and Turkey) I’m going to be on the spot for an Easter grillfest in the Quincho. So I figured I’d better get practicing.
Today I decided to go with lamb chops – not those itty bitty loin chops mind you, but a few beautiful shoulder chops I found in the market. I seasoned these first with a rub I concocted a while back that uses Z’atar, garlic powder and Alepo pepper. Familiar spices to any self respecting Turk or Armenian. I slipped them into a thick and rich yogurt marinade of yogurt, onions, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and some cumin and stuck them in the fridge overnight. Next was the decision on what to serve these with. My mother-in-law, an elegant lady and a fabulous cook has a recipe for eggplant that fits right in to any grilled meat dish. I found some small eggplants and sliced them up into thick slices. These are salted and sandwiched between two baking sheets far about a half an hour to get the bitterness out. After they come out of the oven (creamy and sweet) they are topped with a concoction of parsley, vampire killing doses of garlic, olive oil and apple cider vinegar. For a starchy side, there’s a fabulous recipe for a fava bean mixture that’s easy to make and tastes fantastic. The Arabs call this stuff “Ful Medames” and often eat it warm for breakfast with hard boiled eggs. Here are the recipes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Some are old and some are new.
Z’atar is a mixture of dried herbs – largely based on thyme and Middle Easterners are keen on mixing some with Olive oil and putting it on everything from bread to pizza and broiling it. I like the spice, and figured I could make a rub out of it for chicken. It worked so well, I tried it on Lamb and its was fabulous. It’s easy to come by in any middle eastern store. Here’s my rub:
- 2 TBS Z’atar
- 1 TBS Kosher Salt
- 1 TSP Alepo Pepper (you can get this in middle eastern stores also)
- 1/2 TSP Dried Oregano
- 1/2 TSP Garlic Powder
- 1/4 TSP Fresh Ground Pepper
Add toasted Cumin seed and fennel seed
Turkish Lamb Chops
There are about three types of lamb chops you’ll run into in your basic meat market – Loin Chops, Shoulder Chops and Arm Chops. Loin chop are those fat little filet mignon looking things you always see in the display case. I prefer shoulder chops, as they are more meaty and easier to grill. The Turks (and Persians) stick with a Yogurt based marinade that both tenderizes and adds flavor to about any cut. This one is Turkish, but I’ve seen this in a number of Armenian kitchens also.
Make sure you grill these over a nice hot Charcoal (or better yet hardwood) fire for best results. They come out very juicy and tender.
- 6 Large Shoulder Chops
- Z’atar rub (above)
- 2 Cups Greek Yogurt
- 1 Medium Minced Onion
- 1/4 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/4 Cup Best Quality Olive Oil
- 4 Cloves Minced Garlic
- 1 TBSP Crushed red Pepper
- 1 TSP Cumin
Season both sides of the lamb chops well with the Z’atar rub and set aside. While these are resting, combine the remaining marinade ingredients and mix well. I didn’t think that I needed to mention this – but please, please, please use plain yogurt – don’t use flavored yogurt. It ‘aint the same thing. And “vanilla” is not plain. Use Greek yogurt. If you’ve never used Greek yogurt, it’s much thicker than regular plain yogurt. I’ve used a lot of these – Fage is a good brand. You can also use Labne (Kefir Cheese) which is pretty much the same thing but even richer, and if you really want to kick this up a notch, by all means go for it. Slip your chops into the marinade and leave them covered in the fridge overnight.
Prepare a hot fire in your grill over charcoal or – better yet – hardwood. Oil the grate to prevent sticking. I’d recommend having a small spray bottle full of water on hand to tame any flare ups. Put your chops on the grill for 12 minutes. I’d say 6 minutes a side, but keep an eye on them in case they start burning. Keep them moving if you need to – maybe 3 minutes flip, 3 minutes flip, 3 minutes flip and 3 minutes more. I use my own judgment here.