Guy Lon & Cumin Lamb Stir-Fry

As regular readers know, I am quite devoted to Farmer Ted and the whole Windflower Farm crew.

But this week I had occasion to check out another CSA. My coworker and I visited Crown Heights Farm Share to learn about some of the innovative strategies they are using to recruit and retain low-income residents. From what I observed, the folks in Crown Heights have built a remarkable sense of community. They also have some remarkable vegetables courtesy of Sang Lee Farms, located on the North Fork of Long Island. One of the coordinators we met with was kind enough to send me into the night with a lovely bouquet of guy lon, also known as Chinese broccoli.

Guy Lon

I made it to my own CSA, which is five blocks away, just before closing time. Good thing I did as, in addition to a delightful selection of vegetables, I picked up a pound of ground lamb that I had ordered during a bout of insomnia the week before and promptly forgotten about.

Guy Lon & Cumin Lamb Stir-Fry

  • 1 cup long grain white rice, rinsed 
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seed
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 4 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns, ground 
  • black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons safflower or other neutral cooking oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced pole to pole
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 jalapeño pepper (or to taste), minced
  • 1 large bunch guy lon (Chinese broccoli), leaves, flowers and thin stems roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 scallions, sliced on the bias into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  1. Bring two cups of water to boil in a medium pot. Add the rice, stir, cover, and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let stand for another 5 minutes before serving. (This should be just enough time to prep and cook the rest of the dish.)
  2. Toast the cumin seeds in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they release their aroma and turn a few shades darker. Gently mix the lamb with the cumin, Szechuan peppercorns, tamari or soy sauce, and a good amount of freshly ground black pepper in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into the skillet and bring it up to medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they are limp and charred in places. Add the red and jalapeño peppers, allowing these to brown and go limp. Empty the contents of the pan into a bowl.
  4. Place the skillet back on the heat and pour in another tablespoon of oil. Add the guy lon stems and let these cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add the flowers and leaves and cook stirring constantly until the stems are bright green and the leaves are wilted. Dump the guy lon on top of the onions and peppers.
  5. Place the skillet back on the heat and pour in the last tablespoon of oil, followed by the lamb, garlic and rice wine vinegar. Cook stirring frequently for 10 minutes or so until the lamb has released and then reabsorbed most of its juices. Stir the cooked vegetables and the scallions in, and let cook for a couple more minutes. Add the cilantro off the heat. Serve over rice, which should be done right about now.

Guy Lon and Cumin Lamb Stir-Fry

Mutton Dressed as…Mutton

I was raised a vegetarian. My family introduced meat around the time I started middle school, but it took me a while to truly become a carnivore. Once during my senior year of college my mom brought home fried chicken and had to pick the white meat off of the bone for me.

My budding curiosity was put on hold when I entered college, as cafeteria meat was just too gross to ponder. I started cooking in earnest while studying in Jerusalem during my junior year. Israel was a great place to be a vegetarian. Even on my very limited budget, I was able to eat well and even feed others. For a long time after college I ate (rather pedestrian) meat outside of the house but continued to cook vegetarian dishes at home.

Eventually I became too interested in food not to explore. I found myself frustrated by my own taboos and squeamishness. And so I began to push at my own boundaries. While I might not order it as my entrée, I would taste anything. I moved beyond chicken breasts and ground beef in my own meat cookery. I worked hard at confronting meat that looked like what it was: part of an animal. I delved into braises and barbecuing. I ordered a leg of lamb from an old school pork store and brought it home in the basket of my bike. I bought an untrimmed pork loin and tackled it early one morning in a pre-caffeine haze. The more I worked with meat, the more it became a part of me and my identity.

Today I had the opportunity to attend a daylong intensive workshop on butchering sheep as part of Just Food‘s annual conference. The workshop was led by Adam Danforth, who just published two books on butchering. He talked us through slaughter, animal welfare and what makes meat delicious. After a burrito and margarita break (did I mention how awesome this workshop was?), Adam set to work breaking down a whole sheep and answering our endless questions. A chef was on hand to prepare the various cuts in a simple manner that really highlighted the lamb-y goodness. We rounded out the day with beer, socializing and the chance to pack up a meat cut or two to take home.

Sheep Carcass

I went for the shoulder chop, which Adam had explained was far more flavorful than the more conventional (and expensive) loin or rib chops. Adam is a big proponent of the complex flavor and marbling that come with a muscle that works hard. He also encourages the consumption of older animals and challenges the commonly held notion that they are tough. It turns out that a sheep is classified as lamb up until it reaches a year old. Between one and two years old, it is a hogget. And, after two years, it becomes mutton. This older meat is darker in color and offers the deeper flavor that lamb aficionados seek.

Mutton Shoulder Chops, Raw

I had plans to go out to dinner. On my way to the train, I dropped my friend a text that there was a change in plan and that he should meet me at my apartment for some serious meat. An hour later Justin arrived bearing the ingredients for Hemingway Daiquiris and I set to work preparing our feast.

Hemingway Daquiris

With the winter CSA season behind us and summer still months off, I find that I have to go to great lengths to get my quota of good quality fresh vegetables. Luckily, I had swung through the Union Square Greenmarket on my way to the workshop (which, incidentally, was in a very cool test kitchen behind an unmarked door).

I kept the preparation of the meat and the accompanying dishes simple to highlight the mutton flavor. I stuck a cast iron skillet in the oven while it pre-heated. Meanwhile, I peeled and chopped a celeriac bulb, a couple of parsnips and a large sweet potato. I tossed these root vegetables with some sprigs of fresh thyme, a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and a good dose of salt and pepper directly in the hot skillet and left them to roast, stirring occasionally. I tossed radish sprouts with sunflower seeds and a simple shallot, rice wine and sesame oil vinaigrette.

Radish Sprout Salad

I brought a large skillet up to medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil and seasoned the room temperature chops liberally with salt and pepper before tossing them into the pan. I seared them for about five minutes per side and then set them aside to rest while I made a quick pan sauce. I poured off all but a tablespoon of the fat, placed the pan back over the heat, and added a couple of tablespoons of finely minced shallots and garlic. After a couple of minutes of constant stirring, I deglazed the pan with the dregs of a bottle of white wine. Off the heat, I stirred in two tablespoons of finely minced parsley and the zest of an old lemon that I unearthed from the crisper bin. I drizzled the sauce over the chops and we sat down to some truly delicious mutton.

Mutton Shoulder Chops, Cooked

Greek Casserole

Between a broken ankle and the beginning of a new school year, I’m a bit behind on consuming my CSA vegetables. This weekend found me with a cooking date with my dear friend Leila and an abundance of green beans, tomatoes and potatoes. My first thought was some sort of Indian curry. But I seem to be out of rice.

Autumn has arrived in New York City. The sunlight is a distinct shade of gold and the air is crisp. My apartment, which is excessively hot in both summer and winter, has finally dropped below 76 degrees. (I know this because the coconut oil in my pantry has begun to crystallize.) After months of chopped salads and quick cooking on the stovetop, I found myself longing for a hot dish and the heady aroma that accompanies an oven bake.

Thus was born this potato, lamb, green bean, tomato and feta casserole.

Greek-Style Casserole

  • 8 new potatoes
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoons ground cumin or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (plus some cayenne and/or Aleppo pepper if you’ve got it)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon minced basil
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the potatoes. Cook approximately five minutes until the skin gives easily under your fingernail. Remove the potatoes and add the green beans. Cook for one to two minutes just until bright green. 
  3. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Then add the cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and hot pepper, stirring constantly to toast the spices without allowing them to burn. Do the same with the minced garlic. Add the ground lamb and cook until the meat is thoroughly browned and any excess water has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and add more cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg or hot pepper as needed. (You want a very flavorful mixture.)
  4. Slice the potatoes into 1/4″ discs and arrange in a single layer at the bottom of a shallow casserole pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the lamb mixture on top of this and then layer the blanched green beans. Add a layer of thickly sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle oregano, basil, salt and pepper over the tomatoes and then drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Lay a slice of feta on each tomato and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. 
  5. Bake until the intoxicating aroma rouses you from the couch and the feta is well browned (approximately 30 minutes). 

Greek Casserole

Portable Moroccan Meze

Last Monday’s class included a discussion of Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco, which chronicles Paul Rabinow’s experience conducting anthropological research in Morocco in the late 1960s. This particular course is from 6:45pm to 8:25pm–prime eating hours. At the beginning of the semester, we agreed to take turns bringing snacks to help us power through. I was up last week.

Some of my fellow students in the NYU Food Studies program are professional chefs. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a certain amount of pressure. Clearly, it needed to be Moroccan or, at least, Moroccan-ish. I’ve had success with a few variations on a tajine, but this seemed highly impractical given that I had to put in a full day at the office and would not be able to reheat anything. I also did not want to endanger my classmates’ notebooks and iPads.

I studied in Jerusalem for six months when I was an undergrad and have fond memories of meze–elaborate spreads of small dishes that are common throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Think hummus, olives, stuffed grape leaves, falafel and yogurt-based dips. Meze can be the precursor to a meal or, as is my preference, a meal unto itself.

Lamb and Date Kaftah

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup bulgur
  • 20 pitted, minced dates (currants or raisins would work too)
  • 1/2 cups toasted pine nuts
  • 1 bunch curly parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1/2 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds, ground
  • 1/2 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 tablespoon dried sumac (lemon zest could be substituted) 
  • 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper and 1 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tablespoon turmeric
  • 2 whole allspice, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • canola oil
  1. Pour 2/3 cups boiling water over the bulgur in a small bowl and let sit while you prep your pine nuts, dates, onions, herbs and spices.
  2. Add everything except the canola oil to a medium work bowl and mix gently with you hands. Let this chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
  3. Fill a large cast iron skillet with canola oil to approximately 1/4 inch and bring to medium-low heat. Working in batches, form the lamb mixture into small patties and add to the skillet. Cook until nicely browned on one side, flip and repeat. Drain on paper towels.These would make great sliders. Formed into balls and served with toothpicks, they would be a delightful hors d’oeuvres for a cocktail party. A couple of months ago, I made a similar version and served them hot over a Moroccan-seasoned ratatouille.In this case, I packed the kaftah in additional layers of paper towels and stashed them in the refrigerator along with a roasted eggplant dip and a labeneh-lemon dip. Another classmate brought a spicy carrot salad, mint tea, dates and almond cookies. We served it all with white and whole wheat pitas. It was a delightful feast.