Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lamb Chili with Lentils

Three big lamb chops were not going to feed four people, no way, not with all of those big blobs and hard ribbons of fat running through the meat. How did I miss seeing that at the meat counter!? Okay, take a deep breath and move forward; switch to Plan B and deal with it. This was an opportunity to develop a new-to-me Lamb Chili recipe. I have worked with scores of chili recipes over the years, familiar with the basic techniques and ingredients, but I don't often use lamb. Hmmm, what would make a lamb chili special? Lightbulb moment! Traveling through Washington State's Palouse country on a scenic winter road trip we sampled an awesome three-meat chili that featured lentils rather than beans (link). That was the inspiration, the beginning of this new favorite recipe.

The chili went together quickly and easily; removing the fat from the lamb was the only annoying step. Like so many chilies, soups and stews the day-one serving was delicious, but the on next day this lamb chili was even better. The flavors mellowed and mingled, the sweetness from the carrots balanced the bite of the fresh poblano and powdered ancho and chipotle seasonings. Lentils added a slightly nutty, earthy flavor and I tossed in a cup of garbanzo beans for a little more crunch. Lamb Chili with Lentils turned out to be a choice than the grilled Lamb Kebabs I had originally planned. Serendipity, perhaps? 

Lamb Chili with Lentils
Approx. 4 servings


2 to 3 cups lamb in 1” cubes, chunks of fat removed
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 large onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced or smashed
¼ cup carrots, diced small
1 cup sweet peppers, deseeded and diced small
¼ teaspoon ancho chile powder
¼ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
½ teaspoon cumin
1 Poblano pepper, roasted, peeled & seeded, diced small
1 16-ounce can low sodium diced tomatoes
3 to 4 cups low-sodium broth (beef or a beef/chicken mix)
salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup dried lentils, cooked separately
cooked garbanzo beans (optional)

Suggested toppings:
fresh herbs to add at finish (basil, cilantro, parsley or a bit of oregano, etc)
shredded cheese (feta is especially good)

  1. Cook the lentils according to directions on package (typically 20-25 minutes) and set aside while assembling ingredients.
  2. Chop lamb, roast Poblano pepper, dice vegetables and gather remaining ingredients.
  3. Heat the oil in a wide, high-sided cast iron or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add half of the lamb cubes and brown lightly on all sides. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then set aside. Repeat with remaining lamb cubes.
  4. Spoon the excess fat out of the pan and discard. Add the onion, garlic, carrots and peppers and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until they soften but not brown, stirring occasionally.
  5. Stir in the chile powders and cumin and cook another minute or two until fragrant. Return the lamb and any meat juices to the pan; stir to combine with the spiced vegetables. 
  6. Add the diced poblano, the canned tomatoes and their juices, plus enough beef broth to cover. Bring to a slow boil and then simmer partially covered for 20-25 minutes until lamb is tender. Add more broth as needed.
  7. Add the drained lentils (and garbanzos if you choose) to the pot and continue cooking until lentils warm thoroughly and the sauce thickens a bit. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  8. Sprinkle with optional minced fresh herbs and shredded cheese and serve.

  • The chili is tasty immediately, but will hold well in the fridge for a day or two. The lentils will soak up some of the juices so you may want to add more broth when you reheat or just enjoy the thicker sauce.  
  • Add more broth and you have a delicious soup. 
  • Cut the lamb and vegetables larger, thicken with a tablespoon of masa marina, and you have a dynamite southwestern lamb stew.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Iron Skillet Meatloaf

Photo: Chunks of crisp-crusted meatloaf  and stir-fried cabbage
I just realized that I might be a meatloaf snob. How did that happen when years ago any meatloaf was something to avoid? Meatloaf, "a mixture of smooshed up mystery ingredients and fat," has somehow morphed into a favorite winter entree. It may be a favorite but I am still reluctant to risk an unknown restaurant version that might be boringly bland, dry and crumbly, or horrors! greasy and edged with a pale, soggy crust. 

Ree's bacon-draped version is popular, but I'd rather enjoy the bacon by itself. Alton's ketchup-glazed crust doesn't tempt me. Nigella stuffs her meatloaf with hard boiled eggs and wraps it with bacon; mmmm, no thank you, that's a casserole not a meatloaf. A Marcella Rosene recipe for "Brown-Bottom Meat Loaf" (Pasta & Co. By Request, 1991), might have spoiled me for other versions. I occasionally tweak the original to reflect RL's input or what's available in the galley, but I never stray far from the original. Today's version omitted the usual minced carrots, substituted barbecue sauce for ketchup and swapped milk for half and half. No drastic differences here, no reason to mess around with a good recipe.      

It's all about meatloaf's Big 3: the flavor, the texture and the crust, a really crisp browned crust. A hot oven and a cast iron skillet will produce the best crust, yielding a meatloaf with a brown bottom and firm, structured sides. A quick flash under the oven broiler takes care of crisping up the top a bit. 

I can practice restraint when dining in public and use knife and fork plus my very best table manners, but at home I'll pinch off nibbles of crispy, browned crust, one after another. I love those crunchy edges and tend to ignore the soft, flavorful middle - at least until I visualize a sandwich. A cold meatloaf sandwich with an inch-thick slice of meat, slathered with grainy yellow mustard and creamy horseradish, topped with dill pickle slices and layered between dark rye bread, just might be more satisfying than a generous serving of meatloaf fresh from the oven. Maybe. It's a close contest.   

Tonight, mindful of portion control, I covered my small plate with a mound of stir-fried cabbage with onion and fennel seed, plus two puny chunks of delicious, well-seasoned, crispy-crusted meatloaf. Such restraint... RL went for seconds. Now I'll dream about cold meatloaf sandwiches until lunchtime tomorrow.  

Photo: Iron Skillet Meatloaf - minus one nibble of a crusty edge

Iron Skillet Brown Bottom Meat Loaf
inspired by a recipe in Pasta &Company by Request                              
Serves 4
1/2 cup onion, small dice           
1/3 cup jalapeƱo or poblano pepper, minced
1/3 cup celery, small dice        
2 fat cloves garlic, pressed
2 eggs, beaten                                     
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp each salt and black pepper
1/8 tsp chipotle or ancho chile powder
1/4 tsp sweet, smoked paprika (pimenton)
1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 pound ground beef 
1/2 pound pork sausage
1/3 cup bread crumbs 

10-inch cast iron skillet, well seasoned

Soften the diced onion, pepper, celery and garlic in a covered dish in the microwave OR in the skillet with a bit of butter. Remove and let cool.

Preheat oven to 375.

In large bowl, beat together thoroughly the eggs, barbecue sauce, milk, cumin, salt, black pepper, chipotle powder, smoked paprika and nutmeg. Add beef, pork sausage & bread crumbs. Knead together by hand until well incorporated. Add the cooled vegetable mixture and blend thoroughly.

Pack meat mixture into a compact round with a flattened top, slightly smaller than the cast iron cooking skillet. That way you can easily lift the loaf out of the drippings to serve. (OR you could use a standard loaf pan or several small loaf pans though the crust wouldn't be the same. Muffin tins would work for individual servings, but sandwich options would be difficult. Adjust cooking time as needed.) 

Either way, bake on a center oven rack at 375 degrees F. for 50 to 55 minutes, or until cooked through and the drippings run clear. When meat loaf is done, remove from oven and drain off the drippings. I like to return the skillet to the oven, move the rack up to the upper third and broil the meatloaf for a minute or two until the top crisps up a bit (optional).

Let stand for several minutes to firm up. Slice wedges or divide in half and slice off straight pieces from center to edge. Serve and enjoy.
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