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Spiced Lamb Skewers with Dates and Lemon
A summer menu with three recipes
This week’s newsletter is a wee bit different from the others. Instead of sharing a one- (or two) off recipe, I decided to share a menu, which also happens to be great for summer entertaining because you won’t even need to turn on the oven.
I made this recipe for the first time for our neighbors Kelly and Chris to great success. Chris said through thoughtful mouthfuls of flatbread stuffed lamb, “why don’t Americans do more proper shish?” He’s Australian. And, I have to admit, I don’t know, but wholeheartedly agree. It HAD been awhile since I threaded things on a skewer to grill over an open flame and I plan on doing much more of that this summer.
I ate a lot of “shish kabob” as a kid, but mostly these were chicken breasts or beef, bell pepper, onion and perhaps zucchini marinated in some sort of homemade Italian dressing, always eaten on the screened-in porch. Those dinners will always hold great nostalgia for me, but I was in search of something different. Today’s Spiced Lamb Skewers with Dates and Lemon are merely a gateway for what I'm calling the “Summer of Shish.” Will you join me? I’m honest to goodness excited about how creative we can get with them! “Shish” translates to skewer or sword in Turkish, so I believe our options are endless. Please drop any ideas for fun combinations you have in the comments. Also, if you don’t eat lamb, please use whatever protein you do eat, it will still be delicious.
I’ve also included a drizzling sauce made with labneh, but it can also be made with full fat, plain yogurt should that be easier to find. It’s topped with za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of dried herbs such as oregano and thyme tossed with with sumac and toasted sesame seeds, and finished with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh herbs for good measure.
And, while you don’t have to make your own flatbreads (store bought pitas or flatbreads also works great), they couldn’t be simpler to assemble. I adapted this recipe originally from my friend and chef Kelly Mariani at Scribe Winery. They are magnificent to watch puff up and turn golden as they cook. The hands-on time for these is minimal and the presentation maximal.
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I also like to put out some sliced Persian cucumbers that I drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, and sprinkle with salt and whatever tender herbs I happen to have around.
That’s it friends! That’s your meal. I did not include dessert, but if I did, I’d likely serve vanilla ice cream with some strawberries on top with a big pinch of flaky salt. I said no ovens and I meant it.
🍷 Drinking: Hirsch Rosé of Pinot Noir. My dear friend Jasmine recently switched gears from being the GM at her family’s winery and took the helm as head winemaker. Her father David founded the vineyard in 1980 to grow fruit and make site-specific wine in Sonoma. This savory, deep salmon colored rosé is a beautiful expression of just that. You really get the Pinot Noir on the palate, which I love, and I’m partial to more substantial rosés these days. Actually, this wine would pair beautifully with those lamb skewers.
👓 Reading: A Friend Indeed. My friend (indeed) Christina Pérez writes a beautiful Substack and her essays always touch me deeply. In her own words, the newsletter features “stories that examine all the little, beautiful things and some of the bigger, harder stuff, too.” Trust me on this one and just subscribe. You can thank me later.
📘 Revisiting: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. During our recent purge this book accidentally made it into the donation pile, I caught it in the knick of time and I started reading it again. This book saved me during a particularly down period. Even if you’re not depressed, it’s a beautiful read on “the best way to live.”
Spiced Lamb Skewers with Dates and Lemon
Feeds 4 to 6
1 ½ pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 ½ pieces
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, such as Diamond Crystal
2 teaspoons dried mint
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon cinnamon
3 garlic cloves grated
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for grilling
10 to 15 pitted dates
1 medium red onion, cut into small wedges
1 large lemon, cut into small wedges
2 cups labneh or or sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon za'atar
2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs such as fill, parsley or cilantro
Olive oil for drizzling
Flaky salt for finishing (optional)
Grilled flatbread or pitas for serving. I also like to put out some sliced Persian cucumbers that I drizzle with olive oil, some salt and water herbs I have around.
Also, I prefer using metal skewers, if you use wooden ones, make sure to soak them in water first.
For the skewers:
In a large bowl add the lamb, salt, spices and garlic. Add in the olive oil and stir everything together until the lamb is well coated in the spice mixture. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to overnight. Take the lamb out of the refrigerator about an hour before serving to come to room temperature.
Thread the lamb onto the skewer, followed by a date, a piece of onion and a piece of lemon. Repeat with remaining lamb and brush each skewer with a bit of olive oil.
Build a screaming hot fire or if using gas, take it as hot as it will go. Grill the lamb, flipping occasionally, until the lamb is brown and golden, about 6 minutes total for medium rare. Transfer to a plate or platter.
Serve with the labneh alongside as well as grilled flatbreads or pita.
For the labneh:
In a bowl add the labneh or sour cream and the lemon juice and a good pinch of salt. Stir together and adjust with more salt as needed. Top with the za'atar, herbs and a good drizzle of olive oil and a few pinches of flaky salt, if using.
Adapted from Kelly Mariani
Yields 4 big or 6 small flatbreads
¾ cup warm water
1 package instant yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
Whisk together all the ingredients and let them rest for 15 minutes.
Add in the following to the mixture:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix in ¼ cup sour cream or full fat yogurt
Knead the dough for 2 minutes, then let it rest for 10 minutes covered with plastic. Knead it again for another minute and place into an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic, and leave to rise on the counter for 2 hours.
Roll out the dough into 4 to 6 balls and dust with flour. Cover and leave to rise for one hour until cooking.
Use your hands or a rolling pin to stretch or roll the dough out until it’s about ¼ inch thick. Heat a pan on medium high, add a nub of butter and cook flatbreads on both sides until golden brown. Alternatively, you can place the dough right onto an oiled grill.
Have a beautiful rest of your week. We’ll be making the 11-hour drive to Nova Scotia tomorrow in one shot. Send all podcasts my way. Godspeed.