This is an episode of Tyler’s Ultimate that I’ve had on my list to repeat for many months now. Having been inspired by a friend’s recent dinner party where we had a wonderful spicy lamb stew, I thought it was time to go after this recipe. This dish is Moroccan in origin and inspiration. I love the flavors from this region as it can really make you feel like you’re having a taste experience. I had high hopes for this one and wasn’t disappointed.
The dish itself is three parts. First is the Harissa sauce, a roasted red pepper and chile pepper base with a mixture of cumin, coriander, caraway, garlic, chiles, salt, olive oil, and lemon juice. This sauce alone is worth repeating and using as a companion to almost any protein. The chiles give it some pop, but they are not overwhelming. It’s just a really refreshing addition to many meals. The second part of the recipe is cooking the lamb. The recipe calls for lamb chops. My store wasn’t carrying lamb chops at the time, but did have some nice lamb t-bones which I gladly tried and it was a very suitable substitute. The third part of the dish is a bulgar wheat salad with figs reconstituted with warm water and honey, cilantro, Italian parsley, almonds, mint, and other seasonings. You will feel like you had dinner in Marrakesh!
You can find the recipe online at the Food Network at this address:
2 red bell peppers
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 garlic cloves
2 small fresh red chiles, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
Bulgur Wheat Salad:
2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup medium-grind bulgur wheat
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 cup dried figs
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup smoked almonds
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper
Lemon juice, if needed
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 double lamb chops, frenched
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
First thing I would do is take the lamb out of the refrigerator so it can start warming up. We’ll get to it later in the article.
Then we’ll start one of the three parts of this recipe by working on the Harissa sauce. I’m showing on my board two Fresno chiles and two red bell peppers. Depending on your market you may find any number of chiles and picking between them can be daunting if there is a big selection. The recipe just says “red chiles” which leaves the field wide open these days. First, I would say to make sure you’re getting a fresh pepper. If you chop up a dried pepper then you’re likely to have tough bits of skin in the sauce which would not be appetizing. I chose these red Fresno peppers which turned out to be great choice. Not only do they have great color, but they also had just the right amount of heat for me. I don’t like things too mild or too hot. So if you have access to these and are trying to make the sauce hit the middle of the road taste for heat then pick Fresno’s. Sometimes red peppers aren’t in season. If you don’t have them in the market I would suggest going after one of the good jar varieties of roasted pepper. In fact, if you’re looking to save some time you could jump right there.
We’ll start by roasting the red peppers over an open flame. You can do this on your cooktop like I am or this could also be done on a baking sheet under the broiler too. I think it’s easier to get an even roasting when you do it over an open flame because you can use your tongs to turn the pepper as needed.
Don’t worry about this pepper looking like it has been scorched within an inch of its life. That’s what is supposed to happen. We’ll be peeling away this tougher outer skin later. The skin imparts the intense heat to inside of the pepper without the meat of the pepper burning. In fact, if you don’t get this level of cooking onto the pepper you will not be able to skin it. So don’t be afraid. You can always toss it in the sink if it catches on fire.
After you’ve roasted both peppers to look like the photo above, place both inside some plastic wrap or a plastic bag. This will retain the heat and further steam the pepper making it easier to pull the skin off. Let the peppers steam and cool down for at least 10 minutes or until they are cool enough to handle.
Measure out the cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds and spread out in the bottom of a skillet and put it on the cooktop over low to medium heat. This is what they call “toasting” the spices. It’s a process that helps to release all the goodness and also imparts a bit of nutty flavor to it in the process. No need to get these really hot. When you can start to smell them you are done. Make sure you remove them from the pan to your spice grinder or mortar and pestle right away so they don’t continue to toast and then burn with the pan heat.
I use a dedicated Krups coffee grinder to grind spices, separate from another coffee grinder. They’re about $20 at most department stores and you’ll want to make sure you don’t grind coffee in here after you’re done or your spouse will switch coffee brands every day for a month wondering what has happened to the coffee or the water. But believe me when I tell you that when you pull the lid off this after it has been ground that you’ll want to take a deep whiff to take in all of those wonderful smells.
Seed and chop the Fresno chile peppers. This is much like seeding and chopping a regular green or red pepper. The inside structure is the same, just longer. If you are into more heat from your peppers you can keep a few of the seeds and toss them in too since much of the heat of a pepper is actually sitting in the seeds.
By now the roasted peppers will be cool enough to handle. Take them out of the plastic wrap or plastic bag and begin to peel the pepper by using your fingers. If it’s roasted well enough and thoroughly around the whole pepper, the skin should just slide or peel off with ease. You don’t need to worry about getting every last speck of black char off the pepper. There is some good flavor in those specks as they ride along. You just can’t take them all because of the texture and color they would impart on the sauce. Cut the top off the pepper, seed it, and then chop it into pieces to make it easy to go the rest of the way to a puree in the food processor.
Load the food processor with all the ingredients for the Harissa sauce, roasted bell peppers, Fresno chile peppers, garlic, toasted spice blend, tsp kosher salt, 3 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 lemon juiced.
Pulse the mixture in your food processor until it has been pureed. Depending on the colors of your peppers your sauce may have a slightly different color than what you see below.
Pour this into a serving bowl or dish if you want your guests to serve themselves. Otherwise, just set the processor bowl aside and retrieve it when you’re ready to plate the whole meal.
Wheat Bulgar Salad
As you can see, there are a lot of great things in the bulgar wheat salad. The instructions below are pretty much as the recipe has them. But to be honest I think next time I might do the trick I was taught by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law which is to squeeze the moisture out of the bulgar after it has steeped. I thought the salad turned out a little sticky overall and was looking for ways to lighten or fluff it up (see thoughts and suggestions below).
First, place the bulgar in a dry skillet pan and toast over low to medium heat for about 5 minutes. Then add the juice of 1/2 lemon and stir.
Transfer the bulgar and lemon juice to a medium bowl.
Pour 2.5 cups of boiling water over the bulgar and stir in 1/2 tsp of salt. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the bulgar absorb the hot water.
Tyler’s recipe uses quite a lot of water for the bulgar and my bulgar did not soak it all up. So I drained it after it looked like it had pulled in all the moisture it was going to (20 min). As I was shown by my Middle Eastern cooks, next time I will take handfuls of it and squeeze any excess water out of it as well, similar to the tabouleh recipe earlier in the blog. I think that will give this a fluffier texture.
The recipe calls for figs. If you live in an area like California where you can get lots of fresh figs then you won’t have to do the reconstitution that I did and the recipe calls for. I have dried California figs and put 1 cup of figs into a small bowl. Add 1 tbsp of honey, 1 tsp of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of hot water. Stir and try to submerge the figs as much as possible. Circle back every now and then and stir again. The figs will gradually soak up some of the hot water and tasty liquid and become plump again. If you already have fresh figs I would think that you could cut them in half and then combine them with maybe a tablespoon or two of room temperature water, honey, and lemon juice and have roughly the same idea.
Chop the scallions, cilantro, parsley, and mint. Drain and fluff the bulgar wheat. Strain the figs and keep the juice if you want a nice sweet liquor to enjoy later or pour on some ice cream. I confess I just swigged it on the spot….gooodddd. Add the figs and almonds to the bulgar and stir. Then add all of the chopped herbs to the bowl along with the olive oil and stir together.
Take a sample of the mixture. Add more salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. I ended up adding quite a lot of lemon juice and some more salt.
You should end up with a salad mixture that looks something like this.
Okay, we’re getting close now. Hopefully you took your lamb out of the refrigerator before you started so that it’s already coming to room temperature. A regular lamb chop is not usually going to be as thick as these t-bones are. I wanted to have medium rare meat, but I didn’t want to overcook the outside. Therefore, it’s key that you begin to raise the temperature of the meat before you actually pan fry it. The same technique can be used on thick cuts of beef steak and even thick chicken breasts. This works best if you have a good thermometer that you can test the inside temperature of the meat before you start cooking. For beef and lamb I will go ahead and put the meat in a baking dish like the one above and put it into a 200 degree oven. What you want to do is gently bring the inside of the meat up to 90-100 degrees without really cooking the outside. Go ahead and drizzle olive oil over the lamb and give it a liberal amount of salt and fresh ground black pepper and place into a pre-heated 200 degree oven. Make sure your oven is pre-heated to 200 first even though that is a low temperature. That’s because you don’t want the coils of your oven providing so much infrared heat that it cooks the outside of the lamb before it ever goes to the pan.
Keep an eye on it in the oven. The outsides should never go brown from the heat. The brown you see on mine below is from the seasonings dissolving into the meat. I raised the internal temperature of these t-bones to about 100 degrees F before going to the pan with them.
The recipe that is for lamb chops says to cook them for 8.5 minutes per side for medium rare. If you pre-heat the meat as we’ve done here, it should not take that long…maybe 4 minutes per side, max. Use your finger to press into the cooked side of the meat after you’ve turned it. It should not be really soft nor should it feel like a stiff book either. Cook it until it starts to give some resistance and then transfer to a plate or cutting board and let it rest with a sheet of tin foil over the top for about five minutes.
I tried out a few plating ideas. The two that seemed to work the best were the one at the top of the article and this one below where I snuggled the Harissa sauce around the lamb. It’s really up to you and I would love to hear any suggestions you might have. Don’t go easy on the Harissa sauce. You’ll want some with every bite and then you’ll want to mix it in with the bulgar salad and maybe even lick the spoon and the serving bowl when no one is looking.
Would I make any changes?
- The Harissa sauce was wonderful and so I wouldn’t change a thing.
- The recipe calls for and I would definitely keep in the fresh chile peppers in the Harissa sauce. Don’t go with dried chile peppers or flakes.
- I would definitely wring out any remaining moisture from the bulgar by taking a handful and literally squeezing any water out of it like the Middle Eastern cooks do.
- I might even consider lowering the amount of bulgar in this dish so that the grains don’t have a chance to stick together as much.
- I definitely would not hesitate to add more lemon juice to the salad after it has been mixed.
I would love to hear how this turns out for you.