Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Chickpea Puree and Hot Mint Sauce

Roasted Lamb with Pureed Chickpeas and Hot Mint Sauce

The most iconic food of Pesach, the Jewish festival celebrating the Children of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, is usually thought of as matza, the flat crispy unleavened bread that Jews eat for the entire week of the festival instead of normal bread and which its consumers either love or hate. But in reality, the most important culinary icon of this festival is roast lamb, commemorating the lamb’s blood that the Children of Israel were ordered to paint on their doorposts in order to ensure that the Angel of Death ‘passed over’ their houses during the tenth and most dreadful plague, the slaying of all the first born sons of Egypt. And as soon as the newly liberated Jews had set up the Tabernacle, the mobile predecessor of the Temple in Jerusalem, they started sacrificing an unblemished lamb on the anniversary of the Exodus, a sacrifice that had to be eaten that very night together with the matzot that they had baked in a hurry when they fled from slavery.

Today, there is no Temple in Jerusalem and so Jews no longer sacrifice animals on festivals: the only people who continue to sacrifice lambs on Passover are the Samaritans, a small group who are probably descended from the biblical Jews taken into slavery by the Assyrian empire in 772 BCE and who practice a more ancient form of Judaism. But Jewish traditions die hard, and the ancient Temple services continue in modified form to this day, whether through prayer services or, in the case of Pesach, through the symbolic place given to a burnt lamb bone on the Seder table, where every Jewish family annually recreates both the Exodus and the Temple service that celebrates it.

The lamb bone, over-roasted in the oven to symbolise the lamb roasted on the altar, is usually replaced for reasons of convenience and price by a chicken or turkey bone. But it is still raised for all the participants in the meal to see, and referred to as the ‘Pesach,’ the sacrificial lamb; and it is common for Jews, especially those of Middle Eastern origin to actually have roast lamb as part of the feast. In fact, it is not unusual, especially in more religious families, to buy a baby lamb on the hoof a week or two before the festival and have it slaughtered specially for the occasion: I have even seen a lamb being led on a leash up one of the main roads in Jerusalem a few days before Pesach, unaware of its planned role in the annual Jewish psychodrama of national liberation. Modern consumer culture has, of course, taken over in Israel and so people usually buy their lamb shoulders or quarter lambs from the supermarket or butcher; and now that imported lamb has become common, it has become much more popular on the festival table.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have roast lamb on the Pesach table this year, as we were guests. So we made up for it by making our own to celebrate the last day of the seven-day festival, which commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea. We had two frozen quarter-lambs in the freezer, and one of them, which fit the roasting pan perfectly, turned into the following culinary wet dream (see below). The recipe was not authentically biblical, but taken from one of the books of the celebrated Spanish restaurant in London, Moro. However, since the Jewish influence in Spain was so strong for centuries, and still persists in all sorts of subtle ways, it is arguable that this is an original Jewish recipe, not least because the chickpeas on which the lamb was served are a staple part of the Middle East diet. The cavolo nero that was served on the side, however, wasn’t especially authentic: I needed to use some from the garden before it turns into a tall tree.

Roasted Quarter Lamb

Print
Hot Mint Sauce
Do not worry if the mint becomes discoloured; it is just the action of the vinegar.
Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 8 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt and black pepper
Instructions
  1. Place a small saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Add half of the mint and all of the cumin. Fry for another minute and then add the vinegar. Simmer for 30 seconds more and remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining mint and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over the lamb.
Print
Hot Mint Sauce
Do not worry if the mint becomes discoloured; it is just the action of the vinegar.
Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 8 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt and black pepper
Instructions
  1. Place a small saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Add half of the mint and all of the cumin. Fry for another minute and then add the vinegar. Simmer for 30 seconds more and remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining mint and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over the lamb.
Print
Hot Mint Sauce
Do not worry if the mint becomes discoloured; it is just the action of the vinegar.
Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 8 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt and black pepper
Instructions
  1. Place a small saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Add half of the mint and all of the cumin. Fry for another minute and then add the vinegar. Simmer for 30 seconds more and remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining mint and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over the lamb.
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Written by David Nordell

David Nordell, otherwise known as Mr. BT, normally writes about things that sting – at least metaphorically – rather than honey, because his work mainly has to do with preventing financial crime and terrorism.

5 thoughts on “Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Chickpea Puree and Hot Mint Sauce

  1. Hi David,
    Very interesting post – both the recipe and the information. It does indeed sound Middle Eastern, with the use of cumin and mint and the technique of adding the onion-garlic-saute to the chickpeas at the end. Each component is appealing on its own. Not to be heretical about a Passover dish, but when there’s less time or no lamb I could easily see using the recipe with tofu in order to enjoy the chickpea puree and the mint.

    Were the lamb roasting juices too fatty or not very good, or could you see a small amount of them incorporated into the sauce or the chickpeas? Are you saving the juices, or do you find no use for them if you’re not serving lamb?

    1. Hi Faye,

      I would agree that the ingredients are basically Middle Eastern in origin, and in fact the authors of the Moro cookbooks (Sam & Sam Clark) point out several times how much Spanish cuisine and culture have been influenced by the ‘Moors’ (hence the name ‘Moro’). But of course, as we know, the Middle East is a very big place with lots of individual cultures. No matter: it was delicious.

      The pan juices did actually reduce a lot, although I was adding water every hour or so to keep the lamb moist, so there wasn’t a lot left by the time the meat was ready for serving. But I did spoon some of the juices on top, and this definitely accentuated the spiciness. Yes, lamb is very fatty and so the pan juices are full of fat: but this is all very tasty and shouldn’t just be dumped. Just don’t eat like this every week!

      Yes, this treatment would probably work very well with tofu, which would absorb the flavours of the marinade very well.

      1. very tasty lamb dish david.

        soon this will be a BBT blog the Baroness & Baron Tapuzina

        wishing you both + all your readers a good and peaceful summer.

        any good wine tours lately?

        D+co

  2. The Baroness has been teasing us with pictures of the lamb and warm mint sauce on facebook, thanks for the recipe and historical background. Looks delicious.

  3. I don’t like lamb, and neither do my girls, but my husband and his kids adore the stuff, so it’s on our table often. That chickpea puree, on the other hand, looks divine! I think I’ll try serving it up with some Persian-style chicken and spinach croquettes on the side. Thanks for the inspiration!

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