With the beginning of spring, the residents of Marco and Southwest Florida have some of the best weather conditions possible for patio-style entertaining and outdoor grilling on the barbecue.
Most everyone is busy with guests visiting from out of town, and with something special and different on the grill, an evening on the homefront can be a big hit and offer a great recipe souvenir for the visiting relatives or friends to take back home.
Rack of lamb for many sounds extravagant and something only ordered in restaurants on special occasions. Most everyone will remember that lamb is harvested in the spring and many groceries will have springtime specials for all cuts of lamb.
Mint jelly is often associated with many lamb dishes but not with the following. This recipe has little to do with sweet mint jelly and focuses more toward the savory culinary traditions of the eastern Mediterranean basin.
My first experience with lamb came to me with my introduction into the great big Macedonian family. It was Easter and all of the Macedonians were excited about having a traditional Greek-style meal with leg of lamb as the main course.
The leg of lamb was slow roasted, deeply pierced, and every piercing was stuffed with whole cloves of garlic. Red wine was served with the crispy sliced lamb along with spinach and tomato rice. Roasted Hungarian wax peppers were much more than a garnish for the lamb roast along with sliced chunks of feta cheese and Greek-Style kalamatra olives.
Vicki Lynn is 100-percent Macedonian, as are all of her brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, and all other ancestors dating back to antiquity. When we first met and started dating, before things became too serious, she made a simple statement. “I’m Macedonian,” she said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Well” she said. “It’s like Greek, but a little different. We always have a big family and do things together. We are a very close and strong family, just like all the Macedonians before us.”
“You mean like Alexander the Great?” I innocently inquired.
“Exactly,” she smiled.
We have been together ever since, and because of her gifted and traditional family talent in the kitchen, she is sometimes referred to as: the culinary adventurous.
For an incredible blend of flavors, textures, and tastes, the following recipe is a product of generations of refinement and family pride.
Normally in springtime, all groceries are well stocked with lamb chops. For this recipe, we strongly recommend the rack of lamb style chops. For around $ 12.99 per pound, a good rack of lamb is readily available.
Feta cheese and Hungarian wax peppers are also vital to this traditional feast along with kalamatra olives, several cucumbers, plain yogurt, a few pinches of dill, and plenty of garlic.
To begin, one of the best tasting sauces ever must be prepared: a dish that the Macedonians call TSZIKI. This is a special part of the recipe and is critical for the overall effect.
TSZIKI is a yogurt/garlic/cucumber and dill sauce that can be extremely addictive! For Macedonian TSZIKI, take plain yogurt and place in a coffee filter or cheesecloth to release the liquid. It’s best if this drains overnight, but one-half hour at least. Take a cucumber, slice lengthwise, and place on a paper towel sprinkled with coarse salt. Place cucumber slices on the salt, cover with more salt, and add another layer of paper towel. Place something heavy on top to release the water. Let the cucumbers sit for at least 30 minutes, then wipe off excess salt, dice, and add to the drained yogurt paste. Add some dried/fresh dill, diced garlic, and put in fridge for at least 30 minutes — done!
To prepare the Hungarian wax peppers, seed the peppers, but keep in mind that the seeds and pepper juices can be hot! Place the peppers on a hot grill or under the broiler until they turn black – at that point, drop them into a zip-lock plastic bag, seal the bag and wait. Within several minutes, the skins (which are black and inedible) will just peel off. Peel the peppers, take out any remaining hot seeds, and place in a bowl with some diced garlic, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Throw in some Italian parsley and the peppers are ready for serving.
For spinach and tomato rice: sautée onions and celery until soft, add rice (the adventurous favors brown rice), and transport into a baking dish. Add either fresh or frozen spinach that has been defrosted and drained; add chicken broth, a can of diced tomatoes, fresh lemon juice, and some lemon zest. Cover with foil, and cook at 350 degrees until all of the liquid is absorbed. Before serving, fluff rice with a fork. This rice is incredible!
We recommend the lamb chops to be grilled to medium rare, and then served with a big dollop of the TSIZKI sauce, a side of spinach and tomato rice, and a few grilled peppers. The lamb dipped in the cucumber/garlic/ yogurt sauce is a flavor that is unforgettable, and with the spinach and tomato rice adding nicely to the combo, a slice of feta cheese and a few kalmatra olives will take the taste buds to places they may have never visited before.
To finish off the experience, add little by little, a few slices of the hot roasted peppers, but do not forget the salad. Macedonians love their salads!
Our favorite salad is a simple combination of ripe tomatoes, chunked cucumbers, sweet onions, garbanzo beans, beets and fresh mint tossed in a flavorful dressing of fresh lemon juice and olive oil.
This is a truly special meal for Easter or anytime, but with spring in the air and the grilling weather perfect, why not take walk on the wild side and try something especially exotic?
Note: Grilling lamb chops indoors under the broiler is not recommended. The lamb chops, while being cooked, will often flair up with flame and can be very smoky.
Tom Williams is a sailboat charter captain working at the Marriott for more than 27 years. Williams lives on Marco Island and is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.