I was a vegetarian for many years and then one day, I stopped. The main reason, I have a great passion for travel and food is an integral part of the experience. Which I had been missing out on, up to that point. Not to mention, it’s a lot of work to try to communicate or translate a menu in a language you don’t speak or understand. And don’t get me started on street food, there is just no way to roll up to a food cart in a country and order, when you are a vegetarian.
I was determined to go all out, not tread timidly into the transition from vegetarian to omnivore. So, I decided on two immediate actions: One I would go to a restaurant and order three dishes, each containing pork, chicken and beef. Which fortunately for me, I didn’t get sick after eating all three plates of meaty goodness. But, ironically, a few days later, I did get a bad case of food poising for the first time in my life. And two – I would take a course on how to make charcuterie and sausage. Which I did the following weekend.
The class was a 3 day charcuterie and sausage making course, taught by a Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park alumni, who I like to aptly call, “the renegade chef.” The course was taught out of “the renegade chef’s” house and consisted of about 10 students, sausage making equipment, animal parts and pieces and a lot of wine.
On the first day we introduced ourselves and shared why we signed up for the course and what we hoped to learn. When it was my turn to share, I of course mentioned that I had been a vegetarian for 17 years, up until a few days prior to taking the course. Some people were in disbelief, others curious, but all had a look of concern. Concern on whether I could complete the “meat-centric” course, given my previous disclosure.
The course was quick and dirty, but really offered a lot of information, a foundation. “The renegade chef” was an excellent teacher with a witty sense of humor, which kept us all entertained. The best part of the course, I took home homemade, handmade, by me, charcuterie and sausage. And my favorite was the merguez sausage. Which is basically lamb with various spices, which i used to spice up the lamb meatballs for this recipe.
After that course, “the renegade chef” went on to open a “legitimate”cooking school. But it turns out “the renegade chef” was in all sorts of red tape with the liquor board for serving alcohol to people who were not actually signed up for the course.
The health department was also after “the renegade chef” for curing meat without a special certification. Which, “the renegade chef” did not have. Eventually, the debts and dealings became so great, the cooking school was eventually shut down.
While writing this post, I was curious to find out what ever happened to “the renegade chef,” after all these years. And apparently (according to my internet findings), the “man” could not kill “the renegade chef’s” dream, but only ignited “the renegade chef’s” passion even more. “The renegade chef” now owns a pig farm, butchers, cures and legitimately sells the charcuterie. A story with a happy ending, well maybe not for the pigs.
Now, let’s talk Lamb and Chermoula Flatbread. The recipe is basic, however I would like to talk about Chermoula and two similar condiments.
Chermoula: Origin – Northern Africa. Includes, some or all of the following: fresh parsley, fresh cilantro, ground coriander (preferably whole, toasted and ground), ground cumin (preferably whole, toasted and ground), garlic, olive oil and lemon (lemon juice, preserved or zest), chili peppers, saffron, paprika. I added mint to my Chermoula for this recipe.
Gremolata: Origin – Italy. Includes, some or all of the following: lemon zest, garlic and parsley,
Chimichurri: Origin – Argentina and Uruguay. Includes, some or all of the following: parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano, vinegar (white, red, champagne, balsamic) and red pepper flakes.
All of the above can be used on meat, fish or vegetables, the choices are endless. I recommend trying them all out and if you have preserved lemons, I definitely suggest using them, as it provides a different overall flavor to the Chermoula.
Preserved lemons are easy to make, if you have salt, lemons, and time, you too can have homemade preserved lemons. Lemons are in season now, I used Meyer Lemons to make my preserved lemons, which i have had in my fridge for about a year. They go a long way. If you don’t want to preserve your own, you can purchase them at any Moroccan store or speciality supermarket.
I also used Harrisa in the lamb meatballs, which is a North African spice mix. This can be purchased at any spice shop or supermarket that sells bulk spices, it is a popular spice mix. You can make your own too or omit it all together.
For the flatbread dough, i used a pita recipe (which I didn’t include in this post). However, you can use your favorite homemade pizza dough, ready-made pizza dough or store-bought pita or even lavash.
For the ricotta, I will always endorse any cheese made from sheep. I just love, love, love sheep’s milk cheese and ricotta made with sheep’s milk is no exception. HOWEVER, it is twice the price of ricotta made with cow’s milk. So it is a splurge.
Now I give you Lamb and Chermoula Flatbread with, Preserved Lemon, Honey Drizzled Figs, Ricotta and Pine Nuts.
- LAMB MEATBALLS
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons harrisa (optional)
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika (or paprika)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup chopped, mint
- 2 tablespoons of oil
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh mint
- ¼ teaspoon chopped garlic
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ tablespoon chopped preserved lemon or lemon zest (if using lemon zest use ¼ teaspoon)
- Salt to taste
- RICOTTA SPREAD
- ½ cup sheep's milk ricotta or whole milk ricotta
- 2 tablespoons of chermoula
- Pinch of salt
- HONEY FIGS
- 6 whole fresh figs, cut in quarters
- 1 teaspoon honey
- FLATBREAD DOUGH
- Use your favorite pizza dough or ready made pizza dough from the supermarket and roll out to desired size or purchase pita bread or lavash
- *Garnish with a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts
- LAMB MEATBALLS
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, knead the mixture, until evenly distributed. Shape dough into small round balls, makes about 20 balls. Heat oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high. Cook lamb meatballs, until browned on all sides and cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towels to drain.
- In a food processor, combine the parsley, cilantro, mint, garlic, ground coriander, ground cumin and pulse. With the machine on, gradually pour in the olive oil and puree until smooth. Add the preserved lemon and pulse once or twice. Set Aside.
- RICOTTA SPREAD
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
- HONEY FIGS
- In a bowl evenly distribute honey over figs. If the honey is too firm, place it in the microwave until syrupy, about 10 seconds.
- COOKING THE FLATBREAD
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Place a sheet pan turned over or cast iron pan into the preheated oven. Assemble the flatbread: If using homemade or store bough pizza dough, roll out dough on parchment paper in to a 14-by-7-inch round rectangle and bake for 7 minutes and proceed with recipe below. If using any other type of pre-made store-bought bread (see recommendations above), proceed with recipe below:
- Spread ricotta mixture on top of dough or bread, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with the lamb meatballs and honey figs. Carefully slide parchment paper with flatbread on to the sheet pan. If using a cast iron pan, slide the flatbread off the parchment paper on to the cast iron pan. Bake until flatbread is golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Repeat if you have remaining dough or bread.
- Garnish flatbread with preserved lemon, chermoula, chopped mint and toasted pine nuts. Cut into desired slices.
1. The lamb meatballs can be formed up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated.
2. Chermoula can be made a day in advance.
1. I prefer sheep's milk ricotta, however if you don't use sheep's milk, use whole milk ricotta.
2. I highly recommend preserved lemons, either homemade or store-bought. However lemon zest is fine too. If store-bought, you can purchase them at any middle eastern/Moroccan store or speciality supermarket.
3. If you cannot locate fresh figs, use fig preserves from the supermarket or omit.