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Are you tired of the sometimes gray-looking lamb stew that often accompanies a St. Patrick's Day celebration?
Well, who says that food has to be boring for this one day a year during which everyone is Irish?
When you look at the things most people eat on the holiday, just a couple of key rules come to mind. First, lamb is somewhere on the menu. Second, there's something green.
Often, green comes in the form of the food dye that bars add to beer for the occasion. But it can just as likely be the mint sauce that traditionally accompanies overcooked lamb in the British Isles.
I have to admit right away, however, that I've never liked mint jelly or traditional mint sauces, even when they cover up the gamy flavor of lamb that has cooked well past an ideal rosy medium-rare. Most such condiments are just too sweet for my tastes.
So, let me suggest to this year a different way to enjoy these two key elements of your journey into Irish cooking: Take a detour through Italy!
Start by asking your butcher for a big piece of boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, something you can find nowadays pre-wrapped in many supermarkets. Then, trim the meat free of excess fat and connective tissue, and cut it into bite-sized chunks. (Some markets will sell the meat already cut up.)
Next, marinate the lamb chunks in a typically Mediterranean mixture of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic, onion, and fresh herbs, ingredients that not only keep the meat moist during cooking but also add wonderful bright flavors. My marinade for St. Patrick's Day includes mint, of course, but you can feel free to vary the seasonings with your own combination of favorite herbs.
Cooking the marinated lamb is easy and fast. While preheating a grill, broiler, or stovetop grill pan, I thread the chunks of meat onto skewers, alternating them with bite-sized pieces of vegetable. (If you use convenient wooden or bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them first in cold water for at least 30 minutes, to help prevent them from burning through under the intense heat.) Then, it's a matter of just minutes before the tender, flavorful meat is perfectly cooked and ready to eat.
As a final flourish for St. Patrick's Day, I serve the kabobs with a variation of Italy's classic pesto sauce -- one featuring fresh mint, of course. If you want to make each serving look even more Irish, you could always make some mashed potatoes tinted green with fresh parsley or chives, or rice pilaf with herbs.
Though I'd prefer to drink a glass of red wine with the lamb, of course you can enjoy it with green beer!
Marinated Lamb Kabobs with Mint Pesto Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup honey
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 small onion, minced
- 1/4 cup minced fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves
- 2 pounds boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, trimmed & cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes (about 32 pieces)
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 16 pearl onions, peeled
- 1 large organic green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1-inch (12-mm) squares (at least 16 pieces)
- 16 small button mushrooms
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Mint Pesto (recipe follows)
In a nonreactive bowl, stir together the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, garlic, onion, mint, parsley, rosemary, and oregano. Add the lamb cubes and toss to coat them well. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
Preheat an outdoor grill, the broiler, or a stovetop grill over high heat. Meanwhile, soak 16 bamboo skewers in cold water to cover for 30 minutes.
On each skewer, thread in the following order a tomato, lamb cube, onion, pepper, another lamb cube, and mushroom. Repeat until you have 16 prepared skewers. Season the skewers all over with salt and pepper.
Put the skewers on the grill and cook until the lamb reaches the desired degree of doneness, 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare to medium, turning the skewers occasionally to brown on all sides.
Arrange the kabobs on a platter or individual serving plates. Pass the Mint Pesto for each guest to add as a sauce.
Ingredients -- Mint Pesto
Makes about 1 cup
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Pinch salt
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the mint, vinegar, honey, and a little salt and pepper in a blender or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade. Blend or process until thoroughly pureed, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl.
With the blender running on low speed, or the processor running continuously, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until it is fully incorporated. Taste the sauce and, if necessary, adjust the seasonings with a little more salt and pepper.
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