Morocco & Mediterranean
In April, religious happenings are in full swing – think Passover, Good Friday, Easter, etc. – so in choosing the perfect dish, I decided to channel my inner Charlotte from Sex in the City, and cook a Jewish meal.
My decision to cook something Jewish stemmed from a friend’s suggestion while we were perusing the cookbook isle at the Iowa City Public Library. Why not cook something Passover related? Passover is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the Hebrew’s escape from Egypt. The original story of Passover is that God imposed ten plagues in Egypt to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. The tenth plague was to kill every firstborn male. In order to escape this plague, Hebrews marked their doors with blood from a lamb, and were thus ‘passed over’.
Not being Jewish myself, I must admit there was something undeniably challenging about the idea of making a religious dish that was so unique from what I might typically choose for dinner. I had originally planned to make something with chicken, but after reading more about the meaning behind Passover, I decided that a lamb dish would be more appropriate.
I settled on Epaule d’Agneau Rôtie, or Roasted Lamb Shoulder, from Sephardic Cuisine from Morocco: The Scent of Orange Blossoms, and Mashed Potatoes Mediterranean-Style from The New York Times: Jewish Cookbook. Little did I know how expensive or difficult to find my choices would be.
The good news is that neither of these recipes called for a great quantity of ingredients. However, tracking everything down, especially the meat used in the main dish, proved to be a hassle. The recipe calls for a 3 lb. boneless lamb shoulder. I was informed by multiple men behind meat counters that in the Midwest, lamb is not generally a top choice of meat for most people, and so the selection is VERY limited. After traversing to Hy-Vee, Fareway, Bread Garden Market (where it was suggested that I try a meat locker), I finally found what I was looking for at the New Pioneer Co-op in downtown Iowa City.
Note: If anyone out there is thinking of trying this dish, the Bread Garden Market will custom order this cut of meat for you and you can avoid the surcharge.
Another obscure item on the list of things I needed to acquire in order to make this dish work was kitchen twine. If I could do this over, I think I would try to look at a specialty kitchen store for this particular item, because the only place I saw it was at Hy-Vee for $8, and it will probably last me a lifetime due to the huge amount of twine on the spindle.
The lamb shoulder came pre-netted in kitchen twine, but for the recipe, I had to remove the twine so that I could cut off the fat and then season the shoulder with salt, pepper, garlic and parsley. When I had unrolled the shoulder – it comes in a ball shape – there was probably about a foot and a half of meat to work with. After adding all the seasonings, I wrapped it back up into a ball and tied it together with kitchen twine.
The last step was to baste the meat with soy sauce for added flavor, and then pop in the oven for approximately an hour at 400 degrees.
While the meat was cooking, I worked on the mashed potatoes – which were extremely easy and not really all that exciting. The main difference from American mashed potatoes was that instead of using butter as the main seasoning, the recipe for the Mediterranean-style potatoes called for olive oil, thyme and garlic. They were a nice compliment to the lamb, which almost smoked me out of my place due to the excess soy sauce burning onto the baking pan I was using.
About 2 hours after I started on this culinary adventure, dinner was ready. Until this point I had only tried lamb meat in the form of a gyro in the pedmall – delicious by the way if you’ve never had one – so I was a little nervous about the first bite. When I tasted it, I was glad I stuck with my decision to branch out and try lamb as a main dish. It turned out super flavorful and delicious. A comment from a dinner guest was ‘Wow! I would eat this again. It tastes like beef jerky!’
Natalie Nielsen – International Food Blogger