Roast lamb is a magnificent thing and it never ceases to amaze me how something so simple can be so good. In Mallorca we have a ‘lamb restaurant’ that is dedicated to the art. Es Verger is a rustic establishment halfway up the Puig de Alaró Mountain and it’s constantly packed with hungry guests on a pilgrimage to eat there. They place a shoulder of sweet spring lamb, a couple of garlic cloves, a sprig of fresh thyme, a splash of white wine and little drizzle of olive oil and seasoning into a wood burning oven at around 150 degrees. The flavour is bold yet delicate and the aroma of the wood-burning oven as you wait impatiently to tuck in is unbelievably tantalizing. Man has been eating lamb for over 10,000 years and sheep were probably the first animals domesticated by humans as we soon discovered that they were not only a good source of food but could also provide wool for our clothing, skins for parchment and milk for butter and cheese.
The Spanish have a well-known saying that states: “Enero y febrero preparan el buen cordero”. It’s difficult to translate, but it basically means that the lambs born in January and February will provide the tastiest meat of the year. Springtime is without doubt the best time to enjoy it. The taste is sweeter and more refined at this time of year, especially here in the Balearics, before the really hot weather arrives and the lambs start to suffer, like the rest of us, and sweat in the heat. With its delicate flavour and tender flesh, spring lamb is so versatile it marries with so many other ingredients. Look for firm; slightly pink meat with a velvety texture. As the meat ages it becomes darker in colour. The local breeds are small and sturdy animals and lend themselves perfectly to the long slow cooking favoured by the local restaurants throughout most of Spain, especially the provinces of Castilla-León and Burgos.
At the restaurant we often serve salt marsh lamb from breeds that graze on fields along the coastline. This gives the lamb a distinctive flavour and meltingly, tender texture. It’s significantly different from the sturdy mountain lamb because they feed on wild grasses and herbs such as sea lavender, fennel and samphire.
Pomegrante marinated leg of lamb with Moro "trampo" salad
The other day I was very relieved and surprised to find pomegranate molasses tucked away in a little spice shop here in Palma. I’d almost forgotten how good it is. It’s so sweet and acidic and has the consistency of ketchup with a deep, rich, burgundy red colour. It can be used in salad dressings and sauces, in cocktails, marinades or cakes.
1 leg of lamb (1.5kl)
The seeds & juice of ½ pomegranate
1tbsp Pomegranate molasses
6 cumin seeds
100ml dry red wine
2 large red onions
juice of one lemon
3 cloves garlic
10 black peppercorns (crushed)
10 fresh basil leaves
10 fresh mint leaves
Pinch of salt
Place the pomegranate seeds and juice in a blender with the molasses, red wine, onions, lemon juice, garlic, pepper, mint, basil and salt. Blend to a paste. Rub some of marinade well into lamb. Place the leg in shallow glass or enamel pan. Pour the remaining marinade over meat and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours or overnight. When ready to cook, wipe off excess marinade. Roast the lamb in a hot oven (200cº/400fº/gas6) for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to a moderate (160cº/220fº/gas 4) heat and cook for one hour, basting now and again with the rest of the marinade. Leave to rest 5 to 10 minutes before carving. Serve with Moro-Trampo salad & natural yoghurt.
Lamb "pinchos muruños" with marinated cucumber salad and walnut and red pepper dip
Strangely enough, the Spanish are not great lovers of spices and spice mixes are very rare in regional Spanish kitchens. They do however have one great dish called “pincho moruño”. This incredible dish is basically a kebab-like stick made of meat. You could use chicken, lamb or pork and its perfect for a barbeque. It originates from Andalusia but judging by the name it is a Moorish invention dating back centuries…and its delicious!
400g boneless lamb shoulder, minced
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
200ml olive oil
Moruño spice mixture
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp black peppercorns
¼ tsp saffron threads
1 bay leaf
A pinch of salt
Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder or food processor and grind to a course powder. Pour the spice mixture over the minced lamb; add the chopped parsley & olive oil and mix well. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. With wet hands skewer the meat into long sausage shapes. Rotate the meat around the skewer, pressing gently all round. Brush each kebab with a little oil and grill under a medium heat or barbecue for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Serve with walnut & red pepper dip and cucumber salad.
Walnut and red pepper dip
This is very similar to Muhammara, a red-hot Syrian dip that is quick & easy to make.
3 red peppers
60g fresh breadcrumbs
2 garlic cloves, smashed and optional
30ml tablespoons pomegranate molasses
30ml olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Put the peppers on a tray and roast for 30-35 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are cooked and the skin is blackened. Put the peppers in a bowl, cover with cling-film and, once cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skin and seeds. Pat the peppers dry, and place in a food processor. Add the breadcrumbs, lemon juice, molasses, cumin, paprika, cayenne and garlic. Pulse to form a thick paste. Add the olive oil and season to taste.
Marinated cucumber salad
1 long cucumber, peeled & diced
2 small red chillies, finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled & finely chopped
1tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Juice of one lime
6 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes. Season with freshly ground pepper and salt.
Mediterraneanspiced lamb stew with apricots and corinader
1kl diced lamb shoulder
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp sweet paprika
1tsp cayenne pepper
100ml olive oil
2 onions, peeled & chopped
2 carrots, peeled & chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1tsp saffron threads
750 ml chicken stock
600g tinned chopped tomatoes
120g dried apricots, sliced
1 tsp chopped preserved lemon
Bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
Mix the cubed lamb in the spices and leave to marinate for at least four hours. Overnight would be ideal.Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the seasoned meat. Brown on all sides and add the chopped onions, carrots and garlic. Cook gently for 1-2 minutes and add the saffron threads, stock, tomatoes, and apricots. Bring slowly to the boil, season with salt and black pepper, then cover with a lid reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for one and a half hours. Add the chopped preserved lemons and chopped coriander. Season to taste and serve immediately.
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