This meal was prepared in honour of a visit from our fabulous friend from Perth, Tads. She was in the UK for a wedding and we were lucky enough to entice her and her friend Helen to come to Oxfordshire for a serious Saturday night.
Subconsciously willing warmer weather, I came up with a meal inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine.
Traditionally, a middle eastern feast starts with a mezze, or mixture of appetizers. There being only 4 of us, I thought a more European approach might be more managable in terms of how much food I should prepare (and how much time I had). I was pretty much fixed on a main course of slow cooked spiced shoulder of lamb, so I needed a starter and side dishes to complement. A bit of web research helped and I settled on chicken koftas as a way to begin the theme.
- Chicken and mint koftas with yogurt, cucumber and unleavened bread
- Slow roasted lamb shoulder with cumin
- Saffron cous cous
- Warm salad of slow roasted tomatoes (3 hours at 100 deg) and steamed asparagus
Le Colonel (not at all middle eastern but very popular in the south of France and very refreshing) - aka shop bought lemon sorbet served with a big dash of vodka garnished with fresh mint and lime. Brilliant.
I found a good recipe for the koftas and decided to add an egg white, a teaspoon of plain flour and a handful of mint to the listed ingredients before putting them in the food processor. I pre-prepared the kofta mix and divided it into balls so all that needed doing on the night was to grill them for 10-15 minutes before serving.
The lamb recipe is an original favourite. A few simple ingredients used in excess, but in no way overpowering. I bought a whole shoulder of lamb (about 1.8kg) and then ground up at least half a cup of cumin seeds in my mortar and pestle. I rubbed the lamb with some olive oil and then rolled it in the ground cumin to coat it completely. I put the shoulder in a baking dish, added about 250ml of liquid (stock, or in this case beer), covered it in foil and put it in a hot oven. The total cooking time was 4 hours, starting off at 200 deg for 15 mins, and then lowered to 130 deg for the remainder of the cooking time. By then, the only two bones almost fell out, making carving the shoulder really simple. During cooking, a further 250ml of stock (or beer) was needed to keep up the steam. A rich, thick, aromatic sauce was the reward which I spooned over the lamb as it was served.
The meal was a success and then 5 other friends turned up as planned for the dessert, cheeses and coffee. We devoured almost a litre of vodka between us just with les colonels, lit the outside fire in the brazier, danced, laughed, and enjoyed what was a mild, still September evening.