Saturday, 7 September 2013

Lamb in date and lemon sauce

Poor, neglected blog. It's not that I've not been cooking. I have. I've just not been cooking much of my own food. Instead, I've been cooking other people's.

The problem with liking your food is it likes you back. And it got to the point where my hips were too gourmet-sized for my liking. At the start of August, I began fasting twice a week on the 5:2 "diet". I'm seeing very good results already but it means that 2 days a week I have been calorie-counting rigorously, planning my meals for those days and also being a lot more aware of what I eat on "normal" days.

Cooking on fast days is pretty much routine now for me, nearly 6 weeks in. I've been eating someone else's skinny version of shakshuka for a very late breakfast most times and dipping in and out of several 5:2 cookbooks. I've also discovered some of my favourite food bloggers are doing 5:2 too (see, cooking leads to gourmet-sized hips). Lavender and Lovage and Big Cook Tiny Kitchen have both been tagging their "thin" recipes and I'm enjoying exploring them.

But to the lamb. I've been cooking this on and off for years - the sweet, sticky sauce is offset by the lemon's tartness and the savoury notes of the lamb and the shallots. It's very simple to cook and makes 2 portions.

What you need:
2 lamb fillets (or decent-sized chops)
1 shallot, finely diced
A handful of fresh dates
1 lemon, juiced
A pinch each of ground cumin and ground coriander
Olive oil
A few almond flakes

What to do: 
Stone the dates, chop roughly and put in a pan with the lemon juice, the spices and a splash of water. Cook down over a low heat, crushing the dates with the back of a wooden spoon as they soften, until you are left with a thick, sticky mush. Add a little more water if if you think it needs it. Season well.

While the dates are cooking, pour a generous glug of olive oil into a hot frying pan and brown the meat quickly on both sides. Lift out, put in an ovenproof dish and turn the hob heat down. Sauté the shallots gently until transparent. Tip the shallots over the lamb, scraping all the oil and any crusty bits out of the pan too.

Pour the sauce over the lamb, sprinkle a few flaked almonds on the top and bake in the oven at 180C for 15-20 minutes. Serve with a bulghur salad.

Cook's notes:
Don't use the dried, syrup-laden dates that come in an oblong box with a plastic fork and are usually sold in the run-up to Christmas. They are far too sweet. You can easily find fresh dates in Turkish or Middle Eastern grocers - it's possible to pick up a box for £1-2. Keep an eye out in supermarkets too - as I type this, Asda is selling a box of fresh dates for £2. 

The bulghur salad has clean, sharp flavours that help cut through the richness of the lamb. To make it (serves one), cook a small portion of bulghur according to the packet instructions. Dice 5cm of cucumber, slice a spring onion diagonally and extract the seeds and juice from half a small pomegranate. Mix well with the bulghur and add a little roughly chopped parsley. Dress with a little olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar and a little salt and pepper.