Happy Pi Day! Did you know that March 14 is Pi Day? Somehow a day that honours a mathematical symbol is feted with the baking of a pie. I’m okay with that. I have always loved math. Algebra and geometry made sense to me. Calculus, not so much! I could never understand its application to real life. Here at salt and serenity we’re going to mark the day with a savory little hand pie, made with ground lamb and a combo of spices that will leave you feeling very joyful. Food that you can eat with your hands is always more fun, and these flaky little pies are as charming as they are delicious. Redolent of Morocco, the scent of cumin, coriander and cinnamon will perfume your kitchen.I made a dairy-free pastry, using refined coconut oil (refined coconut oil has almost no scent). You could of course use butter if you wish. I added a bit of cornmeal to the all-purpose flour for a bit of a crunch. You could make them rectangular or round. Just make sure to cut a few holes in the top crust so that the steam can escape during baking and they don’t explode.Sautéed onions, frozen peas and corn were added to the filling for a welcome sweet vegetal hit.
One of my favourite sources of inspiration for what to blog about next is my friend Marla. She is always trying new recipes and has a real knack for finding delicious ones. She was the one that turned me on to these spiced lamb meatballs from the November 2016 issue of Bon Appetit. I decided to adapt the recipe to create pita pockets.
I started with making a romesco (nut and red pepper) sauce to spread on the pita, alongside some store-bought hummus. It takes some time to make, but I loved the tangy, spicy bright flavour it added to the sandwich. I used a combination of hazelnuts and almonds for the nuts portion of the sauce. For the peppers, I used both jarred roasted red sweet peppers and a dried whole chile pepper.The nuts and bread get toasted. They are used to thicken the sauce.A quick blitz in the blender or food processor finishes the romesco sauce. It can be made a few days ahead and kept in the fridge. It is also delicious on a chicken sandwich or mixed in with some hot pasta.The meatballs come together quickly. Paprika and cumin and coriander seeds add a warm earthy note, while fresh cilantro and parsley add a vibrant freshness.
Click here to print recipe for Spiced Lamb Meatball Pita Pockets.
You may know larb (pronounced “lawb”) from seeing it on the menu of your local Thai restaurant, but it actually originated in Laos, Thailand’s neighbour to the north-east. It has become a staple dish of Thai street food.
Larb is a salad, but not a regular vegetable salad. It is best described as a meat salad. Typically made with minced pork, chicken or beef, it is seasoned with fish sauce, chili flakes, lime juice and toasted rice to give it a crunchy texture. It is finished with green onions and an assortment of herbs (cilantro, mint and thai basil) to give it a verdant freshness and bring it all together.
Larb, wrapped in a lettuce leaf, (because anytime I can wrap something in a leaf and call it dinner, I am exceedingly happy), with a spoonful of sticky Thai rice, is a magical flavour bomb. Salty, spicy, sour, sweet and crunchy, it hits all the right notes. I decided to make it with ground lamb. While not totally authentic, my version is still quite delicious. I think it would also be great with ground turkey or chicken, for a lighter version.
No discussion of larb is complete without chatting about toasted rice. Browned ground rice adds a crunchy bite and a toasted fragrance. Leela over at shesimmers says, “ Whenever a Thai recipe calls for toasted rice powder, even just a smidgen of it, don’t be tempted to leave it out… This insignificant-looking (ingredient) is what differentiates a vaguely Thai-inspired dish from what a Thai mother serves her family somewhere in Thailand as we speak.”
Toasted rice powder is available at many Asian markets as well as on-line, but it is simple to make at home. Start with about 1/2 cup uncooked Thai rice and toast it in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until light brown and fragrant. (It will smell like you just made popcorn!) Let the rice cool and coarsely grind a few tablespoons at a time in a spice grinder. You only need 1-2 Tablespoons of the ground rice for their recipe. Just store the remainder in an airtight container in the pantry. Once the toasted rice is done, this dinner comes together in about 30 minutes, if you follow this timetable.
Start with making a quickle. (That’s short for a quick pickle!) Julienne some cucumber and carrots and thinly slice some purple onion. Let them hang out in a vinegar/salt/sugar mixture for about 20 minutes, then drain and discard the pickling liquid. The pickled vegetables add a perfect sour note that contrasts beautifully with the rich lamb meat. Put some Thai rice on to cook. While a rice cooker turns out perfect rice everytime, I have always resisted getting one because I don’t want another kitchen appliance. The reason rice made in a rice cooker always turns out light and fluffy is that it has a mechanism to release steam, which forces out additional moisture that normally gets trapped in a pot resulting in wet rice. Here is my fool-proof method for cooking rice.
I wrap the pot lid in a kitchen towel. The towel mimics the steam release mechanism by absorbing all the excess steam and leaves you with perfectly cooked rice. While the rice is cooking and the vegetables are pickling, cook the lamb. I find a potato masher is the perfect tool for breaking the meat up.
Once the lamb is cooked through, take it off the heat and stir in the toasted rice powder. Start with 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 Tablespoon lime juice and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Stir well and taste. Add more of whatever you think it needs. You want a balance of sweet, spicy, sour and salty. Stir in some sliced green onions.
Click here to print recipe for Thai-Lamb-Larb.