Lamb can be intimidating meat to cook. For many, it's a celebratory dish served once or twice a year—with a high degree of difficulty. The iconic leg of lamb can be a perfect dinner party centerpiece, or, if cooking time and technique aren't mastered, a disaster. While I can't disagree, I'll show you how to enjoy it in a much simpler way.
Lamb was first domesticated in the Middle East and is common in Eastern Mediterranean dishes. How is this red meat part of a heart healthy Mediterranean diet? Small portions and overall meal wholesomeness. Lamb, and all meats, does not always need to be the center of the dish. When it supplements vegetables, meat can add richness and flavor that kicks up the meal a notch.
Lamb can be incorporated in a healthy diet when portions are kept to 3 to 4 ounces no more than twice a week. If you choose leg or loin and trim visible fat, a 3-ounce portion has 7 to 8 grams of total fat, 2 to 3 grams of saturated fat, and 80 milligrams of cholesterol—all within the FDA's definition of "lean."
Lamb labeled as "choice" has less fat than "prime." Ground lamb tends to be highest in fat content compared to other cuts. Pasture-fed lamb is nutritionally superior since it has more omega-3 fatty acids and less trans fats than indoor hay-fed lamb. Lamb's an excellent source of protein and health-promoting vitamins and minerals; vitamin B12, vitamin B6, riboflavin, niacin, zinc, iron and selenium.
The majority of lamb in the U.S. is imported from Australia or New Zealand. While it's easy to grab a pre-packaged tray from a grocery store, I encourage you to become a customer at a small butcher shop for high quality cuts. I know where the lamb's coming from at my local Middle Eastern butcher—grass-fed and locally grown. For ground lamb, I ask the butcher to trim all visible fat before grinding. And when I plan to grill, I specifically ask for cuts for kabobs without too much connective tissue. This prevents getting tough and chewy kabobs no one wants to bite into. A local butcher can pack the exact amount you need for your recipes, which you can freeze for up to three months.
Follow standard food safety when handling lamb. Refrigerate below 40° immediately after purchasing, and freeze what you don't plan to cook within two days. The safest thawing method is in the fridge for 24 hours. If you microwave or submerge in cold water, cook it immediately. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap after touching raw lamb and use a separate cutting board and utensils for raw lamb.
Middle Eastern Green Bean and Lamb Stew
As a Middle Easterner, many of the traditional dishes I cook call for lamb. I decided to share a pressure-cooking recipe for its simplicity. Roasting a leg of lamb is not practical for my fast-paced, fully packed days. Plus, it's easy to overcook a roast.
Kabobs are delicious, but only if you start with good cuts. Moist heat allows connective tissue to melt so you can get away with any cut. From experience, I find that pressure-cooking comes with two benefits: one, it's obviously fast; and two, it yields softer lamb than regular braising.
I hope you enjoy this vegetable-packed, hearty lamb dish I learned from my mom.
Pressure Cooked Leg of Lamb and Green Beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 teaspoons allspice, divided
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
- 1½ pounds green beans, washed and cut into 1-to-2 inch strips
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- Heat the oil in your pressure cooker on medium heat. Add lamb, 1 teaspoon allspice, and the remaining spices. Brown.
- Add the onion, diced tomatoes with juice, and 2 cups warm water. Follow the instructions of your pressure cooker to start the cooking process. When the cooker starts to whistle, set the timer for 12 minutes.
- After 12 minutes, cautiously release the pressure. Follow the instructions outlined in your pressure cooker manual.
- Add the green beans, tomato paste, one more cup of water, and the remaining teaspoon of allspice. Follow the instructions of your pressure cooker again and cook for 2 minutes. You can let the stew simmer without pressure, but it will talk longer for the beans to cook.
- When the beans are cooked (I prefer them a little crunchy and not too mushy), mix in chopped cilantro. Serve immediately with cooked brown rice.