Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce

Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce   Image:  Laura Messersmith

Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce  Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Herb Story”

The Set-up: Ina is taking her cues from the herbs she grows in her garden.

The Menu: Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce, Oregano, Tomato and Feta Salad, Heirloom Tomatoes with Tarragon

0:21 – Ina takes us back into the garden where she has a Fort Knox level wall around her herbs to keep out the deer. Certainly more attractive than chicken wire fencing!

1:33 – As she lists off everything she grows back here – parsley, basil, chives, thyme, mint – I can see why fresh herbs are such a big part of her cooking this is bordering on a farm!

2:06 – Ina says when she thinks about making a marinade for the Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce she goes immediately to the classics. As she said, “what grows together, goes together” … “why fight it?”

3:10 – In this case she’s using a ton of rosemary because it has a strong flavor that can stand up to the lamb.

4:27 – Ina is mixing the marinade right in the dish that the lamb will rest in which I am all about, except that my “dish” is a ziplock bag inside a food storage container. The better to clean up quickly, my dear!

5:39 – Lamb chops are on the grill and Ina cautions us not to overcook them – easy to do with a too hot fire and a teensy piece of meat.

6:44 – We also get a little food safety lesson when she reminds us not to use the marinade on the cooked meat.

10:03 – Back in the garden to collect mint and dill for the Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce. Pro Tip #1: Measuring herbs accurately is easier when they’re roughly chopped.

11:18 – This is a straightforwardly Greek inspired recipe and I think I read somewhere that dill is a heavily used herb in Greek cooking. Google will know for sure…

12:42 – The mini food processor makes another appearance for the yogurt sauce which Ina says is so thick that she’s going to put it underneath the lamb chops.

13:01 – Now for the Oregano, Tomato and Feta Salad essentially big wedges of tomato, slices of feta, and a little arugula dressed with a splash of red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a sprinkle of dried oregano.

14:14 – Pro Tip #2: Rub the dried oregano between your palms to release the oils before sprinkling over the salad.

15:26 – Ina’s friend Frank shows up and they escape to the garden to pretend they’re in Mykonos over dinner. (“Don’t tell Jeffrey!”)

19:33 – We’re in New York now at Eli Zabar’s greenhouse on top of his specialty food store picking tomatoes for a salad of Heirloom Tomatoes with Tarragon.

20:05 – A few herbs are selected and then Eli and Ina go down into the kitchen with their flat of loot.

21:47 – We’re getting a little arranging lesson as Eli cuts the tomatoes into vertical slices and wedges of all sizes emphasizing the variety of colors and textures.

22:11 – On to the seasoning and Eli explains that since tomatoes are a fruit the heavy dose of salt and vinegar will draw out the sugars and juices to create the dressing.

23:30 – We’re supposed to let the seasoning sit for a little, but Ina is impatient so they taste immediately. Here’s the word: basil is OUT, tarragon is IN when it comes to tomato salads.

27:02 – A little “Ask Ina” on herb related questions. Not that kind of herb! Bill wants to know if he can substitute dried herbs when Ina’s recipe calls for fresh. Short answer: no. Long answer: who knows how long those dried herbs have been preserved? PS: Look at my spice drawer – no herbs!!

28:38 – Deborah would like a recommendation on which herbs to grow, and Mike needs advice on which variety of basil is best? Ina says you should grow what you like and recommends Genovese basil (the large leafed type commonly found in stores.)

29:45 – Last question - Kim needs help storing her fresh herbs? Ina says wash, dry very carefully, and keep in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Or, mince them up and store them in an ice cube tray in the freezer so you can pop a cube into a recipe when you’re cooking.

Final Thoughts:
I absolutely need to try Ina’s method for storing herbs – they are the bane of my existence the way they wilt so quickly!

I love the simplicity of the recipes in this episode, just allowing the flavors and freshness to be the stars.

Did anyone else have major flashbacks to My Big Fat Greek Wedding? “That’s okay; I make lamb!”

Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce    Image:   Laura Messersmith

Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce  Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I have never cooked lamb before and most of my experiences with it have been of the shady, “what’s in this gyro?,” mystery meat variety; the most egregious of which was during our trip to Croatia when we tried the much-hyped ćevapčići. No thanks. All that to say, I didn’t think I liked lamb, but if anyone could convince me it would be Ina Garten and her Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce.

Read the Recipe – I must have been half awake when I mixed the marinade for this recipe because in re-reading it I realized I was supposed to use the food processor and the ingredients called for red wine, not red wine vinegar. I also didn’t buy enough lemons (why?) and had to substitute lemon greek yogurt in the sauce. Thankfully it appears that my mistakes were imperceptible in the final results, and dare I say might have even improved the recipe?

Marinating – The recipe recommends at least 2 hours, I marinated mine over night (about 20 hours in total) and it’s well worth doing that far in advance. The flavor really permeates the meat. Same deal with the yogurt sauce, the longer the herbs are in contact with the yogurt the more they meld and develop.

Cooking Lamb – If you can cook a pork chop or a bone-in steak then lamb is essentially just a miniature version of those two cuts. A cast iron grill pan pre-heated over medium flame is your friend and Ina’s cooking time (4-5 minutes per side) is perfect. Make sure the meat good contact with the pan so that it sears and don’t neglect to crisp up the edges!

Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce    Image:   Laura Messersmith

Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce  Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! A small food processor will be helpful in both stages, along with and measuring cups and spoons. I also used a medium cutting board, chef’s knife, a cast iron grill pan, and tongs. A ziptop bag, aluminum foil and a large food storage container will come in handy too.

The Verdict:
I was really prepared not to like Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce and frankly I was nervous to serve it to Mike, but we both though this recipe was delicious!!! (Yes, three exclamation points.) The marinade imparts a great blend of bright lemon and spikey rosemary; and the sauce is beautifully fresh and light. I don’t know if I’ll be ordering lamb left and right in restaurants now, but I can fully endorse this recipe, even for people who think they don’t like lamb. A perfect special occasion dish that takes very little effort to get great results.

Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce    Image:   Laura Messersmith

Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce  Image: Laura Messersmith