The Taste Of Lamb

Even though consumption of beef and veal has risen in Turkey over the last twenty years, lamb remains the red meat of choice of Turks who can afford it.

The western world’s demand for red meat is met mainly by beef. Here in Turkey on the other hand lamb and mutton remain in favor. Apart from its flavor, there are many reasons for this, all relating to the geography in which we live. The homeland of the sheep, the first herd animal in the world to be domesticated. extends all the way from southern Anatolia to the south of Iran, as evidenced by the fact that a wild sheep was photographed in Anatolia only recently. The benefits of sheep herding and mutton, which are acknowledged to have spread all over the world from Anatolia, are countless. Thanks to its unique digestive system, sheep are able to feed in any environment with wild grasses and brush, a characteristic that facilitated the spread of sheep and sheep herding all over the world. Eminently suitable for domestication, the sheep, with its wool, milk and meat, is a vital source of livelihood for peoples who live in this part of the world. This cuddly, ruminating animal has also been a potent ceremonial symbol in Judaism, Christianity and Islam from the earliest times. Rams’ skulls from six and seven thousand years ago were unearthed in excavations at the Neolithic settlement of Çatalhöyük in Central Anatolia. And it is well known that the ritual slaughtering of rams continues in the Islamic world even today. In view of both the material and spiritual value of sheep, sheep herding continues to be practiced traditionally in Central Asia, Anatolia and the Middle East.

Sheepskins were used for preparing food in early periods before the development of cooking vessels. Mixed with onions and spices, pieces of meat were stuffed inside a sheepskin and left to cook in a heated pit. While not held in particularly high regard in the West, cheese and yoghurt made from sheep’s milk are sought-after products in Turkey, especially among connoisseurs. Not only that, but the contribution of these adorable animals’ wool to Turkey’s world-famous tradition of carpet and kilim weaving should not be forgotten.

Lamb or mutton is usually cooked in a small amount of liquid (water, or apple or grape juice) to which fruits, vegetables and spices have been added. On holidays or special occasions, a whole lamb may be roasted either on a spit or in an oven or tandoor until the meat literally falls off the bone. This is one of the most popular ways of preparing lamb in Turkey’s ‘kebab’ region. Cut into chunks or chopped with a cleaver and mixed a little sheep tail fat for flavor, it makes terrific kebabs. From its head and liver to its entrails (tripe) and trotters, all the parts of the sheep continue to be used in Turkey today to produce dishes of outstanding taste.

400 gr lamb’s liver (cut into small chunks), 300 gr rice, 150 gr butter, 1 whole sheet of lamb suet, 1 medium onion, chopped fine, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp dried mint, 300 gr meat stock.

Place the lamb suet in a deep pot and cover with lukewarm water to soften. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the finely chopped onion and saute until it begins to color. Add the chunks of liver and saute 2-3 minutes. Rinse and drain the rice and empty into the pot. Saute together for 10-12 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, dried mint and meat stock. Mix well and let simmer over low heat until the liquids are absorbed, then cool. Cut the piece of lamb suet into a 20-cm diameter round, arrange the rice mixture in the center and fold up the sides. Place with the folded sides down on a baking sheet and bake in a 170 °C oven for 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve piping hot.

1 kg lamb sweetbreads, 12 pearl onions, 2 chunks of gum mastic (2 gr), juice and grated rind of one orange, 1 tbsp red pepper paste, 2 tbsp butter,
1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/4 bunch flat-leaf parsley .

Clean the sweetbreads, remove the outer membranes and cut into small pieces. Wash and rinse. Melt the butter in a skillet and saute the pearl onions until they begin to color. Then add the sweetbreads, mix together and continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the pepper sauce and continue sauteing. When the pepper sauce is well cooked, add the gum mastic, grated orange rind and orange juice, salt and pepper and mix well. When it begins to boil, add the parsley and let simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes. Serve piping hot.

4 lamb shanks, 20 prunes, 8 long eggplants, 40 gr fresh hazelnuts, 1 onion,
1 hot red pepper and one sprig of fresh rosemary for decoration.

Ingredients for ‘Beğendi’ (Eggplant Béchamel):
8 eggplants, 2 tbsp flour, 1 cup milk, 1 tbsp butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Saute the lamb shanks in a pot with onion, garlic. Add tomato sauce and water and let simmer for two and a half hours. When tender, cool, remove the meat from the bone and shred. Reduce the liquids in the pot to the consistency of a thick sauce. Add shelled, fresh hazelnuts to the cooked meat and fill the terrines. Place one cleaned shank bone in the center of each terrine.

Prune Puree:
Boil the prunes in water. Remove the pits and puree. Spread with a spatula over the meat in the terrines.

Eggplant Puree:
Roast the eggplants until soft and remove the skins. Clean out the seeds and force the eggplant through a sieve. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the flour. When the flour is browned slightly, add the milk to make a Béchamel sauce.  Then add the sieved eggplants and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Place in a pastry tube and squeeze onto a serving plate. Arrange the lamb shanks on top and serve with the sauce.

Half a quince, sliced, 150 gr lamb chops on the bone,
100 gr golden thistle (Scolymus hispanicus), 1 tbsp ‘pekmez’ (Turkish grape molasses), 2 tbsp butter, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, 1 small onion, finely chopped.

Golden Thistle sauce
1 egg yolk, 1 tbsp yoghurt, 1 tbsp flour, 1 tsp salt. Whisk together and add slowly to the boiling thistle water.

Clean the lamb chops and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown the lamb chops well on both sides. Add the quince slices and drizzle with the molasses and mix together with the lamb. Add half a cup of water and bring to a boil. Remove the lamb chops and quince to a baking sheet and bake for around 25 minutes in a 170 C oven. Clean, wash and divide the golden thistle into equal portions. Melt the butter in a skillet and saute the onion and garlic together with the golden thistle. After 3-4 minutes, add one cup of water and let simmer over low heat. When the thistle is almost done, slowly add the egg sauce. Bring back to a boil and remove from the heat. Remove the cooked lamb chops and quince slices to a serving platter and arrange the golden thistle at the side as a garnish. Add a half spoonful of butter to the lamb and quince juices in the pan and bring to a boil. Drizzle this sauce over the lamb chops and quince.