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Quarantine Cuisine: Turkish Lamb Loin Chops

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

I wasn't planning on creating anything transcendental with this meal, so the Quarantine Cuisine series was supposed to next travel to Korea for some kalbi-style short ribs. Given what I wound up with this evening, however, I had to take a brief detour to tell y'all about these beautiful lamb loin chops.

I had taken both the lamb and the short ribs (both acquired in our massive Crowd Cow order) out of the freezer to thaw, but had no real plans for the (beautiful) lamb. When I think lamb, I first think about eastern European and the middle eastern flavors, and I happened to have a healthy amount of tahini in the fridge, so I perused the Googlez and found what looked like a lovely recipe on Epicurious, which formed the jumping-off point for this meal.

The recipe calls for a healthy crust of just-crushed Turkish spices on the lamb. I didn't have fennel seed, but roasted a teaspoon each of coriander seed, mustard seed, and cumin seed and combined that with a teaspoon of sea salt, half teaspoon of black peppercorns, and a teaspoon and a half of Aleppo red pepper flakes. I put these in my handy little mortar and pestle and ground them moderately, pressing them into the entire surface area of the flesh of the lamb chops. These were to sit for at least 30 minutes to absorb some of the flavors.

This was a good example of "what do I have that I can use," a classic in quarantine meal planning at this stage. Turned out that in addition to the tahini, I had a zucchini and a half and some orzo pasta, which helped me look up some Turkish side dishes. Orzo naturally led me to rice pilaf, and I found an appealing recipe utilizing the zucchini for "kabak mucveri," or Turkish zucchini fritters (I won't pretend I know how to pronounce a word of Turkish...).

The pilaf is easy: cook orzo in olive oil until browned, and then add rice, lemon juice, and salt, cooking until the rice is bright and fragrant. After, add chicken or veggie broth and simmer, covered, until the broth is absorbed and the grains are cooked. I added some cilantro for a bit of brightness, and also to make sure there was something green on the plate, since the zucchini fritters hardly looked like veggies!

The mucveri were absolutely delicious. After grating the zucchini and pressing out the water, I added half an onion (which I also happened to have left over!), some chopped scallions, grated cheese, and dill. The dill was dried and not fresh, and the cheese was some left over goat gouda and not feta, but it still tasted great! Added two eggs, heaping half cup of flour, salt, and pepper, to create a batter.

To cook, I heated about a quarter inch of olive oil in a small frying pan and dropped in a spoonful of batter in, flipping when brown, and draining on a cooling rack. Had I to do this again, I would have made these a bit flatter so they crisped up nicely.

While waiting for the lamb to "marinate" in the Turkish spices, I prepared the tahini sauce given in the lamb recipe. In a food processor, lemon juice, garlic, and salt were combined and allowed to sit for a few minutes. Next, I added a cup of tahini, spinning the blades of the Cuisinart until the tahini formed a thick paste. I then added one spoonful at a time of ice water and combined until the paste became runny enough to spoon over the lamb as sauce. This sauce was MAGICAL, and while I was afraid by how salty it was at first, after adding the water it was absolutely perfect. I wouldn't be afraid to add even more garlic this time around.

I learned a little trick through Crowd Cow for cooking lamb loin chops––cook them standing up on the "T" part of the bone, which will conduct heat through the meat without the edible portions of the chop touching the heat source directly. While this is an instruction for the grill specifically, which I don't have at the moment, I found it worked nicely in the cast iron skillet that I placed in the broiler, cooking until the instant-read thermometer read 130 degrees for a glorious medium-rare. After letting them rest, I plated the chop with a spoonful of the tahini sauce alongside the pilaf and fritters, as well as a spoonful of Greek yogurt for dipping the fritters.

The result was absolutely glorious. The lamb was some of the best I'd had, and the bright coriander and funky cumin were perfectly balanced with spice from the pepper. I loved the aroma and flavor of the generous crust of spices, and wished there was a little more lamb, or even a second chop! The tahini sauce added a mouthwatering salty umami and acidity. There were too many fritters for each of us, but they were very tasty and excellent with the yogurt, and running the pilaf through the spices and juices from the lamb created a perfect final bite. I would not hesitate to make this spice combination again.

Wine to cook by: 2016 Jessie's Grove Ancient Vines Zinfandel from Alquimista Cellars. I visited Alquimista in January 2019, tasting solo with winemakers Greg LaFollette and Patrick Dillon in their winemaking warehouse in Sonoma County. Greg is a legend in California winemaking, formerly working at the now-legendary Flowers, and is a true master of Sonoma fruit, particularly pinot noir and chardonnay, which he sources from sustainably-farmed Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, and Mendocino vineyards, and Patrick is a Pultizer-winning author. This was easily my favorite place I visited on this trip to Sonoma, and I loved chatting with Greg and Patrick and talking wine, food, music, and philosophy.

We ordered a half case from Alquimista, which is doing a 25% (and free shipping!) relief deal (code: RELIEF) for those needing wine during the coronavirus mess (so, everyone). Their pinots are just insane, as are their chardonnays, but I wanted to supplement my order of pinot and chard with a delicious zinfandel. Greg sources this fruit from Lodi in CA Delta country, a combination of old vines (130+ years old) of zin, carignan, flame tokay, black prince, and mission grapes. True to form as a master of pinot, Greg creates a silky, lighter-bodied wine through partial whole-cluster fermentation, and the bright but spicy palate worked perfectly with the spice-crusted lamb.

Maks likes Alquimista, too!

Never fear, y'all––we will, indeed, be heading to Korea for Quarantine Cuisine, part 5. The short ribs are marinating as we speak! Additionally, however, keep an eye out for a bit of nostalgia with a post about a February evening in Chicago, as well as the first of our "Quarantini" Series. Hoping we can soon find ourselves in the position to travel and dine out again!

Until then, stay safe, healthy, and HOME! <3

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