I’M VERY much enjoying the delights of early spring at the moment.
The snowdrops, daffodils and green buds on the trees, and a warmer breeze all indicate that we’re (hopefully) over the worst of the weather for now, and we can start planning those lighter menus.
Perhaps even wheel out the barbecue? No, I think that’s getting a little presumptuous.
As I walked along our lane yesterday, I stopped to watch the tiny newborn lambs whizzing around the fields, leaping in the air and guzzling milk from their ever-so-patient mothers.
I have always adored sheep – they appear to have a calm serenity that always relaxes me, and the noise of occasional bleats on the summer breeze is one of the most quintessentially British sounds, in my opinion.
Bucolic bliss aside, and please don’t think badly of me for this, but watching the lambs at play put me in mind of how delicious those little guys would be in a few months’ time.
And as luck would have it, I happened across a recipe for a dish I’d never encountered before, Lebanese in origin, and this week’s recipe was, a little tinkering aside, ready to go.
It’s a very simple dish, but is absolutely delicious, and full of those wondrous Levantine flavours and textures; the crisp, fluffy bread, the sesame kick from the tahini, the cumin-infused lamb, the cool crunch of cucumbers, the tang of onion, sharp lemon and the seductive touches of mint and coriander – hungry? Hope so. Aprons on!
Dough (makes 8 tarts):
150g wholewheat flour, 300g white bread flour, 240ml warm water, one sachet dried yeast (or 30g fresh yeast), one teaspoon sugar, one teaspoon salt, two tablespoons olive oil, one egg, beaten.
Minced lamb topping
250g minced lamb, one tomato, finely chopped, one onion, finely chopped, two cloves of garlic, minced, one teaspoon chopped parsley; 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, few grinds of fresh black pepper, one teaspoon olive oil, two teaspoons tomato paste, salt to taste.
Coriander and mint salad
One bunch coriander, one bunch mint, stalks removed (leave a few leaves for the dressing), two cucumbers, diced, one punnet ripe cherry tomatoes, halved, one bunch large spring onions, sliced; a little lemon juice and a little extra-virgin olive oil.
Yogurt and tahini sauce
340g Yoghurt (Longley Farm’s yoghurt is perfect for this – good and sharp), one tablespoon Tahini juice of ½ a lemon, a pinch of salt, a little chopped fresh mint
To make the salad, combine all the ingredients, dressing lightly with lemon juice and olive oil. For the yoghurt sauce, whisk the tahini into the lemon juice, then add the yoghurt, the chopped mint and salt to taste. Keep chilled, along with the salad.
Mix all the lamb ingredients together in a bowl, and chill until required.
Place all the dough ingredients in the bowl of a mixer, and knead for 10 minutes to make a soft dough, adding more flour or water if necessary.
If you’re using fresh yeast, allow this to melt in the warm water before mixing. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to its highest setting (Gas 9 or above) Divide the dough into eight pieces and roll into a ball.
Flatten each ball into a round shape on a floured surface, and gently roll out to about 5” diameter. Spoon some of the lamb topping on the dough, about 2cm deep, leaving about 1cm on either side for the crust. Fold the dough in around to make a small deep-pan-pizza-style tart. Place onto floured baking sheets. Allow the tarts to rise a little, for about five minutes, then bake for approx 10 minutes, checking they don’t singe too much. As with pizza, a little “burnt” crunch to the crust adds a great flavour.
When they’re cooked, take from the oven, slice them into wedges and serve immediately with the coriander and mint salad, and drizzle the whole lot with yoghurt and tahini sauce.
Drinks-wise, these would be perfect with a very lightly-chilled red wine (Yes, red wine – a Beaujolais would be magnificent, or a Loire Red – nothing too heavy) or a cold beer.