Lamb Dinner

6/13/2012 11:33:00 AM

We hosted a fun, small dinner party for four on the Sunday night of the Queen's Birthday weekend - at first we were all planning to go out for dinner, but seeing how bitterly cold it's been lately, we thought it would be better to stay in and cook.  Cheaper than going out and much, much warmer!

A Sprightly Lamb Dinner for 4

Grilled Lamb Backstrap with Herb Sauce
Roasted Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt
Lebanese-Style Green Beans with Tomato
Saffron-Scented Pilaf

One plate

I came up with a vaguely Middle Eastern menu, (or the "Maha style of food", as my friend Adri put it), based around the lamb backstrap.  I'd never previously cooked with it before, but had wanted to try it for a while - I always love the look of them at my local butcher, all lined up in gleaming, easy to carve slabs - and with this dinner party I finally had an excuse to buy some.  "Backstrap" seems to be a uniquely Australian nomenclature; none of my British or American cookbooks make any mention of it.  However, it's a very popular ingredient in Aussie recipes, and, for example, Taste.com.au, Donna Hay and the Women's Weekly all seem to feature backstraps regularly.  After a bit of quick online research, I'm pretty sure that they're called "lamb loins" in the UK / USA.  Basically, it's a relatively large, long, lean piece of meat, cut from the back of the animal, and is larger than the teensy-weensy lamb tenderloins.  (There's an excellent diagram here, from Crimson Cow.com.au, which should make everything a lot clearer.  The backstrap is labelled as "trim lamb eye of loin").

Let's look at each of the dishes in a bit more detail:

Grilled Lamb Backstrap with Herb Sauce

The lamb recipe is based upon the "marinated rack of lamb with coriander and honey" from the first Ottolenghi cookbook, but obviously replacing the rack of lamb with backstraps.  (I have made it once before, and the flavour is gorgeous!)  The lamb straps / loins are marinated overnight in a pungent herby mixture, and briefly grilled on each side, before being sliced thinly into lovely rare rags.  The recipe does seem to make quite a bit of marinade, but it doesn't go to waste - you simmer the marinade while the lamb is cooking and it becomes a fabulous sauce.  (No photo of it because, despite tasting wonderful, it turned out a rather alarming shade of khaki).

Grilled Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt

Another recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook, this grilled eggplant is one of my favourites, and one that I often whip out for entertaining.  I've made it so many times that I can now make it on easy autopilot.  You simply grill, fry or roast slices of eggplant in olive oil, allow them to cool and arrange them on a plate, before strewing over toasted pine nuts, basil leaves and pomegranate seeds.  Preparing the saffron yogurt is just a matter of stirring together some Greek yogurt, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a few saffron threads softened in a little warm water.  I find that it's a recipe that doesn't require fastidious weights and measurements, but if cooking that way makes you feel more comfortable, then definitely check out the fabulous cookbook!  I've been meaning to make this with the eggplant cut into chunks or wedges, as per the original recipe, for more mushy deliciousness, but I can't go past the prettiness of the concentric circle arrangement!


A basic tzatziki: Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, finely chopped mint, minced garlic and lemon juice, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.  Unlike last time, I didn't bother to strain the yogurt, so it was more liquid than last time, but the flavour certainly didn't suffer for it.

Saffron Scented Pilaf

Our carby accompaniment for the meal was a nut-studded, saffron-scented rice pilaf.  (Nigella's saffron scented chicken pilaf, minus the chicken - the original recipe comes from Forever Summer, and is also available on Nigella's website).  This is absolutely one of my favourite dishes of all time, with or without the chicken, and I've been making it since before I started blogging in 2004.  Can you believe it!  (Blogged once, here).

Lebanese-Style Green Beans in Tomato

Finally, I made some Lebanese-style green beans, cooked in tomatoes until very soft.  It's such a great flavour combination, and I love well-cooked green beans, as opposed to when they're bright green and squeaky.  (They're probably healthier that way but let's not worry about that now, hehe).  I've included my version of this classic recipe, below, as it differs quite a bit from tradition - I've seen a recipe that only uses one tomato per 500 grams of beans, but I love sauce, so I use a whole tin of tomatoes per 300 grams.  Vary the amount of beans depending on how saucy you like it - as indicated in the recipe, I think between 300-500 grams is about right, but go according to your own preference.


There seemed to be a good amount of food - I'd been tempted to add another dip, like hummus (you know, similar to Nigella's seared lamb with hummus from How to Eat), or a green salad, but I think that would have been overkill.  It turned out to be a well balanced meal, with enough of a variety of tastes to provide interest, but all remaining within the same register to form a cohesive menu.

I didn't make a dessert on this occasion - I think after all the restaurant meals and birthdays and trips over the past few months, I really just wanted a (relatively) light meal.  We did, however, break up Leicester after dinner and eat him with coffee.  If I hadn't been feeling so restrained, I think perhaps a plate of baklava would have been a good dessert.  (Or any of Nigella's many middle-eastern inspired desserts - there are quite a few in Forever Summer - Arabian pancakes with orange flower syrup, anybody?).

The cooking was easy too - I did the shopping the day before, and only started cooking at about four-thirty for a six-thirty start, with a couple of glasses of wine and gossip with friends in between!  Not too shabby!  

Lebanese-Style Green Beans
Sarah's version of a classic recipe

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbs olive oil
300-500g green beans, topped and tailed
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)

Heat the oil in a saucepan.  Add the chopped onion and cook for 10 minutes or so, until softened and lightly golden brown. Add in the green beans and stir to coat in the oniony oil.  Leave to cook for 5 minutes (10 if they were frozen).  Stir in the chopped tomatoes and simmer, half covered, for 30 minutes or so, until the sauce is thick and the beans are nice and soft.  Add allspice and cayenne pepper.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6 as an accompaniment

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  1. A perfect winter meal. This looks delicious!!

  2. I prefer my green beans near to raw. hehe. :)

  3. I've come across the backstrap confusion myself at times! Less so when conversing with vegan blogger friends. ;)

    I'm currently in love with tzatziki, but have a tendency to stir it *into* my rice and quinoa pilafs to make an ugly but deliciously smoodgy spoonful of goodness.

  4. I really don't eat enough lamb! These looks like the perfect meal :)

  5. Sophie - Thank-you so much! I feel this menu would work well in Spring as well, or even in Summer if you were to BBQ the lamb!

    Michelle - Ewww, hehe! :)

    Hannah - Ooh, love that idea of stirring tzatziki into pilafs! Yum!

    Michele This is a really easy way to cook lamb, definitely give it a go!

    xox Sarah

  6. What a wonderful meal! I'd feel SO at home around that table of gorgeous food :))

  7. Staying in and having friends over sounds like the perfect response to this weather. And I've come across the same confusion when trying to describe backstrap to people overseas!

  8. Just on the subject of you having blogged since 2004 - I get a big kick out of telling people I've known you since before most of Australia knew about blogs! Just this past month I was at a wedding in NYC, and I happened to be talking about ice-cream makers and about how a friend of mine made up a dozen ice-cream flavours to review an ice-cream maker for her blog (i.e. you). And one of the guests at my table went, OH MY GOD, YOU KNOW SARAH? SHE'S AWESOME.

  9. Anna - Well, if you ever come to Melbourne...

    Lorraine - It's funny, I've never cooked any of Nigella Lawson's many lamb loin recipes simply because I had no idea what it was! What a wasted opportunity. Must get cooking!

    Germaine - No way!! That's awesome! You've just made my day! BTW you should have shown your friend this link... ;)


    xox Sarah



My email address is sarahcooks [at] hotmail [dot] com.