There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You’ve heard that before, right? Economic theories aside, the saying means nothing comes free. Everything is a process, including food. Most of us already know that. We know how important it is that we take the time to understand – or at least think about – where it came from and, if it was prepared for you, how and what it was made from. Food choices are a philosophy of life, a display of respect for ourselves and our surroundings. And bad food choices are more than a stomach ache!
A few weeks ago, in the name of showing a little appreciation for local farmers, I went to a chic but homey restaurant nearby to sample from their menu of locally-grown and organic ingredients. (They even have organic beer!) I tried an appetizer of roasted lamb, aged balsamico and sage, and decided right then and there this dish held all the power of the entree. I would have to replicate it.
On my weekly Sunday farmers’ market trip I wandered around with the idea of the re-invention in mind, stopping first at the meat vendor to look through all the varieties of local lamb (ground, shoulder, chops, t-bone) and decide on a centerpiece. I picked out a few chops and moved on to inspect everything from apples to chicken livers and free-range turkey eggs, to wines and herbs and leafy greens, in search of those other possible components. At the produce vendor, my knees weakened for a bundle of Swiss chard (is that romantic?), and at the berry vendor, the recipe for my dish finally crystallized. Blueberries. Of course! Cooked and made into a sauce. Sautéed Swiss chard on the side! Lamb, broiled in red wine!
When I finally got home and started preparing the lamb, I was so tempted – as most people are with lamb, I think — to make a big production. I was tempted to add a lot of seasoning, to cook the chops in oil, to wrap them up with thread and braise them. But why? Under the broiler, unadorned, lamb meat practically smacks with perfection (just listen to that crackling!) A few minutes on either side, and you could eat broiled lamb chops all by themselves.
But like most who enjoy cooking, the smell of roasting meat motivates. And if it prompts you to cook further, you won’t be sorry. Blueberries lend the most delicious and complementary sweetness, and they’re not only entirely worth the extra few minutes to prepare, but they’re easy. All you have to do is mix the berries with a little red wine and garlic, and you have the makings of a Primal gourmet marinade. Bye bye, mint jelly.
The verdict: this recipe is an excellent reminder of the why putting time into your food is so rewarding. Even if you don’t go hand-pick local ingredients at a farmers’ market like I did, choosing the best ingredients available, and then taking them home and preparing the different features of the meal pulls you in and allows you to appreciate what you’re eating in a way that those saloon patrons of the 1950s never did. Being able to stand at the stove and taste things, smell the lamb fat as it rises in heat waves from the oven below – there is something about this that made the final product so satisfying. Like “lean back in your chair and sigh” satisfying. I’m telling you so. But don’t just take my word for it.
To make lamb and chard you need:
12 oz. lamb chops, fresh preferred but frozen thawed will work (also, feel free to use any other cut of lamb, it will work just as well!)
As much or as little fresh green or red-stem Swiss chard as you want (I used green, and local organic)
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
To make the blueberry reduction you need:
2 cups fresh organic blueberries
1 cup red wine (use a Cabernet or Zinfandel, something you’d actually drink)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
Heat broiler. Pat lamb with a bit of salt and pepper, and set chops in a glass baking dish (unoiled). When the oven’s hot, cook chops for 5 minutes, turning them when done to cook for another 5-6 minutes on the other side.
While chops broil, heat oil in a saucepan. When hot, add garlic. Saute for a minute and then add wine. Bring to a boil, then slightly reduce heat. You want the wine to reduce by half, but don’t overcook!
Add blueberries to the reduction and simmer for 1 minute. The product should not be thick, so don’t worry if it looks like red-blueberry soup. The blueberries should not be cooked so long that they lose their skins and become mushy. You want the blueberries to keep their shape, and to mingle with the flavors of the wine, garlic and oil. Let the sauce simmer on low heat.
The final step is the Swiss chard. Steam this separately just by placing it on the stove and boiling it lightly in a little water, just until it begins to wilt and is still nice and green.
On dinner plates, finally spoon blueberry reduction over lamb chops, and serve with a side of Swiss chard. Beautiful!