We all know about donner and shish kebabs – but I am pleased to see that the old-school Greek skewers of grilled meat known as ‘souvlaki’ are making a come back in many street markets.
This is one of my favourite recipes to make at the moment. It is really simple and easy, perfect if you get home late from work or need to whip something up quickly.
Lamb leg steaks or chunks, allow 175g – 225g per person.
300g ‘easy cook’ basmati rice or ‘easy cook’ white rice
320g fresh peas or small fresh or frozen broad beans
2 tbs dried marjoram or oregano or fresh thyme
2 tbs chopped dill – or parsley
3 or 4 lemons
1 large spring mint
Optional extra ingredients:
Tomato, cucumber, olives
Knowing what to do with lamb can be a problem – there are so many cuts and it always seems like a lot of trouble. This recipe is designed to demonstrate that cooking with lamb can be quick and easy. Lamb is particularly suited to the grill, the integral fat is burnt or drained off and produces smoke and flames for a char-grilled flavour. But firing up a barbecue takes time – so here I simply pan fry the meat allowing it to sear to inject a little char-flavour. The pilaf is a typically Mediterranean accompaniment with grilled meat – if you do not like dill use parsley instead.
Tips: To marinate or not? The marinade for this Greek style grill would be garlic, lemon and oil with seasoning and herbs. But I find the lemon can denature the meat, giving it a softer texture – one which is less satisfying to chew than non-marinated lamb. Using garlic in these small kebabs can overpower the delicate flavour of lamb. The flavour of herbs and the lemon is just as easy to add at the end of cooking. Finally, marinating meat inhibits browning when frying in a pan (due to the extra liquid absorbed in the meat). So this method does not use a marinade. However, it is best to season with salt five minutes before cooking – allowing time for the salt to dissolve and flavour the meat.
Wet meat juices and lemon. These liquids inhibit browning, and may even cause the meat to stew rather than brown. In a very hot pan they will also interact with the fat and cause splattering. To keep things easy I recommend patting off moisture from the meat and avoid adding lemon before cooking (see tip above).
Pilaf rice. There are many variations on this theme. Some go for plain fluffy rice with a crusty bottom, others fill-up with added ingredients. All fry the rice in fats before adding water. My method above is the way I have done my rice for years. It’s fail safe and quick and easy. ‘Easy cook’ rice ensure there will be individual grains and no stickiness. I don’t wash easy cook rice, however, rinse the rice if you like and try to remove as much moisture as possible before frying. Half an hour is just right for cooking rice like this. However, all rice benefits from standing after cooking for a while. A good trick is to put a tea towel around the lid while it is standing. Many recipes use butter instead of oil at the beginning and many say to add extra butter at the end.
Marjoram, thyme and mint are typical flavours of Greece, try to get these into the dish, it makes all the difference.