Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another recipe for the sparrow, maybe

My connection with meat is still an uncomfortable one.

(I speak for myself. I hope the meat is well past discomfort or any sensation at all. This observation, I note, is not propelling my inner dispute about eating meat in a useful direction.)

The last time I prepared it was nearly a month ago now. I was still feeling brave after having conquered chicken, so this time I'd darted all the way over into red meat territory.


The more I cook, the more I realise how many of my default misgivings are related to human behaviour and past events, rather than to the food itself. But that's a story for another day.

Today, let's talk about these.

All good stories have more stories behind them, and so the chronicle of the Lamb Skewers of 2011 begins at the end of 2009, when I had my first encounter with plain Greek-style yoghurt. Prior to that, most of my yoghurt experience was restricted mainly to the thickened, sweetened, heavily flavoured substance that might contain some live culture; that's commercial yoghurt in Malaysia -- or what Indian restaurants serve as a beverage or the main ingredient for raita.

In December 2009, I hadn't reached my current state of no-refined-sugar zeal. I wanted fructose in my yoghurt, so help me! Yes, and stabilisers and thickeners and artificial colours too, thanks. This "plain yoghurt" business was so... so... unadorned. And I'd recklessly gone and bought a kilo of it.

So, stuck with a kilo minus the small bowl I had tentatively sampled, I set to finding ways to use it up.

Cakes were baked, following Orangette's classic recipe. A loaf to my pastors, cupcakes to my small group; I baked until I barely had to measure the ingredients anymore.

But still, the jar stood unfinished in my fridge. How could it be that one kilo of yoghurt contained so much?

Finally, one stormy December evening, I set my jaw and determined that this would be the last time I would take the jar off the shelf. This would be the day I would finish the unfriendliest yoghurt I had ever known. Vaguely following recipes I'd seen online, I threw in a few pinches of powdered spices, rolled large chunks of vegetables in it, and roasted them in a deep pan.

That was when I discovered that Greek yoghurt didn't hate me; it just took some... warming up.

Whether in a sweet or a savoury way.

Back to the more recent past, and the presence of raw lamb in my fridge.

And plain, Greek-style yoghurt -- which, by now, I've become accustomed to eating, having won a long battle with my tastebuds.

I didn't use an online recipe to make the yoghurt marinade this time. I couldn't; having just arrived back in the country, my spice cabinet was still bare and I had but two little packets that suggested harmony with the flavour I was picturing.

Cumin and turmeric powder. Added in gradual tentative shakes that grew more uncontrolled as my patience ran out, until the finished product was a deep ochre hue. Then a tiny squirt of honey; a few grains of sea salt. That's all.

The idea of skewering dawned slowly, and the need to pre-soak the skewers bought the lamb nearly a full day to soak in the tenderising embrace of the yoghurt. Remembering how well the zucchini of '09 had yielded to the yoghurt's advances, I'd also chopped one* up and throw it in with the lamb. The red onion slices I credit to a blogger whose page I now cannot locate. If you're going to try this one, don't neglect the red onion slices (lightly oiled just before skewering). They are sweet, and after all that time in the heat they only bite enough to remind you that pink isn't only for sissies.

That first evening, I slid everything off the skewers onto some leftover tomato-and-capsicum rice. The following day, for lunch, it was nestled in a spelt-flour wrap with fresh vegetables.

A couple of meals later, it was on the skewers with tomato-and-capsicum rice again, and then...

Well, what do you expect? I live alone and most of my meals are cooked for one. It takes a while to get through a whole batch of anything.

But I know I've discovered a winning recipe because this time, the lamb ran out before my appetite for it did.

*What do you call one zucchini? Surely not a zucchinus... right? Please say it's not so.

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