I’m lucky to be a stay at home mom, which means I often spend some time in the morning or afternoon prepping for dinner. I’m also a self-taught (internet taught??) cook who is still learning, so I frequently spend 1-2 hours making dinner, sometimes more. That sounds like a lot, but I try to make most meals large enough to have leftovers for another lunch or dinner. So when I come up with a meal that is healthy, filling, delicious and can be made in just 30 minutes, like this one, it gets added to our regular meal rotation!
Our family also makes procuring the most nourishing and sustainable foods a priority; to do that in a budget-friendly way often means buying a lot at a time! For example, we all know that buying organic and pasture raised meat is more expensive (since you’re paying the true cost of production that isn’t subsidized like the factory farmed stuff), but a large freezer can help you get a better price per pound by buying a half (side) or a quarter of an entire animal at once. (Go to Eat Wild to find a local producer near you) This week I added some lamb to our freezer. A lot of lamb. I’ve never actually cooked lamb before. The few times I’ve eaten lamb was at various Greek restaurants, so when I pulled the first white paper wrapped brick of meat out to thaw, I immediately thought of red and green olives, feta cheese, tzatziki sauce, herbs and olive oil. How to make that into a meal?
I’m not fond of having a million different side dishes since that just means more work for me, so I decided to make a hearty salad to go with the lamb chops that happened to be the first cut I chose. I like salads that can be eaten warm or chilled–that way I can serve it warm, fresh from being cooked and assembled without waiting for it to cool, and the chilled leftovers can be eaten straight from the tupperware, a lazy cook’s dream! For my salad base, I chose quinoa, a grain (grass, actually) with serious foodie cred due to its complete protein content that also happens to be gluten free for those who need it. This could also be made with your favorite pasta, or couscous as well. After looking up cooking time for my little chops and setting them out to warm to room temp, I was ready to get started. First, the salad:
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
1 c quinoa, rinsed
2 c water or broth, add a splash of dry white wine if you have it
1 T extra virgin olive oil
pinch sea salt
Cook quinoa, according to directions (takes about 20 minutes, most pastas just 10 mins) and set aside to cool. In large mixing bowl, add:
1 large cucumber, peeled (optional) and diced
a dozen grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2-2 c kalamata, green olives and cubed feta marinated in olive oil and herbs from your grocer’s deli
Add all of the cooked quinoa, and toss to combine.
Tzatziki Smothered Lamb Chops
While the quinoa is cooking, get out your blender or food processor and whip up a quick tzatziki sauce. This took me just a few minutes, used ingredients I normally have on hand, and I still have leftovers to use later in the week or dip raw veggies in for a snack.
1/2 large, or 1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
juice of a 1/4 lemon
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c plain greek yogurt
1 tsp fresh or dried dill
pinch sea salt, and a quick grind of fresh pepper
Toss everything into your blender or food processor and whirl away until combined. Dip a clean finger in and give it a taste. If it’s too strong for your liking, add a bit more plain yogurt and mix again. Place your finished sauce in the fridge to chill until you’re ready to use it.
Once your tzatziki sauce and the salad is ready, all that’s left is to cook your chops. Whole cuts of red meat such as chops and steaks should be room temp before cooking so they can heat through faster, making them more tender once done. Heat a heavy skillet (I love my cast iron!) on medium heat and add a T of olive oil or butter. The pan should be hot enough that a drop of water will sizzle, but add chops before oil starts to smoke. Cook on one side 3-4 minutes, flip once and cook another 3-4 mins. Remove from pan and let them rest for 5-10 minutes. This allows the meat to draw in some of the juices as it cools so resist the urge to cut into them right away. The residual heat will also finish cooking the interior of the cut without toughening it. Plate the lamb chops with a generous spoonful of tzatziki sauce on top, serve up the quinoa salad, pour yourself a glass of red (a smoky Cabernet or spicy Pinot Noir would be my perfect pairing), and enjoy your 30 minute meal!