Monday, February 7, 2011

Simple Grilled Lamb Chops and Chickpeas in Star Anise and Date Masala

      The great challenge of home cooking is finding ways to bring new life to everyday family favorites.  At our house, this is a true mission since every meal is a candidate for this blog. We are constantly on the lookout for ways of making meals that are new and different.   One of the easiest ways of doing this is changing up the sides that go with, for instance, grilled lamb chops.
      Lamb chops are a staple at our house.  We buy trimmed loin lamb chops for an amazingly good price at Costco .  The last time I looked at our butcher’s,  1 lb. of them were the same price as the entire 10 pack that I’d bought there !  We divvy them up, use our Seal a Meal, then freeze them and pull them out and defrost them in the fridge.  They do not seem worse for wear and they are very juicy with the distinctive rich flavor that makes lamb so deliciously different from any other meat.  I marinate them in Worcestershire sauce then grill them under the broiler for 6 minutes a side. Perfection!  But last fall I was reading the New York Times Sunday magazine when I discovered a great accompaniment that really makes the simply grilled lamb chop a whole other dinner.

Vikram Vij and his wife Meeru Dhalwala
There's always a line at Vij's because they don't take
      I’ve written about Vikram Vij and his eponymous restaurant in Vancouver BC in other posts.  It is truly a great place to enjoy what I’d call Indian-Canadian fusion cooking.  Vij’s serves Canadian short ribs and lamb chops—called lamb lollipops at the restaurant—in unmistakably Indian spiced recipes. The lollipops come in a rich fenugreek curry.  But the crux of the Times piece was the accompaniments. The battle cry: To allow home cooks to stick pretty much to their classic lamb chop recipe—in this case chops that are smeared with mashed garlic—and switch things up with the sides.  And the side that I want to tell you about is Vij’s take on Chickpeas. 
      If this isn’t the time of year for rich and robust flavors, when is?  These chickpeas are not all hard to make.    Even the ingredients are relatively easy to find—although black cardamom pods may be a challenge.  (I substituted green ones with no apparent side effects.)  It is amazing how much flavor this dish brings to the table.  And how it alters the character of the lamb chops. Suddenly, the dinner feels exotic, transporting.  And on one of these cold nights of this seemingly endless winter, I’m ready to leave town any way I can.  Here are the recipes:

Recipe for Chickpeas in Star Anise and Date Masala adapted from Vij’s Restaurant, Vancouver BC. in an article by Sam Sifton NY Times 11/07/2010
3 15-ounce cans chickpeas

2 black cardamom pods

1⁄3cup neutral cooking oil, like canola

1 medium-large Spanish onion, peeled and chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2½ tablespoons tomato paste

9 dried dates, pitted and chopped

4 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cayenne, or to taste

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

2 whole star anise, or 1⁄3 teaspoon ground.

1. Drain the chickpeas and set aside in a nonreactive bowl.
2. With a knife, lightly crack the cardamom pods. Peel the shell to release the seeds and collect them in a small bowl. Discard the shells. With a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle, crush the seeds (you can leave them whole if you don’t mind biting into them) and set aside.

3. In a medium pot set over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it begins to shimmer. Add the onions and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until they have softened and started to brown. Stir in the garlic and sauté for a minute or so, until it, too, has softened. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomato paste. Add the cardamom and all remaining ingredients and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes.
4. Add the chickpeas and ½ cup or more of water, enough to make them less than dry. Heat the mixture, stirring occasionally to incorporate the flavors, and keep warm until serving. Serves 6. Adapted from Vij’s Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Recipe for Simple Grilled Lamb Chops –Sam Sifton NYTimes 11.07.2010
6 to 8 loin lamb chops
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste.
1. Preheat cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Rub the lamb chops with the garlic and season aggressively with salt and pepper.  Using a grill pan, grill one side for 2 minutes to sear, then turn over the chops and place the pan in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the grill or oven and allow to sit 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.


  1. Hi from Albany, Western Australia.
    I'm a great fan of your blog and have cooked many of the recipes, including this one for dinner last night.
    The lamb chops and chickpeas were both so delicious, I thought it was about time I left a comment (my husband had the leftovers for lunch and said they were just as good).
    Many thanks and keep up the good work,

  2. How wonderful to hear from you! I knew I had Australian readers and I am very happy that you enjoy the blog. I know it's counter-seasonal for you and I love hearing that you can use some of these 'winter' recipes during your summer. I love Australia and hope to return one day soon. All best to yoy, Michele and to your husband as well.

  3. PS, Michele, I am pretty sure the Lamb Chops we buy at Costco are Australian lamb. They must be! They're that good!