It's 9:44 PM on Thursday. I'm sitting on the couch with a blanket tossed over my lap. The dryer is clinking in the background, and the apartment is still warm from the heat of the day. I threw open the windows this morning and let the sun stream in. Upstairs, the bedroom is cool and dark and quiet, and my bed awaits: I'll pull back the crisp white cotton sheets and slide in.
I'm editing final magazine proofs for work: pages are strewn about the couch. I have a blue Crayola marker in hand and a glass of wine nearby. I'm listening to Josh Ritter; I'm trying to focus on the nitty-gritty details of flatbread recipes and flour measurements but I can't help but let my mind drift to his words -- I cannot recall when I've felt like this / It's been a long, old time if I ever did / I've got your light in my eyes / Every heart on earth is dark half the time
The wine is working; I can feel it exert a slow, syrupy pull on me. I silently congratulate myself for already doing the dishes from dinner, and I brush a few cookie crumbs from the couch. I hate going to bed without the apartment nice and tidy. There's something deeply satisfying about waking up to a perfectly neat house -- it reinforces that clean, fresh morning feeling as the day stretches out before you, untouched and full of potential.
Tonight for dinner I made a recipe (spiced lamb over cauliflower tabbouleh) that I discovered months ago, and have been riffing on since. It's an easy template to master and riff on as you see fit (shift the vegetables to fit the season, change the spices to suit your needs, and so on). Personally, I love Middle Eastern flavors, and ground lamb is an excellent canvas for flavors like tahini and sumac and cumin.
Oddly enough, it wasn't until after college that I figured out how much I like lamb. We ate it now and again growing up, but when I started cooking for myself, I never considered buying it. My fiancé, when we were first dating and eager to impress each other, made me lamb burgers stuffed with smoked mozzarella and I remember thinking DAMN this is good (and also: is it weird if I eat two of these in front of this boy I like and: why don't more boys cook and: why do I have to go to work and wear a pencil skirt and heels tomorrow and pretend I understand what an Excel macro is).
You can use any ground meat you want here, but lamb is really perfect for the spices. I vary the ratio of vegetables-to-meat, and as summer comes, it's nice to go heavier on the vegetables. If you want something a bit more substantial, swap out the cauliflower for rice or another grain (farro or barley or bulgur wheat would be excellent). You could also serve some warm pita on the side to round out the meal.
Note: Baharat is a spice blend made with cumin, cardamom, paprika, black pepper, coriander, cloves, and so on. It varies slightly depending on where you buy it. Hawaij is made of cumin, coriander, turmeric, and black pepper. If you can't find the blends anywhere, approximate it at home by blending together those spices. I'll post a recipe soon for each!
Spiced Lamb with Cauliflower Tabbouleh
For the lamb + tabbouleh
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 head cauliflower, cored and chopped finely
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons baharat or hawaij spice blend
4 small Persian cucumbers
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 bunch fresh cilantro, for garnishing
flaky sea salt, for garnishing
For the dressing
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons lemon juice
salt to taste
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add the chopped cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown (about 8 minutes).
Season with salt and pepper and add a drizzle of olive oil to the cooked cauliflower.
Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl. Don't wipe out the pan.
Dice the cucumbers and tomatoes and add them, along with the lemon juice, lemon zest, and chopped parsley, to the cooked cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Set aside.
In the same skillet, heat a little more olive oil. Add the ground lamb and spice blend of your choice. Season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium-high heat until the lamb browns, breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks.
To make the dressing: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. It should be pourable; if it's too thick, add more warm water.
Divide the cauliflower mixture between two bowls, and divide the lamb on top of both bowls. Top with a liberal drizzle of the tahini dressing. Garnish with flaky sea salt and a handful of fresh cilantro.