The unexpected rewards of culinary boredom: Moroccan Lamb Chops with Chickpeas

by Terry B on February 22, 2012

A Moroccan spice rub with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and other spices is used to flavor both pan grilled lamb chops and a side of chickpeas with golden raisins. Recipes below.

Boredom is underrated. To me, it’s often a critical part of the creative process. When I’m cooking for Blue Kitchen posts, I’m always actively looking for new ingredients, techniques and ideas—or at least new to me. But when I’m just cooking to get something on the table for a weeknight dinner, I can fall into a rut, cooking reliable favorites over and over.

Such was the case when I grabbed a couple of lamb shoulder chops at the supermarket recently. These flavorful, cheap cuts of lamb see lots of action at our house. I was planning the next night’s dinner and went through the current kitchen inventory in my head. We had potatoes and lettuce at home, so the lamb was all I needed. I would pan grill the chops after tenderizing them with kosher salt, the way I almost always do. And I would serve them with garlicky mashed potatoes and a salad. The way I almost always do. But then boredom kicked in.

Lamb is an ideal meat choice when culinary ennui sparks your creativity. It is cooked pretty much around the world, from Europe to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and both Americas. I ended up choosing to create a Moroccan-inspired spice rub for the chops (and for the side dish of chickpeas and golden raisins) partly because the lively combination of flavors appealed to me and partly because, this still being viewed simply as a weeknight dinner, it involved ingredients we had on hand and would come together fairly quickly.

Traditional North African cooking is very much influenced by the region’s position smack dab in the middle of the ancient spice trade routes. Most recipes call for a mix of many spices, with the emphasis more on big flavor than on heat. And there is almost always a balance of sweet and savory, the sweet side of the equation often including dried fruits. In this meal, it’s the golden raisins in the chickpeas.

Before the lamb chops even hit the hot pan, the fragrant spice rub told me this might be more than just a weeknight meal. The first bite confirmed it. Less than a week later, and with only a few tweaks, I was cooking this meal again to post here. Score one for boredom.

Moroccan Lamb Chops with Chickpeas
Serves 2

For Spice Rub:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds (you can substitute ground spices for the whole seeds of these three ingredients—see Kitchen Notes)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For Lamb Chops:
2 lamb shoulder chops (see Kitchen Notes)
spice rub
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

For Chickpeas:
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons spice rub
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup golden raisins (see Kitchen Notes)
freshly ground black pepper
salt

Make the spice rub. If you’re using seeds for the cumin, coriander and cardamom, place the seeds in a cold, dry nonstick skillet. Heat over low flame and toast seeds until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Shake the pan frequently to keep from burning. Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool. When seeds are completely cool, grind with a mortar and pestle—or in a spice grinder. Mix ground seeds with remaining spice rub ingredients. Stir to combine. You’ll have a little over 3 teaspoons.

Make the chops. About 1/2 hour before you’re ready to cook them, pat chops dry with paper towels. Season generously on both sides with spice mix, rubbing it into the meat (make sure to reserve 1-1/2 teaspoons of rub for the chickpeas—you may not end up using all the spice rub). Set aside to let come to room temperature. Start cooking the chickpeas first. As the onions begin to soften, heat a grill pan or skillet over medium-high flame. Season the chops with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brush the grill pan with olive oil and cook the chops for about 6 to 7 minutes, turning once. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil if chickpeas aren’t ready.

Make the chickpeas. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Sweat the onion in the pan, stirring frequently, until just softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and spice rub and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add chicken broth and tomato paste, whisking to combine. Add chickpeas and raisins and season generously with black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, until flavors combine and everything is heated through. Adjust seasoning with salt.

Plate chops and spoon chickpeas alongside, using a slotted spoon. You’ll probably not need all of the chickpeas. That’s fine—they’re delicious reheated as part of a lunch.

Kitchen Notes

Seeds or ground spices? As you’ve no doubt noticed, we use ground cumin a lot here. We practically buy it in bulk, in fact. But if you have whole cumin, coriander and cardamom seeds to toast and grind, they’re really wonderful. In making this spice mix, I first combined the various ground spices in a bowl. They gave off a slight fragrance that was nice. When I started grinding the toasted seed mix with the mortar and pestle, however, the whole kitchen filled with their aroma.

Which lamb chops? Lamb shoulder chops (or lamb shoulder arm or blade chops, as they’re also called) are inexpensive, meaty cuts that work well with this recipe. More expensive lamb loin chops or lamb rib chops would be delicious as well and perhaps more tender. They’re also smaller, so I would suggest two per serving. And since they’re often thicker than shoulder chops, you may wish to cook them a minute longer.

Raisins, golden or otherwise. I like the way golden raisins look in this dish, and you can find them at Trader Joe’s and many supermarkets. But regular raisins will work just as well.

More Moroccan. If you’re hungry for more meaty Moroccan dishes, you might like these recipes for Moroccan Braised Beef, Grilled Moroccan Flank Steak and Moroccan Leg of Lamb.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) February 22, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I agree wholeheartedly about boredom being the inspiration for new dishes. I love Moroccan spice combinations, especially the warmth of cinnamon used in savory recipes.

Cynthia Fox-Giddens February 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm

This sounds delicious and the spices surely added lots of flavor. I love chickpeas and raisins too. Yummy post :-)

kitchenriffs February 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I know too well how easy it is to get in a rut in one’s cooking! Lovely recipe. I lived in Morocco years (ago, decades) ago, and really grew to love the food. I particularly enjoy way cinnamon combines with meat (and it works its magic with non-Moroccan dishes, too; try it sometime in a beef pot pie for example). And lamb steaks have all the flavor of the more expensive cuts, but (as you point out) a bit less tenderness and a much lower cost. Truly nice recipe – thanks.

City Share February 22, 2012 at 9:10 pm

We definitely have gotten in a rut. This is some great inspiration. We have always loved Moroccan flavors. I have been avoiding grains, so I love it with chickpeas.

Terry B February 22, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Lydia, it’s funny—cinnamon does little for me in sweets, but in savory dishes, it really can be interesting. And warm is a great way to describe it.

Thanks, Cynthia! The chickpeas and raisins can also be cooked on their own as a side. And they can even be made vegetarian by substituting water (and a little more salt) for the chicken broth.

Wow, Kitchenriffs, Morocco? You must have lots of great recipes and stories from there.

Thanks, City Share. Hope you try it and like it. Chickpeas really are a great alternative to various grains, aren’t they?

blakeArt February 23, 2012 at 1:47 am

Lamb lamb lamb… love it..! Ever since I got back from NYC and my Casseroleaux @ Lucien ( thanks again for the suggestion ) I’ve been on a Lamb kick… reading your informative yet very hilarious posts are great fun. Can’t wait to give this a go.

By the way, I found an AWESOME neighborhood grocer I walked by a thousand times. I finally poked my head in the Morse Grocery right by the Red Line stop of the same name – what an unbelievable place. Great prices, atmosphere ( cramped and very Manhattanish ) and the people are so helpful and nice. That’s where I bought my lamb ribs – any tips on cutting out the fat? How do you deal with that?

Terry B February 23, 2012 at 2:12 am

Glad you liked Lucien, blakeArt—it’s one of our very favorites in NYC. Regarding lamb ribs, I did a recipe here for roasted lamb ribs that starts with simmering them. That’s a common practice; it helps tenderize them. And roasting them should cook away some of the fat. Good luck!

angela@spinachtiger February 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Love love love that spice rub. I do something similar. It looks like perfection for lamb.

altadenahiker February 26, 2012 at 1:12 am

I kind of like boredom, especially in the company of your Moroccan lamb.

Terry B February 26, 2012 at 3:56 am

Thanks, Angela!

Altadenahiker, I can rarely tell whether you’re being totally serious or not, but I sometimes think I have a fairly high threshold for boredom. Don’t know if you remember David Lynch’s film, The Straight Story. It was based on the true story of a 73-year-old man who rides a power mower from Iowa to Wisconsin to see his estranged, ailing brother. A powerful movie, but I felt it jumped from adventure to adventure too much and needed more long scenes of him just riding the lawnmower to capture the experience better. On the other hand, I’m reminded of a comic railing about televised fishing, saying, “Why don’t they just show some guy mowing his lawn!?!”

Marion February 27, 2012 at 1:01 am

As just one example of Terry’s tolerance for a certain amount of boredom, he is very generous about my occasional shopping frenzies. He will find the one man chair in the entire store and calmly wait while I try on 95,000 tops or LBDs, without a sign of exasperation, and when it is all over and I thank him for being so nice about it, because he really is, he says, “It really is OK, sweetie.”

Matthew February 27, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Hello,

Before I even read the recipe, the very first thing that caught my eye was that picture of that chop. Plain, perhaps, but it brings out something primal.

My mouth is watering as I write this and the funny thing is, my first experience with lamb was not so hot as it was prepared in a stew and had bits of fat hanging off the meat and tasted a wee too gamey.

However, after giving it a second chance in Becco on Restaurant Row in New York city this past fall I have acquired the taste for it.

My compliment to you is that even the rack of lamb I had in that great restaurant does not seem as good as this homemade dish.

I love cumin flavor especially and it really must compliment that dish!
Thanks for posting this recipe! I’m going to give it a shot.
Regards,
Matthew

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