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
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)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
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
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.
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.