In Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, lambs have been sacrificed in connection with Christian, Jewish and Muslim customs as long as those customs have existed (which suggests that people were offering up lambs in the cradle of civilization long before). I remember driving in Morocco—where lamb is the most commonly consumed red meat—during the feast commemorating the sacrifice of Isaac (known in Morocco as Eid el-Kebir) and seeing in village after village lambs hung by their feet with their necks sliced and blood dripping, in the ritually prescribed manner. In France, as elsewhere in Europe, spring lamb is associated with Easter, where it is a traditional dish, but it is now available year-round, not only because of demand-driven breeding but because of the contrariwise seasons of New Zealand and Australia, the world’s largest exporters. Since spring lambs are slaughtered at three to five months, they don’t have the strong muttony flavor that sometimes puts off those unused to lamb. But the flavor, as well as the texture, can vary enormously. America produces lamb as good as can be found anywhere, though small local producers are the ones most likely to have taken the care to optimize the feed and hence the taste. Occasionally a fancy New York butcher has disappointed me, but the lamb man at the farmers’ market can’t afford to make mistakes.
8 ounces yogurt
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 pound lamb shoulder, deboned and cut in pieces
1 large eggplant, washed and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons minced shallots
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 tomatoes, diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Yield: 4 Servings
With a fork, beat together 4 ounces of the yogurt, juice of 1 lemon, and 1 tablespoon curry. Pour over the lamb, and let marinate 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator. Steam the eggplant for 4 minutes, and set aside. Warm the oil over medium heat, and lightly brown the shallots. Add the cinnamon stick, star anise and remaining curry, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the eggplant and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Turn the broiler on, and cook the lamb with its marinade for 10 minutes, turning the meat a couple of times. Combine the remaining yogurt and the juice of 1 lemon with the eggplant mixture, and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Add the cilantro. Serve the lamb (2 slices each) and eggplant.