A few years ago we spent a lot of time in Turkey. Not running around doing the tourist trail — we’d done that years before — but settling in for a couple of months. We spent four weeks at our friends’ lovely holiday house in Kaş on the Mediterranean coast, and we stayed in a restored Ottoman-era house in the old town of Antalya for five weeks.
We were writing a guidebook and working on some stories and it was late winter going into early spring so we were spending a lot of time at ‘home’, or rather, making ourselves at home. We do this every now and again (when we’re not on yearlong grand tours, that is) and those periods are always great for me to try cooking local dishes and to find ways to take inspiration from local recipes and tailor them to our own tastes.
We’ve been eating out a lot here in Istanbul (how can we not, living where we are?), however, it’s impossible for me to not also draw inspiration from our previous experiences in Turkey when it comes to thinking about what I’m going to make for The Dish (our series on dishes from each destination we visit).
The Turkish love their meaty main courses and one item that’s always on the menu is some form of lamb chop. Our local butchers in both Kaş and Antalya had become our favourite butchers because of their quality lamb chops and the tasty little scoops of spice mix that they would give me in a plastic bag to marinate the chops in.
When eating out in Turkey you generally share the chops, along with kebabs and other grilled meats, as a main course, however, I wanted to make a lamb chop dish that stood on it’s own. The meat needed a supporting cast of vegetables and some kind of grain for carbohydrates. Enter burghul, or bulgur.
In the Middle East this form of wheat grain, which can come in different size grinds, is mainly seen in tabbouleh salad and kibbeh. In Turkey, it’s used for salads, as well as a filling base for some soups. I enjoy using it like couscous — as a rather anodyne grain that can be enhanced to compliment the main flavour of a dish, by adding, say, preserved lemon to the couscous to have it with fish for instance. In this case, I use stock to flavour the bulgur and add a little of the spice mix (below) give it a little kick.
When looking for vegetables to go with this dish, Turkey’s wonderful eggplants and bell peppers are the best compliment. I just love these grilled over an open fire, but in this apartment, which has the tiniest kitchen we’ve had this year, the stove top would have to do!
The spice mix I used for the version I made here in Istanbul actually came from a wonderful spice shop at the Egyptian market called Ucuzucar (details in our Istanbul Markets post here), where they make up their own spice mixes, but here’s a mix that I often use myself:
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of red chilli flakes (pul biber — as it’s called in Turkey)
I like toasting the spice mix in a frypan a little as it brings out the flavour more. I then mix the spices with olive oil and marinate the chops in the oil and spice mix overnight.
Turkish butchers like to flatten their chops to promote even cooking times. When they do, I find that they cook very quickly both on a grill or in a pan, and all that’s usually needed is just a couple of minutes a side then rest them in a warm place for a couple of minutes.
If you want to really jazz up the dish for a dinner party, you could use a rack of lamb, with each guest getting the equivalent of three decent chops. I actually prefer using racks instead of chops because you can control the cooking time better by using a thermometer to check cooking temperatures and get more of the actual lamb flavour, but Lara likes her chops and the flavour of the spice that comes through with each chop.
Note that if you have guests who don’t eat red meat, you can do this dish with a firm fish such as monkfish — but don’t forget to substitute vegetable stock for the beef stock to make the bulgur!
I really love this spicy Turkish lamb chops with bulgur recipe. The balance of meat, veg and carbohydrates is great, but I also love the fact that you can dress it up for a dinner party or dress it down for a casual BBQ.
One more thing: if you want to make my Istanbul Weekend Eggs recipe (coming up next), prep a double batch of eggplants and bell peppers, as you’ll need them!
- Spice mix:
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon of red chilli flakes pul biber — as it’s called in Turkey
- Other ingredients:
- 3 –4 lamb chops per person or equivalent racks of lamb see above
- 4 bell peppers
- 2 large eggplants
- 2 cups bulgur — medium grain
- 2 cups of stock light beef stock preferred
- 1 tablespoon butter to finish the bulgur
- 1 small container of yoghurt
- 1 bunch of parsley
- Olive oil for marinating the lamb
- Toast the spice mix.
- Mix the spice mix with olive oil; just enough to wet the mix through.
- Spread the mix over the lamb chops and marinate for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
- Slice the eggplants into rounds as thick as your finger. Place on a plate and sprinkle with rock salt. After half an hour, pat with a kitchen towel, turn the eggplant slices over, and repeat on the other side.*
- Cooking the bulgur depends on the grain size, so follow the instructions on the packet. Sometimes there are two methods — either pouring the boiling stock or water over the bulgur, or adding the (cold) stock or water to the bulgur and cooking for 10–20 minutes. Either method works fine.
- Remove the tops off the peppers and slice into quarters. Grill over a high flame.
- Remove the marinated chops from the fridge and bring up to room temperature before grilling.
- Dry off the eggplant slices and grill on both sides. You can now keep the peppers and eggplant warm on an oven tray until ready to serve.
- Heat your pan or BBQ and grill or barbecue the chops over a high heat. Single chops will probably only need a couple of minutes in a moderate oven to finish, while the rack might need about 15 minutes before resting time.
- While the lamb is resting, finish the bulgur by mixing in the butter. Add a little spice mix to the bulgur as well, but go easy as the chops are the main event.
- Spoon some bulgur on each (warmed) plate. Top with the vegetables and the chops. Add a scoop of yoghurt and some sprigs of parsley. The yoghurt is great for a bit of relief from the spiciness of the chops and the parsley gives another dimension to the flavour of the dish.