Tue Mar 8, 2016
Man, time is moving fast. Relocating South has made winter a much shorter affair, and I feel like there should have been more suffering of cold and snow before the arrival of spring. But it's already happening, and with it I realized Easter is just a few weeks away. For me, Easter first and foremost means it's time to get my lamb on, which perfectly brings up these yogurt- and mint-marinated lamb skewers.
Whenever I'm making lamb in skewer form, I always go for the leg. It's really the only cut that has enough meat without gristly connective tissue or fat to form the ideal one-inch cubes needed for kebabs. Not having a lot fat also makes the leg of lamb a more mildly flavored cut, rendering it ripe for the introduction of new flavors by way of a marinade.
For this particular recipe, I went with a classic yogurt and mint combo. Both pair incredibly well with lamb, and I added in a few extra items that seem to do the same—lemon, garlic, and cilantro plus oil, paprika, salt, and pepper. I gave all of this a whirl in the blender until the garlic, cilantro, and mint were all super finely chopped and the the mixture was cohesive.
I married the lamb and marinade in a Ziploc bag, which I placed in the fridge and let rest for four hours. Usually it's pretty safe to let meat sit in a yogurt marinade overnight, but because of the acidity of the lemon juice in this one, I didn't want it to marinate too long as to avoid the lamb becoming mushy.
Since I was thinking of this as a springtime skewer, I wanted to add vegetable accompaniments that bring to mind the coming of longer and warmer days. I chose a duo of zucchini and red onion to fill this roll. Both can be tricky items to keep on a skewer, but if you chunk up the squash into 1-inch half circles, and stack the onions three layers high, both should stay pretty firmly in place.
The only problem with leg of lamb for skewers comes when its time for it to face a blazing hot fire. Due to its lack of intramuscular fat, which helps meats from cooking too fast, leg of lamb can grill up quick and have high possibility of overcooking, rendering it dry and flavorless. The best assurance against this ill fate is to use an instant read thermometer and pull the skewers off the grill once the center of the meat hits 130°F. During the rest before serving, the final temperature should then top out just about at the ideal 135°F for medium-rare.
The finished skewers hit a lot of right notes to help shift my mind out of winter and appropriately into spring. The lamb alone conjured up visions of the forthcoming Easter holiday, but its flavor is what did the real magic. The meat was embedded with notes of bright citrus and fresh herbs that were apt for the changing of the seasons. The veggies grilled up to be crisp-tender with little bits of sweet caramelization around the edges, which just furthered the overall freshness. These skewers are certainly a great segue into spring, which I'm adjusting to being much earlier here in North Carolina than I'm used to after so many years in New York.
Yogurt- and Mint-Marinated Lamb Skewers
- Prep Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 4 Hours
- Cook Time:
- 10 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 4 Hours 30 Minutes
- 6 servings
- For the Marinade and Lamb
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice plus 1 teaspoon zest from 2 lemons
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup tightly packed mint leaves
- 1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic (about 6 medium cloves)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- For the Skewers
- 1 large red onion, sliced into 1 1/2-inch squares about 3 layers each
- 1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
- Wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to use
- For the Marinade: Place yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, mint leaves, cilantro leaves, garlic, salt, paprika, and black pepper in the jar of a blender. Blend marinade until smooth. Place lamb cubes in a large resealable plastic bag. Pour marinade into bag and seal, removing as much air as possible. Place in refrigerator and marinate for at least 4 and up to 8 hours.
- For the Skewers: Thread lamb onto skewers, alternating with onion and zucchini.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill skewers until well browned on all sides and center of lamb registers 130°F on an instant-read thermometer, 4-5 minutes per side. Transfer skewers to platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.