For many years I worked in Lowell, Massachusetts where there was a thriving Greek community. Pat Chew, the woman who owned Classic Elite Yarns and for whom I worked for 16 years, was a great cook. Pat loved to eat and entertain more than anyone I knew. Frequently, she would throw some kind of party over the weekend at her beach house which she naturally overcooked for. I would get a call from her on Monday morning.... "Tell everyone not to eat. I'm bringing some leftover leg of lamb and salad. I'm stopping by Joseph's to pick up some fresh pita." You can't imagine how many times I heard the same speech. Pat would arrive, the pita bread still warm and we would all dig in. It was one of those perks of the job.
Fresh pita bread is an amazing thing. It is soft and pliable and oh, so delicious. I got so spoiled. If pita bread is more than a day old, it just isn't that great. Since I have moved to the western part of the state, I no longer have the opportunity to buy fresh pita. It sits on the grocery shelves for days and by the time I bring it home, it is like a piece of cardboard. It seems like every time I need pita for a recipe, it isn't available at my grocery store. Like the other day....
I was in need of pita for my newest recipe and it was not to be found. I dug out my Baking with Julia to see if the master had a recipe for it. And of course, Julia and Dorie did. I've been doing a lot of bread baking this winter and have conquered my fear of yeast. I was skeptical to say the least but I followed the instructions to the letter, doubting myself the entire way. After the proper rise, I split the dough in half, rolled it into 8 balls and then used my rolling pin to flatten it. My oven was pre-heated to 450 with a pizza stone in it. I spritzed the top of each pita with water, put two on the stone, shut the oven and crossed my fingers. Five minutes later I had the most amazing puffy little loaves of pita! Wow - it made my day! FYI - Smitten Kitchen has a homemade pita bread recipe here. Give it a try if you feel adventurous.
So now on to my next lamb recipe.... Lamb Koftas with Yogurt Sauce! A kofta is a small spiced meatball made from ground meat. You can use any ground meat (turkey, beef, chicken or even fish) but traditionally in the Middle East koftas are made from lamb. I first found this recipe in our local Greenfield Recorder via the Associated Press. It is quick and easy to make and you can prepare everything ahead of time, pulling together a meal in minutes. (That is assuming you don't have to make your own pita bread!) Lamb koftas are different take on traditional burgers making them fun for a barbeque where you want to introduce your friends to the flavor of lamb.
The yogurt sauce is so good you’ll just want to drink it or use it as a salad dressing. This recipe is the closest I have found to replicating the taste of a lamb gyro although it is much friendlier for the home cook. It is not necessary to grill the koftas - they taste just as good baked or broiled. This recipe serves 4. The koftas could also be shaped into mini-meatballs, baked, and served as a appetizer with the yogurt dipping sauce on the side. Feel free to vary the spices depending on your likes.
1 pound ground lamb
1 small onion, chopped
2 pieces bread - preferably crusty white bread torn into pieces (or 1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs)
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 cup mint
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon each cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 Tablespoon red curry paste (optional but a nice addition, find it in the Chinese food aisle)
1 large egg
4 large pita breads
2 tomatoes chopped into small dice
lettuce leaves, torn
For Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup (8 oz) yogurt - preferably Greek
1 small cucumber - peeled, seeded and finely diced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dried dill or fresh if available
1 minced garlic clove (for garlic lovers)
Place bread in food processor and pulse until it forms a fine crumb. (Alternately, use 1/2 cup bread crumbs.) Add onion, parsley, mint, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and pulse until mixed and finely chopped. Beat the egg in a separate large bowl. Add the ground lamb and the bread, onion and herb mixture to the egg and mix well with your hands.
Shape into oblong balls (resembling small sausages using about 2 Tablespoons/kofta) and place in refrigerator for 1/2 hour if you have time. (The chilling will help to keep the koftas together when grilling.)
Bake, broil or grill depending on your preferences.
Yogurt Sauce: Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and let sit to combine the flavors. Serve it chilled.
To assemble: Insert three koftas into a piece of pita bread. Top with chopped tomatoes and lettuce. Drizzle with the Yogurt Sauce.