Saturday, March 17, 2007


I have a food bias. I scoff at foods that are presented as "just-as-good-as" substitutes for other foods. Margarine instead of butter, tofu instead of meat, soy milk instead of milk, "Rice Dream" instead of ice cream, and all those strange wheat-free pastas instead of good old semolina.

I do know that some of those foods (tofu! rice noodles! maybe even soy milk!) are delicious in their own right, and have identities independent of what they're supposed to be standing in for. But in my head, tofu's good reputation is tainted by the travesties that are Tofu Pups and Not Dogs. Soy milk has a bad reputation because, well, I don't even like milk that much, and if all I ever hear about a product is, "It tastes almost like real milk! You almost can't tell!," well, I'm not going to be beating a path to the fake-dairy section of the market to try it out.

But I know I'm wrong about some of those things. I know I'm missing out. I know I have a bias, and I'd like to get over it already. So the other day, having breakfast with a gluten-free friend (you know what I mean), I was happy to discover that her Special Gluten-Free-So-it-Won't-Kill-You, Tastes-Almost-Like-REAL-Cream-of-Wheat Rice Cereal was delicious! Just plain delicious! Not delicious-for-rice-cereal, just plain tasty. AND whole grain. Man. I felt like I had discovered a new continent or something (I believe I've already covered how easily excited I am).

So I spent the next few days thinking of all the things I could do with my new friend Rice Cereal. It had a clear place in the polenta and grits family, but I was so excited, I wanted to push it even farther. I remembered that as it cooled, it had become quite thick and (ironically) glutinous in consistency. That reminded me of arancini and omusubi and I figured I could give something like that a shot. "Lamb-Stuffed Rice Balls!" is what I thought, and then I thought, "Why does all this stuff sound so much better in other languages? Stupid English." So maybe I should call them something else. But first I had to make them.

Shall I spin out the long, sorry tale? Shall I go into all the reasons I thought this was a good idea, and all the reasons I was wrong? Throw in a little suspense? A few laughs? Too late. We're all busy people, and I bet you'll appreciate it if I cut to the part where I was laughing resignedly to my brother on the phone, prodding a cooling, pasty, greyish blob of stuff that was never going to be made into balls of any kind, stuffed or not. I had called him, as I often do, for advice, once the time for advice is long past and all he can do is talk me down from the ledge of Plan A, and encourage me towards a safe, sensible, ground-level Plan B. Thank goodness I can be a bit of a disaster in the kitchen, or I wouldn't end up laughing with my brother on the phone so often.

So the menu departed from the ambitious and misguided "Lamb-Stuffed Rice Balls and Greek Salad", veered alarmingly towards the meager "Bread, Cheese, and Greek Salad," and ended up at the respectable "Seasoned Lamb Patties with Brown Rice "Polenta" and Greek Salad". And what do you know, it was quite good. The only sign of the averted disaster was the tremendous pile of dirty dishes created as I careened from menu to menu. My main Eater and Dish Washer accepted his lot gracefully, and I counted myself lucky.

"But where do the Lambwiches come in? I was promised Lambwiches." I hear you say. Well, I had to set the stage. I had to illustrate how my vagaries and whims and, uh, research, all result in News You Can Use. I do all this so you don't have to! So here, edited down so as to be actually helpful, is a recipe for the delicious lunch we had the next day (you can skip all the above steps, and you're welcome):

Lambwiches (serves 4 or 5)

1 pound ground lamb
6 cloves garlic (less is fine, but will be less delicious)
half a bunch of parsley, big stems removed
one small red onion, quartered and peeled
2 eggs
salt and pepper

1 small red onion
half an english cucumber
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
a pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon dry oregano

mini (3 or 4 inches across) whole wheat pita bread—two or three per person

Make the patties: Put the garlic, parsley and quartered red onion in the food processor. Whiz until minced (wheeee!). Mix the minced vegetables, the egg and the meat together by hand. Make small patties and sear them in a frying pan, on a grill, or in the broiler. You can do this well ahead of time and reheat them in the microwave right before you make the sandwiches (ground lamb seems fatty enough to survive this kind of mistreatment).

Make the relish: Cut the cucumber and red onion into batons (more or less) and mix them with the vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, and oregano. Ideally, let them sit for half an hour or so, stirring occasionally. It's nice if the vegetables get a chance to soften and become a little pickley.

Warm the pitas in the toaster or under the broiler, cut a slice off of one edge (halving them makes them too small to stuff), and open them up. Spread a layer of hummus all around the inside of the pita, and tuck in a warm lamb patty. Fill the rest of the space with vegetable relish. Set out other things, like sauteed eggplant and some black olives, but no one will eat them because they'll be too focused on their messy and delicious Lambwiches.

My gluten-free friend won't be able to enjoy a lambwich, but I thank her (and my patient brother) for helping midwife them into existence. Call this my IOU for a home-cooked meal for both of them. How about some braised lamb shanks and root vegetables over rice "polenta"? It'll be good, I promise.


lauren said...


We have a recipe for these that does not include the word "arancini" nor any information about their cultural significance. We were in the process of making them -- with fontina and basil inside -- for Skip (who married us, you recall) when he showed up and promptly freaked out about them. Apparently they are quite important in his Italian family. He was really excited. And so was I, because they were So Good.

Also, both G. and I really like Morningstar's baby corn dogs. Hot dogs are so far removed from meat anyway, I feel, that it's barely any different when they are truly not meat.

And, lastly, I am still working on being able to eat the wittle lambies. I have had them from time to time and find them delicious, but also So! Fluffy! and Cute!

Another Anna said...

I know, Lauren! And have you seen baby chickens? And cows? And... fish? Okay, so maybe fish aren't cute in exactly the same way, but once you look into anything's eyes, it's hard to eat it. I usually opt for a judicious combination of denial, hypocrisy, and only buying meat from Whole Foods (mmmmmm, laaaaammbwiiiich).

Any chance of posting your Arancini recipe?