Who knew heaven was Lebanese?
About ten years ago I was taken by a friend to Green Valley, a Lebanese supermarket just off Edgware Road, and I thought I'd died and woken up in a better place. It is a truly extraordinary shop - huge and packed to the gills with the most exquisite collection of food I'd seen in a long time. Seriously gives Harrods a run for its money, and in my opinion is better because this shop is used by thousands of people to do their weekly shop rather than mostly gawping tourists who will buy something in a jar, mostly for the attached label. I have returned a thousand times though that web of streets Marble Arch is not really on my way to or from anywhere that I go frequently. Or even rarely.
The huge plate glass window at the front display pastries in great circular mountains, glistening palely, tempting me in. It was from here that the man first tried baklava - a new delight to add to his list of fine things. At the front of the shop there are serried ranks of vegetables, common things like fresh tomatoes through to more exotic fare like fresh dates and okra as well as enormous bunches of dill, coriander and parsley. It smells good. They sell seemingly every herb and spice known and have barrels of olives of various flavours and hues next to sacks of dried pulses if your need is greater than the packaged varieties on nearby shelves. Keep going and you will find a bakery making flat breads and a food counter selling dozens of different kinds of prepared food, salads and little sausages and mini pide. They have huge swords of meat - one lamb, one chicken, rotating slowly that makes probably the nicest kebabs in London. Rich, juicy and garlicky they are certainly the best I've eaten. They have a full butchers counter, a dizzying array of dairy, great varieties of halloumi and yoghurt, handmade falafel fresh or frozen, tahini in jars large and small.
When I go in I shop! It invariably takes a while, even if I know what I want I still must check every aisle, every package, every possibility. Though I know the things I will definitely buy - halloumi, green lentils, falafel that cooks from frozen, a tray of baklava, shiny fat kalomata, a pack or two of flat bread, tahini if I'm running low there are also new treats every time. Spices I've not seen before, fresh pine nuts, a twisted sheeps cheese and most recently a tube of harissa paste.
I've eaten harissa when out and have seen many references to it on food blogs and other places, but I'd never actually used it myself. Not sure why - certainly a big of fan of chilli hot, and serious spicing across many cuisines, but somehow it just hadn't come up. Owning a tube obviously meant I had to try it. Pierced the top to find a thick terracotta paste, smelt lovely, tiny taste was hot and good. Given that I'd bought it at Green Valley I decided to pair it with lamb on its first outing as they are brilliant at all things sheep. With autumn definitely in the air lately slow cooking a shoulder was hugely tempting. I mixed the harissa with lots of other spices and some herbs from the garden, lightened it with a little olive oil and lemon and left it to marinate for the day.
Spiced Roast Lamb
The paste cooks down to a sort of brick coloured crust full of intense flavour, good both hot and cold
1/2 shoulder of lamb
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbspn fresh dill, roughly chopped
1 tbspn flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 tbspn hot smoked paprika
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn ground coriander
1 tbspn harissa paste
1/2 tspn ground ginger
Large pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn crushed black pepper
1/2 tbspn salt
3 tbspns olive oil
2tbspns lemon juice
Put all the ingredients from the chopped onion down to the salt into the bowl of a stick blender and blend till you have a rough paste. Add the oil and lemon, stir it in to loosen, then blend again to be fairly smooth.
Piece the flesh of the lamb all over with a sharp knife. Put it into the pan in which you intend to roast it. Rub half the marinade on the underside of the meat (not the skin side) and turn the meat over to be skin side up. Rub the remaining marinade into the skin. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but overnight would be better.
Heat the oven to Gas 4/350F/175C. Take the plastic off the tray and cook the meat for about 90 minutes, basting occasionally. If the top appears to be starting to catch cover with a sheet of foil to finish cooking.
Initially I planned to make aubergine and yoghurt and hummus to go with this, but the man pleaded for roast potatoes, so we had them instead with sweet potato roasted till caremalised, I put parsnips in with the meat and they came out 'curried' and just gorgeous.