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Eric Akis: Local lamb with Mediterranean flair

Marinated, grilled lamb chops with silky hummus and cherry tomato cucumber salad make for a fine Mediterranean-style meal.
Marinated, grilled lamb chops with silky hummus and cherry tomato cucumber salad make for a fine Mediterranean-style meal. ERIC AKIS

If you’re in the mood for a Mediterranean-style dinner, and you enjoy lamb, you’re in luck today because I’ve cooked up one for you to try.

The lamb is Vancouver Island lamb chops, which you’ll find for sale at butcher shops and some smaller food stores well stocked with local foods.

To prepare the chops, I marinated them in a seasoned olive oil/lemon mixture, and then grilled them. If you don’t have a grill, you could also sear the lamb chops in a skillet.

I richly served the lamb on a bed of warm hummus, which could be store-bought or homemade, the latter being what I used. I called my recipe for it silky hummus because that’s what its texture is like once made.

The way to achieve that desired texture is to simmer presoaked dried chickpeas in simmering water with a little baking soda until very tender, and then blend them while still warm with the hummus’s other ingredients. The small amount of baking soda added to the cooking water helps the chickpeas become very soft when cooked, which in turn makes the hummus ultra smooth and silky when blended.

Rather than soak the dried chickpeas in cold water many hours or overnight to reconstitute them before cooking, I used what’s known as the quick-soak method. That’s done by setting the chickpeas in a pot, covering them with cold water, bringing them to a boil, remove them from the heat and letting them soak in the hot water one hour, until about doubled in size.

For a hearty meal, beyond the hummus and the salad, you could also serve the lamb chops with some boiled nugget or ­miniature potatoes, pita bread and/or ­tzatziki.

The recipes for the lamb and salad serve two, but could be doubled or further expanded if feeding a larger group. The hummus recipe make about 1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cups, depending on how thick you like it. That’s enough hummus for two servings of the lamb and some leftovers, or, if you doubled the lamb recipe, enough for four servings of the lamb.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Hummus and Cherry Tomato Cucumber Salad

Lamb chops, marinated, grilled and then served on warm hummus, accompanied with a simple, colourful, summer cherry tomato and cucumber salad.

Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: Six to eight minutes

Makes: Two servings

4 (about 1-inch thick, 4 ounce/113 gram) lamb chops

2 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for drizzling

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp dried oregano

• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• salt, to taste

2/3 cup or so warm homemade (see recipe below) or store-bought hummus (divided; see Note)

• cherry tomato cucumber salad (see recipe below)

• lemon slices and mint or parsley sprigs, for garnish

Combine 2 Tbsp olive oil, zest, juice, paprika, oregano and black pepper in a shallow sided dish large enough to hold the lamb chops. Add the chops and turn to coat. Refrigerate lamb and let marinate at least two hours, turning occasionally, or until ready to cook.

When ready to cook lamb, take out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes. Now preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high (see Eric’s options). Season the lamb with salt. Grill lamb three to four minutes per side, or until cooked medium rare to medium. (If you prefer the lamb cooked more than that, simply grill it a bit longer.)

While lamb cooks, set a 1/3 cup or so of hummus on one side of each of two dinner plates. Now spread out the hummus on each plate into a 1/2-inch thick, six- or seven-inch long oval shape. Drizzle hummus with a little olive oil.

When cooked, set two lamb chops on the hummus on each plate. Set some of cherry tomato cucumber salad beside the lamb on each plate, garnish with lemon slices and mint (or parsley) sprigs, and serve.

Note: You can warm the hummus by zapping it in a bowl in the microwave 30 seconds or so.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a grill, cook the lamb in a skillet set over medium-high heat, searing the chops about three to four minutes per side, or until cooked medium rare to medium. If you prefer the lamb cooked more than that, simply sear it a bit longer.

Silky Hummus

Hummus made with dried, quick-soaked, simmered chickpeas, blended until silky smooth with other ingredients, such as lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, cumin and garlic.

Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus soaking time

Cooking time: About 40 to 45 minutes

Makes: About 1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cups

1/2 cup dried chickpeas (see Note)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup tahini (see Note)

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste

1 large garlic clove, sliced

1 tsp ground cumin

• pinch ground cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil

Place chickpeas in a small pot and cover with four cups cold water. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove chickpeas from the heat and let soak in the hot water one hour.

Drain the chickpeas through a sieve, and then place in a tall, not overly wide pot. Pour in six cups of cold water and mix in the baking soda. Bring chickpeas to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the temperature until the water is very gently simmering (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Simmer chickpeas until very tender, about 40 to 45 minutes, or a little longer, if needed be.

Drain cooked chickpeas and reserve 1/3 cup of their cooking liquid. Place the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, cayenne, salt and olive oil in a food processor. Add the hot chickpeas and pulse and puree ingredients for two to three minutes, or until very smooth and silky. If you find the texture of the hummus to be just fine, simply discard the cooking liquid you reserved. If you find the hummus too thick, add some of the reserved cooking liquid and thin until you get the desired texture.

You could serve the hummus warm, or transfer to a container, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will keep a few days in the refrigerator.

Note: Dried chickpeas are sold in the bulk foods section of many supermarkets and health food stores, and at stores that specialize in bulk foods. Tahini is a sesame paste sold in jars at most supermarkets and Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food stores. Make sure it’s blended well before measuring it for this recipe.

Cherry Tomato Cucumber Salad

Ripe summer cherry tomatoes and crisp cucumber combine in this simple salad accented with such things as capers and balsamic vinegar.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Two servings

8 large cherry tomatoes, each halved

10 (1/2-inch thick) slices English cucumber, halved

2 Tbsp finely diced red onion or shallot

1 Tbsp capers

12 medium fresh mint leaves or small sprigs of Italian (flat leaf) parsley

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate salad until ready to serve. It can be made an hour or so before serving.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.