Mediterranean lamb dish showcases seasonal flavors and a mix of local and exotic ingredients

Intro by Pam George  |  Photographs by Scott Nathan
From the May 2018 issue

May-2018-RecipeBy May, chefs and foodies are celebrating the return of local vegetables, particularly asparagus, peas and tender lettuces. When it comes to meat, lamb is historically linked with the season. In Greece, for instance, lamb is the main attraction of the Easter feast. It’s also the star of the country’s cuisine.

The spring bounty delights Gary Papp, who with wife Lorraine owns Palate Bistro & Catering. “I embrace what my local growers are bringing to me,” he says.

Lately, he’s been experimenting with Middle Eastern spices and vegetarian dishes. Lamb meatballs with lemon-sumac yogurt — a Greek-inspired dish using fresh products — is a prime example.

At work or home, it helps to have two chefs in the kitchen. Lorraine is a celebrated pastry chef. The couple met when she hired Gary to be the sous chef at a restaurant in Bucks County, Pa. A friendship turned into a romance, and they catered their own wedding in 1990.

In 1994, friend John Donato and his partner, Twain Gonzales, were getting ready to open The Buttery and hired the Papps. The couple moved to the beach and both worked at the restaurant. In 2008, they left to open Essential Chef, which offered catering and consulting services. Gary also taught culinary classes. In 2016, they opened Palate in a Route 1 shopping center between Lewes and Rehoboth.

This recipe demonstrates that the Papps don’t skip steps. Home chefs can make all the components or just a few. You’ll find sumac, a spice common in Middle Eastern cuisine, at Jerusalem International Grocery in the Tenley Court shopping center on Route 1 near Midway. Pea shoots are often available in Asian markets, or you can substitute baby spinach.

(serves 4-6

For the lamb meatballs:
1   pound of freshly ground lamb3   scallions, sliced thin
1   egg
1   tablespoon of fresh mint, chopped
1   tablespoon of fresh cilantro, chopped
2   cloves of garlic, minced
1   teaspoon of ground cumin
1   teaspoon of kosher salt
½  teaspoon of ground black pepper
½ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well, roll into meatballs and arrange them on a lightly greased sheet tray. Bake for about 30 minutes until they’re cooked through.

For the Greek yogurt sauce:
2⁄3   cup of plain Greek yogurt
½   cup of sour cream
1   tablespoon of lemon juice
1   teaspoon of lemon zest
1   small garlic clove, minced
1½   tablespoons of olive oil
1   tablespoon of sumac
½   teaspoon of kosher salt
¼   teaspoon of ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and chill.

For the spring vegetables:
1   bunch of asparagus, blanched
1   cup of sugar snap or snow peas, sliced
½   cup of diced cucumber
½   cup of grape tomatoes sliced in half
2   radishes, sliced thin
½  cup of sweet bell peppers, sliced
¼   cup of Vidalia or sweet onion, julienned
¼   cup of mixed chopped herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, mint or cilantro)
Good olive oil
1   teaspoon of sherry vinegar

Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle with good quality olive oil to taste and the sherry vinegar.

For the chickpea salad:
1   12-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice and zest of one lemon
1½   tablespoons of sherry vinegar
1   clove of garlic, minced
1   teaspoon of ground sumac
3   tablespoons of olive oil

Combine all ingredients. Serve on the plate mixed with the vegetables or apart.

For the pea shoot pesto:
3   cups of pea shoots
¼   cup of grated parmesan
¼ cup of pine nuts, toasted
Juice and zest of one lemon
1⁄4   cup of olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. You will have more pesto than you need for this dish. Toss the rest with pasta for another meal.

To serve:

Greek families would separate all the ingredients in bowls and serve the dishes family-style. Or, arrange the vegetable salad and chickpeas off-center on a large plate. Put a scoop of yogurt sauce opposite the salad, top it with the meatballs and finish with the pesto around the edges.