Meat and vegetables

L for Lamb

Lost lamb, lamb to the slaughter, wolf in sheep’s clothing, black sheep of the family… references to lamb and sheep abound in our languages. 

Lamb is, most likely, the earliest meat that humans consumed. The oldest find of domesticated sheep’s bones was made in Iraq, dated from 9,000 B.C. Similar finds have been made later in Mesopotamia, Greece, and northeastern Africa.

Lamb is the most often sacrificed animal in religions. The bible and the khuran have many many stories about sacrifices being offered and made, for various gods. In china, the ‘Book of Songs’ from 600 B.C contains a description of the spring sacrifice of a lamb. Even today, lamb is associated with the observation of Easter in many regions. In Greece suckling lamb, roasted whole, is the traditional dish of Easter. Similarly sacrificing lamb is a ritual for many Islamic festivals.

Sheep had a major economic role in the society of the middle ages. Growing sheep was one of the most profitable activities… they provided milk, meat, as well as clothing from wool and sheepskin. 

Currently, Australia and New Zealand are the world’s leading producers and exporters of lamb and mutton.

Meat from sheep is referred to as lamb when the animals are up to a year old and mutton after that. 

Every part of the lamb is cooked and eaten in some part of the world or other. In addition to the usual meatballs, kababs and curries, there are some unusual items like the Scottish haggis made from sheep entrails (liver, lungs and heart) cooked inside a sheep’s stomach. And the whole head of sheep (and its cousin goat) is eaten in lots of regions. Read somewhere that lamb fries (not what you think) are popular in Kentucky.

Lamb is not a popular meat in the US. The early establishment of the beef industry could be one of the reasons for this. 

We are making a lamb meatball soup as today’s recipe. You can use veal or beef in this recipe with similar results.

Lamb Meatball Soup


  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole serrano or jalapeno chili, slit lengthwise without separating from the stalk
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together the ground lamb, cilantro, salt, pepper and egg, until well combined. Form them into balls of uniform size and set aside.
  • In a heavy saucepan, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Add the onions and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the onions are softened and the tomato paste is cooked into the onions, about 3 minutes. 
  • Add the celery, corn and carrots. Sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. 
  • Add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to a simmer. 
  • Add the lamb meatballs into the broth, taking care not to break them. Cover and let the meatballs settle and firm up for 5 minutes..
  • Add the bay leaf and the chili to the broth. Cover and cook in a steady simmer for 35 minutes.
  • When the meatballs are fully done, adjust the seasoning and ladle into bowls and serve hot.

S is for Smørrebrød

Smørrebrød is a Danish open sandwich made of dark rye bread as the base and a variety of toppings. Pronounced ‘shmur-broht’, smorrebrod is a signature item and an integral part of the Danish food culture. The word smørrebrød has its origin from the words ‘smor’ meaning butter and ‘brod’ meaning bread.

The idea of the open-faced sandwich is supposed to have come from the middle age custom of serving food on slabs of stale bread called ‘trenchers’. Someone smart must have realized that the juices from the toppings infused the bread and added flavor to it, and started using good bread as trenchers so that the trencher could be eaten too. And Smørrebrød was born!

Back in the 19th century, when most of Scandinavia was agricultural country, lunch was the main meal of the day. The farmers would pack cold meat and the bits and pieces of the previous day’s dinner to sustain them through the day and eat them piled up on pieces of hardy bread. Thus the open-faced sandwich became the popular meal of the region.

The easy way to plan for this, is to think about the main ingredient – usually a protein – first. Roast beef, smoked (cured) salmon, cooked shrimp, boiled eggs, crab or fish cakes, cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, pickled herrings… these are just a few among the possibilities. Now think about what vegetables – pickled or fresh – will go with them. A dressing to match and something on top to make them pretty. You have the whole plan ready to go!

The bread is buttered generously and this prevents it from getting soggy from the juices of the toppings. Then you pile up the layers, making sure that all the ingredients on a slice of bread get along well together and look good.

They are eaten at celebrations or at daily meals, for any meal of the day – breakfast, lunch or dinner – and are served as starters or entree. At gatherings, often the toppings and accompaniments are passed around on platters so that people can build their own, as per choice.

There are certain rules to be followed in the serving and eating of smørrebrød. First and foremost, you eat them using a fork and knife, never picked up like an NY pizza slice. Secondly, there is a sequence in which they are to be served and eaten: pickled herrings first, other fish next, to be followed by meats and cheeses in that order. A word about the pickled herring… it is definitely an acquired taste. Just like some extreme versions of Danish licorice. But I digress. The third and most important rule is to say ‘skol’ (cheers) frequently, raising your glass. There might be other rules but these are the only ones I recall.

The recipes below are for three variations of smørrebrød, each with its own dressing: Boiled eggs and shrimp with garlicky mayo dressing, Smoked salmon with honey dill mustard dressing and Roast beef with a remoulade dressing.

To make the sandwiches, place the ingredients listed, in the order listed, in a single layer on a well buttered slice of dark rye bread. Drizzle or pipe the dressing over the toppings as indicated in the dressings recipes.

Boiled Eggs and Shrimp

Lettuce leaves

Thick slices of boiled egg

Salad shrimp

Thin slices of radish


Springs of dill

Garlicky Mayo

1/2 cup mayonnaise 

Garlic chives, chopped fine

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Drizzle over the sandwich.

Smoked Salmon

Slices of smoked salmon

Thinly sliced cucumber


Sliced cornichons

Pickled beets

Springs of dill

Honey Dill Mustard

Equal quantity honey mustard, cider vinegar, and grape seed oil (or any neutral oil)

Chopped dill sprigs

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify. Add the chopped dill, pepper and salt. Mix well and pipe over the toppings.

Roast Beef


Slices of roast beef

Rings of red onion

Thin carrot strips


Equal quantity mayonnaise and sour cream

Cornichons, chopped fine

Capers, chopped coarsely

Dijon mustard

Pinch of curry powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and pipe over the toppings.

R is for Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja literally means ‘old clothes’ which the dish can claim to resemble, if you use your imagination. It is the national dish of Cuba. According to a fun legend associated with the dish, a man who had no money and desperate to feed his family, started cooking his shredded clothes as he had nothing else to cook. He kept praying while the clothes cooked and tada… his old clothes turned into a delicious stew!

Though the national dish of Cuba, its origin story starts from the Iberian peninsula, in modern day Spain.The jewish community there used to prepare this slow cooked stew for sabbath. From there it spread to the seafaring Canary Islands and north Africa. Sailors from Canary Islands took the preparation to Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean. 

Ropa Vieja has a history of 500 years. Of course, originally it was cooked with beef, but ropa vieja can be cooked with pork or chicken thighs as well. I have used pork for this recipe simply because I have been cooking with beef a lot in the past few days and wanted a change.

A dish that has travelled so far, over so long a time, is bound to have some variations, especially when its footprint is spread over geographically separated areas like the Caribbean. That holds too true for ropa vieja, with versions being cooked all over the central and south Americas.

The olives and capers give the dish a bit of tartness, while the mix of peppers and onion gives it lots of color. This is the kind of dish that I cook in a large batch as it tastes better the next day. 

Ropa vieja is usually served with cooked rice and black beans. And fried strips of plantains. Rolled up in a tortilla is good too.

R is for Ropa Vieja

Difficulty:BeginnerServings:6 servings



  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a largish pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the sliced peppers, onion, garlic, cumin and bay leaves to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Stir together and cook till the vegetables are tender and the liquids have evaporated. Keep stirring till it is ready to prevent browning and sticking, about 25 minutes. Set aside when done.
  4. Season the meat well with salt and pepper.
  5. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, add the meat pieces to the pan in a single layer. Brown the meat on all sides, turning as required, about 8 to 10 minutes. This can be done in batches.
  6. When all the meat has been browned, add the peppers and onions mix to the browned meat in the pan, along with any previous batches of meat.
  7. Add the olives, capers, tomatoes, and stock. Mix well, stirring and scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer. Cover with a lid, slightly open so that it doesn’t overflow. Continue cooking, checking on the liquid occasionally and stirring to prevent sticking. If you see there is not enough liquid, add a half cup of water to the pan.
  9. Continue cooking till the meat is tender and shreds easily when poked with a fork, about 2 hours for pork. Check the seasoning.
  10. Shred the meat using two forks and mix well. Serve with cooked rice and black beans.
Keywords:Cuban food, Pork, Ropa Vieja

M is for Moussaka

Moussaka is a classic dish from Greece. Layers of eggplant and meat are topped with a béchamel and baked to make a spectacular dish. 

Moussaka has a long recorded history, with a similar recipe appearing in ‘A Baghdad Cookery Book’ (Kitāb Al-ṭabīkh), written in the 13th century. Also, a very similar dish called ‘Mousakhkhan’ was cooked by the Arabs of Levant, the eastern Mediterranean region. The word moussaka derives from the Arabic word musaqqâ, meaning ‘moistened’, a reference to an ideal moussaka.

Many regional differences, with vegetables like potatoes, spinach, cauliflower or even cabbage are prevalent.

Though traditionally made with lamb, beef is an acceptable substitution. Actually, I’ve even made this dish with ground turkey to avoid red meat.

Béchamel was a fairly recent addition to the dish, when a famous chef and cook book author decided to add it to the original recipe in an effort to make it more westernized. Thus a quintessential French sauce became the binding force in one of the Mediterranean influenced dishes. 

Patience is an essential quality when you are making a moussaka since it is not a good idea to dig into it right away. It has to rest for a minimum of 10 minutes (better with 15) before the béchamel gets to a stage where it can be actually cut. Instead of scooping the dish out of the pan as a glop. Believe me… been there; done that, more than once!

M is for Moussaka

Difficulty:AdvancedServings:6 servings



  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Cut the eggplant into slices of 1/4 inch width. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven to roast, for 20 minutes. If there are more slices than can be accommodated on a single baking sheet, you can use one more sheet or roast them in batches.
  4. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large pan and add the onions and cook.
  5. When the onions are softened and turns transparent, add the minced garlic and cook for a minute.
  6. Add the tomato paste and cook for two minutes. Add the ground beef to the pan and cook, breaking up any lumps. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook till the beef is overall browned.
  7. Add the red wine, broth and crushed tomatoes. Add the cinnamon and mix well. Bring to a boil and cover and cook till the beef is well done and all the liquid has dried up.
  8. When the eggplant slices and the meat are ready, make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and add the flour. Roast stirring continuously for two minutes.
  9. Add the milk to the pan, stirring all the time, using a whisk. When the milk has thickened and has formed a sauce, turn off the heat. (If the sauce is too thick, sprinkle and stir in a bit of water.) Season the béchamel with salt and pepper. Blend in the egg yolk stirring vigorously and remove from heat.
  10. In a deep oven safe pan, place the eggplant slices in a single layer. Top with half the cooked meat to form another layer.
  11. Add a second layer of eggplant slices. Finish off with the remaining meat.
  12. Pour the béchamel sauce over the dish and crumble the feta over the béchamel.
  13. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake till the top has browned in spots, for 15 to 20 minutes.
  14. Let sit for minutes before cutting into squares and serving.
Keywords:Dinner, Moussaka, Meat and vegetables

C is for Caldereta

Caldereta is a delicious meat stew from Philippines, with a medley of vegetables slow cooked to perfection. The dish got its name from the word ‘cauldron’ (caldero in Spanish), the pot in which the dish was cooked. Cooked on special occasions and holidays, it will add color to any table.

I used a mix of peppers for this dish, in addition to the potatoes and carrots. The balance of the flavors of meat, root vegetables and the peppers was perfect. Now I’m tempted to try other vegetable combinations in this recipe. Cauliflower and peas are definitely worth a try. 

Originated in the Castile and León region of Spain, caldereta used to be cooked with meat from sheep, common to the area. Later, due to the Spanish influences on Filipino cuisine, it came to be popular in Philippines, but with goat meat instead of sheep. Modern versions are made with beef or pork. 

The addition of olives along with tomato paste gives the dish a tangy twist while the peanut butter adds to the creaminess. The cheddar brings it all together but can be omitted if you prefer it simpler. 

Traditionally, caldereta was thickened with liver pate (paste) but many modern versions avoid liver due to the gamy flavor. You can add it to the dish if you like it.

You can also try adding cooked garbanzo beans or white beans to this dish for variety.

Caldereta is generally served with cooked white rice. 

C is for Caldereta

Difficulty:IntermediateServings:6 servings



  1. Heat the oil in a largish pot, over medium heat. Add the potatoes and cook till lightly brown. Drain and keep aside.
  2. Add chopped onions and carrots to the pot. Season with salt and black pepper.
  3. Cook till onions are transparent. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
  4. Add the beef pieces to the pot and cook, turning to brown them evenly.
  5. When the meat is browned, add the tomato paste and cook for two minutes, stirring the tomato paste well into the oil.
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes and chillies. Stir together and cook.
  7. When the liquid starts to dry up, add 1 and 1/2 cups of water.
  8. Cover the pot and lower the heat. Continue to cook till the beef is tender, about 90 minutes.
  9. Check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as required.
  10. When the beef is done, add the potatoes to the pot. Add more water if required.
  11. When the potatoes are fully cooked, add the bell peppers and olives to the pot. Continue to cook for three minutes.
  12. Stir in the cheese evenly and allow it to melt.
  13. Check seasoning and serve hot with cooked white rice.


  • If you are using liver pate, add it to the pot just before the cheese and blend well.
Keywords:Stew, Meat, Meat stew, Peppers, Olives