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Talking recipes with Kristin Nicholas of Leyden Glen Farm in Leyden

Persian lamb and rhubarb stew ... a delicious spring combination.
Photo/Kristin Nicholas

Persian lamb and rhubarb stew ... a delicious spring combination. Photo/Kristin Nicholas

By TINKY WEISBLAT

Kristin Nicholas has a passion for lambs. As a fiber designer who has written several books about knitting and needlepoint, she loves their wool.

And, as a prolific cook who devises lamb recipes on a regular basis, she loves their meat.

Nicholas’s husband, Mark Duprey, runs Franklin County’s largest sheep farm, Leyden Glen Farm in Leyden. Nicholas helps the enterprise thrive by teaching workshops, writing her books, and spreading the “lamb love” with recipes on the farm’s website.

She grew up eating lamb only at holidays, she told me in a recent interview. When she first visited Duprey’s parents’ farm as a young woman before her marriage, she was actually a vegetarian.

But she was impressed by her future mother-in-law’s attitude toward pasture-raised meat.

“She was this short little Yankee, one of the great old Yankee women,” recalls Nicholas. “She said, ‘That cow lived out in that field, and I know exactly what it ate.’”

Before long, Nicholas understood that attitude. She now eats lamb almost every day — because she has it on hand, of course, but even more because she has come to appreciate the flavor of farm-raised lamb.

I asked her how people unfamiliar with lamb cookery should approach it.

“I suggest they start with ground lamb,” she said, “because most people are used to cooking with ground beef so they know what to do with it. They shouldn’t tell their families what it is. They should just try it.”

She added that her 15-year-old daughter Julia loves plain lamb burgers, as well as ground lamb used in recipes such as the one for koftas that appears below. These spiced meatballs served with a yogurt sauce resemble Greek gyros.

Like the koftas, many of Nicholas’s recipes have an international flair.

“In India (lamb) is popular,” she. “In Africa it’s obviously very popular; there are nomadic tribes. All over the world there are different breeds of sheep ...

“Lamb is the second most popular food in the world behind goat. It’s just Americans that don’t eat it. All need to give it a try.”

Another accessible first lamb dish for novices, Nicholas suggested, is grilled boneless lamb. “You untie it and then marinated it and then grill it,” she said.

She added that she enjoys lamb’s versatility. “It takes all kinds of nice spices, and it really doesn’t mask (their) flavor.” Lamb blends well with many flavors, she explained, but never completely loses its own distinctive taste.

Where does Nicholas get her recipe ideas? She leafs through cookbooks in bed at night for inspiration, although she doesn’t usually follow recipes exactly. “I read the cookbooks and I just start cooking,” she said with a smile. “If (the end result) tastes good, I’ll make it into a recipe.”

She is also inspired, she says, when she finds a new vegetable at the farmer’s market or when her customers tell her about their own favorite uses for lamb.

Some recipes are traditional to Nicholas’s family. Her mother made Scotch broth when Nicholas was little, and today her daughter Julia savors the rich soup as well.

Lamb is currently being raised by many farmers in Franklin County, from Erlin Farm in Charlemont to Diemand Farm in Wendell, and Nicholas wants customers to know that by buying meat from her farm and that of other lamb growers they are supporting not just the farmers — but the land in our area.

“That’s sort of where our operation comes from,” she says. “Trying to take care of the earth and trying to keep our family fed.”

For more recipes, visit the Leyden Glen Farm website at:

www.leydenglenlamb.com.

LAMB KOFTAS

Serves 4.

for the koftas:

2 pieces bread, preferably crusty white bread torn into pieces (or 1⁄2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs)

1 small onion, chopped

1⁄2 cup chopped parsley

1⁄4 cup chopped mint

2 cloves garlic, minced

1⁄2 teaspoon each cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and salt

1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

1⁄2 tablespoon red curry paste (optional but a nice addition; available in the Chinese-food aisle of supermarkets)

1 large egg

1 pound ground lamb

for the yogurt sauce:

1 cup yogurt, preferably Greek

1 small cucumber — peeled, seeded, and finely diced

1 teaspoon lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dried dill (or 1 tablespoon fresh)

1 minced garlic clove (optional for garlic lovers)

for the sandwiches:

4 large pita breads

2 tomatoes, diced small

torn lettuce leaves as needed

Start by making the meatballs. Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until it forms a fine crumb. (Alternately, use the bread crumbs.) Add the onion, parsley, mint, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper, plus the curry paste if you are using it. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped.

In a separate large bowl beat the egg. Add the ground lamb and the bread, onion, and herb mixture to the egg. Mix the combination well with your hands.

Shape the mixture into oblong balls resembling small sausages, using about 2 tablespoons meat per kofta. Refrigerate the balls for 1/2 hour if you have time. (The chilling will help keep the koftas together when cooking.)

While the meatballs are chilling make the yogurt sauce. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Chill to combine the flavors.

Bake, broil or grill the koftas depending on your preference. The meat will be done when it is no longer pink inside.

When Nicholas bakes the koftas, she uses a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes on a lightly greased pan. She doesn’t bother turning the koftas when she bakes them, but she does turn them once when broiling or grilling.

To assemble the sandwiches insert 3 koftas into a piece of pita bread. Top with chopped tomatoes and lettuce. Drizzle with the yogurt sauce.

PERSIAN LAMB

AND RHUBARB STEW

Serves 4 to 6.

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 to 2 pounds lamb shoulder meat, bone-in (Lamb stew meat can be used although the bones will add more flavor.)

1 tablespoon tomato paste or a small can (14 ounces) Italian tomatoes

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces with the stringy bits removed if the skins are very thick

1⁄2 cup raisins (preferably golden)

2 tablespoons sugar

1⁄4 cup minced fresh mint or parsley or a mixture of the two

In a Dutch oven, brown the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Cook until the spices begin to smell lovely. If the mixture begins to stick, add a little bit of water to create a little sauce. Remove the onion mixture from the pan and set it aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Brown the lamb on all sides. Remove the lamb from the pan and set it aside; then discard the excess fat from the pan. Return the onion mixture and the lamb to the Dutch oven.

Add the tomato paste (or tomatoes), the salt, and the pepper. Add water (or lamb stock) to the pot so that it covers the lamb halfway.

Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, place it in a 250-degree oven and cook for 3 hours, turning the shoulder roast half way through. Alternately, cook in a slow cooker for 5 hours on low.

At the end of the three hours, remove the meat from the pot and pull the bones out. If the meat is not falling off the bones, return it to the oven for another hour. (Save the bones for lamb stock. Store them in the freezer if you don’t have time to make the stock just yet.)

With your hands, shred the meat; it should be falling apart into chunks. Add the sliced rhubarb, the chunks of cooked meat, the raisins, and the sugar to the pot. Bring the pot to a boil on the top of the stove and immediately return it to the oven and cook for another hour.

Remove the stew from the oven and taste it. Add more spices if you want a more intense flavor. If the flavor is too sour, add a touch more sugar. If the stew is too saucy, simmer it with the lid off to reduce the stock.

The flavor of this stew improves if it sits in the fridge for a couple of days. Serve over basmati rice, couscous, or rice pilaf garnished with the parsley and/or mint.

Recipes courtesy of Kristin Nicholas, who owns the copyright to both the text and the photographs.

Writer and singer Tinky Weisblat lives in Hawley. She is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” For more information visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.

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