I’ve been working from home for a little over 2 months now and haven’t had too many complaints so far. My coworkers are quite and respectful (I glance over at the plants in my living room), there’s always free food around, I can wear soft pants everyday, and my commute time is so quick! The only downside is that we don’t have any outdoor space, which is super unfortunate. We have the landing of our fire escape, that has our growing pepper plants and our neighbor’s grill, which has left some questionable char marks on our wooden railing. When I used to work in SOMA, our office had a nice outdoor space with picnic tables. It was our oasis in a sea of stinky SOMA smells and colorful people. So many smells. I loved taking a coffee break outside there and feeling the warmth of the sun. That’s probably the ONLY THING I miss about working down there.
I’m jealous of people’s backyards. Even if it’s just a small patch of grass, at least it’s your patch of grass! I’d love just a little space to grow a few vegetables and herbs, with a table and some chairs for al fresco dining, and a grill! I guess I could knock on our neighbor’s door and ask if we could use their grill, but I’m weary of the idea of grilling on a wooden fire escape. For now, we have a newly acquired cast iron grill pan that does the trick! However, our apartment is so old that we don’t have an exhaust fan in our kitchen, so whenever we use the grill pan this is what you see: Reuben tending to the meat on the grill pan with the door open to our fire escape and me with a kitchen towel fanning the smoke away from our smoke detector like a maniac. It’s a good arm workout. Grilling ain’t easy around here, but it’s worth it!
Cumin Lamb Skewers in Northern China
These cumin lamb skewers have been a favorite of mine for a few years now! I interned in Beijing 6 years ago and spent all my free time exploring the city and eating all the food! I remember thinking that living in China wouldn’t be such a culture shock to me. I was wrong. Everything was so different. The food was so different compared to the Cantonese food I was used to eating. Food was spicy and funky in Beijing. Some of it even made your mouth go numb - hello, Sichuan peppercorns! It was so fun and exciting to discover and learn about all these other types of Chinese food.
It was summer time when I was there, and one of my favorite meals was bbq lamb skewers! These spicy and cumin-y meat skewers are a popular street snack in Northern China. The dish was originated by the ethnically Uighur people, who are religiously muslim. Once you taste one for the first time you’ll pick up on the similarities to Mediterranean kabobs. You either grabbed a few skewers to go or grabbed a little table on the street with mopeds whizzing by in every direction. Typically, the skewers are relatively small and you would order 6-8 skewers per person. The meat is always tender and perfectly crispy on the edges. The lamb is encrusted with chili flakes and whole cumin seeds. If you only have ground cumin, that’s totally fine. BUT the whole cumin seeds have a fresher and more well rounded flavor that lends itself to the meat. It’s the perfect summer time meal to enjoy with a super cold beer!
How To Make Cumin Lamb Skewers At Home
Making these skewers at home is actually quite easy. I admit that I’m not making them super traditionally. The street stalls would cut up the lamb into much smaller pieces so they would cook and char quicker. I’ve cut the lamb into slightly larger 1” cubes because I like my lamb to still be juicy and medium rare inside. But you do you.
First step is to locate your lamb! I like to purchase lamb shoulder for these skewers. Look for a cut that has some nice fat, because fat equals flavor and extra juiciness. You can either ask your butcher to cut the lamb into small pieces for you or take it home to cut up yourself. I like to take it home to cut myself. Make sure to trim off any tough sinewy pieces. You’re not going to be able to chew through those! I like to save any lamb scraps and stick them in the freezer for future lamb broth.
Next you season the meat! I’ve kept the seasoning pretty simple. Chili flakes, whole cumin seeds, salt and pepper. That’s all you really need! i also used La Tourangelle Garlic and Walnut oils in the marinade. I’m not just saying this, but their oils make everything taste good. The garlic oil is full of beautiful garlic flavor. The walnut oil might be pure magic though. I like to just toss veggies in the walnut oil to roast with salt and pepper and it comes out tasting so nutty and much more complex for the lack of ingredients. It adds a wonderful savory flavor to the lamb. If you don’t have walnut oil or garlic oil, just use olive oil and a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder to the marinade. I highly recommend you get some La Tourangelle in your pantry though!
When cooking the skewers you’ll want your grill or grill pan to be relatively hot. If you have a charcoal grill that’s even better because all the street side grills in Beijing were powered by charcoal. Place the skewers directly on the grill and rotate every few minutes so that every edge has the chance to sear and char. It should take take 5-6 minutes for medium rare doneness, but cook longer if you prefer it more well done. Allow the skewers to cool slightly so you don’t burn your tongue. Then crack a few beers (or sparkling fruity water) and dig in!
Cumin Lamb Skewers
makes 4 skewers - easily scalable
Cut lamb into 1” cubes and place in a bowl.
Add garlic oil, walnut oil, chili flakes, cumin seeds, salt, white pepper, and cornstarch to the lamb. Mix until lamb is evenly coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to marinate for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Preheat your grill to medium high heat.
Assemble skewers by placing 2 pieces of lamb on a skewer, then 1 piece of scallion stalk, and continue until the skewer is complete.
Grill skewers for a few minutes on each side until medium rare or desired doneness.
thanks, La Tourangelle for sponsoring this post!