- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Just before Christmas a friend asked if I would help plan a dinner for her brother-in-law, who has the unfortunate luck of having a birthday right after Christmas.

Each year she and her sister are confronted with the inconvenient timing of the occasion. After a month of holiday celebrations they claim to be victims of “festivity fatigue,” when mustering the energy to organize yet another fete is a challenge.

“Could you,” my pal pleaded, “suggest something simple yet distinctive to anchor our meal?” This wasn’t the first such request I had had. Another friend, appropriately named Noel, was born within a few days of Christmas, and her husband had confided to me that he would welcome any recipes I could pass along for her birthday. Dining out would not be an option, since her favorite restaurants are closed for the holidays.

I didn’t waste any time proposing that both cooks try the pomegranate-glazed lamb chops with mint and pistachios included in this column. It is easy and uncomplicated to prepare but oh-so-chic; pomegranate is the hot new ingredient of the season. In New York in December I sampled pomegranate sorbet, tried poached apples with spiced pomegranate syrup and eyed panna cotta served with pomegranate sauce.

For the lamb glaze, I simmered pomegranate juice (available at most supermarkets) with sugar until thickened, then added a splash of balsamic vinegar, some orange zest and a few hot red pepper flakes. At serving time, the sauteed chops are drizzled with the dark crimson glaze, then sprinkled with chopped pistachios and fresh mint.

To go with the lamb, tender haricots verts and saffron-scented couscous or rice provides great color and texture. A salad of baby spinach or arugula dressed in olive oil and lemon juice and dotted with bits of goat cheese could open the meal, and for dessert you could choose a cake from a good bakery. This makes a smart little dinner without too much fuss, and you don’t even need a birthday excuse to enjoy it.

Pomegranate-glazed lamb chops with mint and pistachios

POMEGRANATE GLAZE:

1½ cup pomegranate juice (see note)

6 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

Scant 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

LAMB:

1/4 cup shelled salted pistachios, chopped

1/4 cup chopped mint leaves

12 3- to 4-ounce rib lamb chops

Kosher salt

Olive oil for oiling grill pan or skillet

To make the glaze, combine pomegranate juice and sugar in medium, heavy nonreactive saucepan set over high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and continue to simmer, uncovered, until sauce is slightly syrupy and has reduced to about 2/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Watch carefully.

Remove pan from heat and stir in vinegar, orange zest, red pepper flakes and salt. Set aside. (Glaze can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat, stirring.) When ready to cook the lamb, toss together chopped pistachios and mint and set aside.

Pat lamb dry and salt both sides. Have ready a large platter and a large sheet of aluminum foil. Oil a large, stove-top grill pan and place pan over medium-high heat, or add enough oil to coat bottom of a large, heavy skillet generously and set skillet over medium-high heat.

When oil is very hot but not smoking, add enough chops to cook in a single layer. Cook until browned on both sides and rosy pink in the center, about 3 minutes per side. Make a slit in the center of chops with a sharp knife to check for doneness.

An instant-read thermometer should register 145 degrees for medium-rare. As the lamb chops are cooked, place them on the platter and cover loosely with foil. Continue to cook remaining chops in the same way, adding more oil if needed.

To serve, arrange all chops on a large platter or place two chops on each of six dinner plates. Drizzle each chop with some pomegranate glaze and sprinkle with the mint and pistachio mixture. Place any extra glaze in a small bowl to pass. Makes 6 servings.

Note: R.W. Knudsen and Pom Wonderful are two widely available brands of pomegranate juice.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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