Spiced Lamb Cutlets with Onion & Black Bean Relish

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Preparation info

    • Difficulty


Appears in

Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

  • About

Lamb is the most revered meat in the Middle East, but then they don’t have a lot of choice. After all, the Aberdeen Angus is unlikely to feature. A whole lamb makes a magnificent centrepiece at a grand summer barbecue but - given the difficulty of achieving a succulent result - this is, perhaps, an exercise best left to partying sheep-farmers. In Arab countries, the number of whole lambs served at a party denotes the importance of the occasion and the honour paid to the guests. Grilled on a spit over charcoal while constantly basted with oil and lemon, the meat is scented by the rosemary brushes used to apply the baste.

The amount served is, in reality, the least important element in the equation and here we make the most of very small pieces of meat. The cutlets are first marinated in lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and cumin and are then seared on a ridged grill pan before being served on a bed of black beans and spicy sauteed onions.


  • 12 lamb cutlets
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • extra-virgin olive oil, to dress
  • small handful of coriander leaves, to garnish

For the Black Bean and Onion Relish

  • 450 g/1 lb black beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 900 g/2 lb onions
  • ½ sweet red pepper
  • 4 tbsp chicken stock
  • salt and pepper



The night before: in a large saucepan, put the beans to soak overnight in plenty of cold water.

The next day: bring the pan of beans to the boil, then discard this water. Cover again with fresh water, with a 1 cm/½ in head, and return to a high heat. Add a bay leaf and the oregano. Bring to the boil, then bubble rapidly for 10 minutes. Lower the heat, add 2 teaspoons of salt and simmer until the beans are just cooked. This will take 10-20 minutes. Strain the beans through a colander and rinse in cold water.

Discard the bay leaf and put the beans in a bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and turn with a spoon to coat.

Holding point — the beans can now be kept for up to 3 days in a covered container in the refrigerator.

About 4 hours before you are ready to do the final cooking: remove the lamb from the refrigerator.

Toast the cumin seeds in a small dry heavy pan over a very low heat, stirring, for 3 minutes. Put into a coffee grinder and whizz to a powder.

Juice the lemons and mix to a thin paste with the cumin and the vinegar. Brush this liberally on the cutlets, pour over any remaining mixture and put to marinate at room temperature, turning the meat from time to time.

Toast the coriander seeds like the cumin, whizz to a powder in a grinder and reserve.

About 20 minutes before you want to eat: remove the beans from the refrigerator.

Peel, smash and chop the garlic. Peel and thinly slice the onions. Chop the red pepper.


Fry the onions over a medium heat in the remaining olive oil, stirring at regular intervals, for 10 minutes.

Lower the heat and add the coriander powder, the chopped sweet red pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. Stir for 1 minute.

Add the black beans, the garlic and chicken stock. Continue to warm, stirring from time to time, and allow the flavours to develop until ready to serve.

Preheat the dry ridged grill pan over a high heat for 5 minutes. The pan should be smoking hot when the meat goes in.

Cook the cutlets on the pan for 2 minutes on each side. You want them seared with a neat cross-hatch on the outside, giving a slightly charred crust and very pink in the middle. To achieve the crosshatch - or quadrillage - lay the cutlets at an angle of 45 degrees across the ridges, all pointing in the same direction. After 60 seconds, turn the cutlets and lay them in the same direction to sear the other side for another 60 seconds. Now turn them again to give the first side its second searing, laying them so that they face across the ridges at 45 degrees in the opposite direction. After 60 seconds turn and finish the other side, laying the cutlets at precisely the same angle. After another 60 seconds, both sides have now been exposed twice to the searing heat for a total of 2 minutes each side.

If you are worried that this will be too rare, cook for a total time of 3 minutes each side, that is 90 seconds each searing. If your pan is not large enough to take all the cutlets in one go, then cook in 2 batches, keeping the first batch warm in a very low oven while you cook the second batch.


Serve as soon as all are cooked, mounding the black bean and onion relish on the plates and arranging 3 cutlets on top, with the bones upwards. Pour over a little extra-virgin olive oil and garnish with whole coriander leaves.

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