Ana Sortun’s Lamb Keftedes with Bibb Lettuce, Fresh Mint, and Warm Pita

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

I'm a big fan of the cooking of Ana Sortun, chef-owner at the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her seasoning is sophisticated and daring, her dishes warm and intense. This is one of her most tantalizing recipes: a beer-braised lamb shoulder, shredded and shaped into galettes or keftedes, then pan-fried until the exteriors are crisp, while the interiors remain soft and satiny.

The concept of Mediterranean people cooking with beer surprised me at first; it seemed so Nordic. But it is a fairly common practice in some Armenian communities in the Middle East. In fact, the brewing of beer was practiced thousands of years ago in Egypt. According to ancient tablets, peasants made beer using bread dough mixed with dates.


  • pounds thick lamb shoulder chops
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 ounces beer or ale
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced on the bias
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, halved and smashed
  • 2 teaspoons dried mint
  • tablespoons pomegranate concentrate
  • Lemon juice
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • cups bread crumbs
  • tablespoons butter
  • Fresh mint, Bibb lettuce, and 2 pita breads, halved and warmed, as accompaniment


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wipe the lamb chops dry with paper towels. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil until very hot but not smoking. Add the lamb and brown well on both sides, about 10 minutes. Remove the chops to a plate and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Pour off all the fat from the skillet. Add ½ cup of the beer and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil until the beer is reduced to a few tablespoons of glaze. Return the meat to the skillet, lower the heat, and allow the lamb to soak up the syrupy juices.
  3. Add the carrot, onion, garlic, mint, and remaining beer to the pan. Pour in enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the meat. Season the liquid with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover with a sheet of crumpled parchment paper and a tight-fitting lid, and transfer to the preheated oven. Braise the lamb until the meat is very tender and beginning to fall off the bone, 1½ to 2 hours.
  4. Remove the lamb, reserving the juices in the skillet. Trim the lamb of all fat, gristle, and bone and finely shred. Strain the cooking juices, quickly skim off all fat, and return to the skillet. Boil until reduced by half to about 1 cup. Stir in the pomegranate concentrate and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper, and a few drops of lemon juice.
  5. Fold ¾ cup of the pan juices into the shredded meat along with the egg and 1 cup of the bread crumbs. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  6. Shape the lamb mixture into 4 or 8 patties and sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs to coat. In a large skillet, heat the butter and the remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Fry the patties over medium-high heat until golden-brown on each side and warm throughout, about 4 minutes. Quickly reheat the remaining ¼ cup pan juices and drizzle over the patties. Serve with the fresh mint, lettuce, and warm pita bread.