Rohit and Pia read a A Marker to Measure Drift, and cook delectable lamb gyros inspired by the book.
Rohit and Pia read and cook; and maintain the wonderful blog Two Admirable Pleasures. Pia reads and reviews a book, and Rohit concocts a brilliant recipe to go with it (think Mint Juleps with The Great Gatsby, or an Apple Pie with Tom Sawyer). This week they read Alexander Maksik’s second book, and devise a heavenly version of Lamb Gyros. Enjoy!
I’ve found myself reading a lot of books about war-torn Africa lately. I’m not sure if it’s a literary trend, or just the genres I’ve been gravitating towards. But at face value, Alexander Maksik’s A Marker to Measure Drift isn’t about Africa at all.
It follows a young woman, appropriately adrift and attempting to stay afloat as she navigates the paradisiacal island of Santorini in the wake of a horribly war torn departure from her native Liberia. While you’re not sure what happened to Jacqueline until the very end of the story, suffice to say that she is certainly suffering from some form of PSTD, you are heartbroken alongside her as she wanders the white sands, as she seeks shelter in broken rock coves, forages nourishment from beach trash cans and attempts to create as much distance from her past as she can.
Jacqueline’s story is one of survival. While the reader isn’t quite what it is that she has survived, the didactic voice of her mother echoes in her head, reminding her that she is alive, and she is to remain so at all costs. Maksik writes in broken sentences, conveying the disparate and stilted manner in which Jacqueline lives each day. When she finally comes into some money from giving cheap massages on the beach, she treats herself to gyros from a gyro stand on the boardwalk.
After reading pages of her salivating over the aromas of the charcoal plumes emanating from the revolving spit, I had to have a gyro. Jacqueline alternates between lamb and pork gyros, allowing herself to feel the luxury of choice over a meal that manages to fill her up with very little cash.
While we don’t have a roasting spit or the luxury of open flames in our NYC home, Rohit improvised by braising a lamb shank for 2 hours in a dry white wine and tomato stock spiced with juniper berries, allspice, oregano and plenty of garlic until the meat became tender enough to fall off the bone. While gyro meat is traditionally served dry, with only hot sauce or tzatziki as accompaniment, the braising sauce was too good to forgo. So Rohit strained, pureed and returned it to the stove to reduce, whereupon he added it to the pulled lamb meat, resulting in a gyro in which I was more than happy to indulge, leaving the memories of a ravaged Liberia behind.
BRAISED LAMB GYRO
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 lamb shanks (about 1 lb. each)
- ½ medium sized carrot, roughly chopped
- ½ onion, roughly chopped
- 2 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained, chopped
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 4 allspice berries, crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 4 juniper berries, crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 4 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Water, as needed
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- Bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- Pocketless pita bread
- Tzatziki Sauce
- Tomato, sliced or roughly chopped
- Lettuce, leaves intact or shredded
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- In frying pan, lightly toast fennel seeds. Keep heat on medium-low and remove once fragrant. Grind in a mortar and pestle; set aside.
- Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy pot (preferably a cast iron) over medium-high heat. Cook shanks, reducing heat as needed, until browned on all sides, 8-10 minutes. Transfer lamb to a plate.
- Reduce heat to medium and add remaining tablespoon oil to pot. Add carrot, onion and plum tomatoes and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent. Add anchovy, fennel seeds, garlic, oregano, allspice, juniper and tomato paste and stir until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add white wine, ensuring to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pot, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook until wine is slightly reduced, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add lamb shanks, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and enough water to marginally cover the meat (the meat should not be completely covered). Cover and transfer to oven; braise for 1 ½ -2 hours, or until shank is very tender.
- With tongs, transfer shanks to a bowl and when cool enough to touch, pull meat off bone; set aside
- To finish up the sauce, remove cinnamon stick and bay leaves and skim any fat from liquid. Using an emersion blender, blend the braising liquid until it has the consistency of gravy (if you don’t have a blender, simply press all liquid through sieve set over large bowl). Bring pureed/strained liquid to simmer over medium heat until it thickens, 15-20 minutes.
- Pour sauce over pulled lamb meat and garnish with parsley. To serve, spread the top of a warmed, pocketless pita with the braised lamb meat, chopped tomatoes and lettuce. Drizzle with Tzatziki sauce.