Secret Spices

Last spring, when I went to Jordan, one of my favorite aspects of the trip was the food. A big reason for this, I think, is because I’ll eat pretty much anything — at least once. Our driver-turned-friend Emad was rather delighted by this and would order extra/different food for me to try at nearly every meal, particularly lamb dishes, which none of the other girls would eat. (Perhaps this is where my Irish-American roots come in handy; leg-of-lamb with potatoes was my family’s standard Sunday dinner for years.) One of the dishes I particularly liked was called galaya, ground lamb in a spicy tomato sauce. Emad was sure to make sure I took home a special stash of “galaya spice” when we were buying groceries at the end of the trip.

Fast forward nearly a year, and my baggie of spices remained unopened. I don’t really know why this is, beyond the fact that the Jordanian cookbook I bought didn’t have a galaya recipe, I kept forgetting to look for ground lamb at the store, and I’ve been lazy about cooking new things for some time now. This past Sunday, though, as I passed the butcher counter at Eastern Market, the ground lamb fairly jumped out at me, and it seemed pretty cheap — only $3.50 per pound. I got about a pound and a half and set about searching on the internet for a recipe, knowing that, at the very least, I wouldn’t need to tackle a complex spice blend. Most of the recipes I found, though, didn’t have meat, and didn’t seem to involve any fancy ingredients — just tomatoes, garlic, and toasted pine nuts.

So, I decided to improvise. I planned to brown the lamb with the garlic and my special galaya spices, simmer it with the tomatoes, and toast the pine nuts to throw on top for crunch. When the time came, I opened up the spice bag, threw in a tablespoon, and then sniffed the blend to see if I could figure out what it contained. I then began to sneeze. Over and over and over again.

My special, secret spice? Black pepper. Didn’t see that coming.

My galaya did turn out very well, though, and quite a lot like I remembered. Rather than the pita I had eaten with it in Jordan, I had a side of super-delicious olive bread that I bought at the market, which complemented it nicely. Yum!

Galaya & Olive Bread

Lamb Galaya

Olive oil

1.5 pounds ground lamb

1 can diced tomatoes (plain)

1 can tomato sauce (plain)

2 tablespoons garlic (I used that freaky kind that comes in a tube; next time I will chop my own)

1 tablespoon finely ground black pepper (or less to taste)

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

Heat the olive oil,  brown the garlic, add the lamb, and cook until done. Drain thoroughly. (Ground lamb is super greasy. Who knew?) Mix black pepper into lamb, then add both cans of tomatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the tomatoes cook off a little. (I went with a sloppy joe-like consistency, but either more or less saucy is probably fine.) Garnish with toasted pine nuts and serve with pita or olive bread.

Adapted from the recipe for Galaya Bandura found here.

3 thoughts on “Secret Spices

  1. Mom March 10, 2010 / 6:43 am

    This sounds yummy!! Again, our love of lamb 🙂
    The spice was just pepper?? Guess I’ll try it if I can find ground lamb; can’t remember ever seeing it but then I don’t remember “looking” either. Anymore, I stop at the racks of baby lamb ribs — just so delicious. (I know — baby lambs — I can hear the angst now.)

  2. Susan March 10, 2010 / 7:18 am

    When I was in Tunisia I ate some lamb, tomato, couscous, something…it was my favorite thing there! We ate in a ton of restaurants and all the menus were in Arabic, so dining was always a surprise…I’d point at something and see what they brought out. The only time I was disappointed was when the goat’s head came out on a pile of couscous…eyes and all…looking at me. That was a tough one to get down! 🙂

  3. Rudi March 10, 2010 / 12:18 pm

    Most cuts of lamb that see use in modern cooking (including the leg and the ground that you bought) is high in fat content – thus why the outcome is typically moist and buttery.

    The dish sounds delish, too!

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