Following the lead of Michael Pollen (“Omnivore’s Dilemma”), Mark Bittman (VBS: Vegan Before 6), Brian Kateman (“The Reducetarian Solution”) and the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5° C), I often make the argument that eating less meat is a sustainable proposition for even the most committed omnivores. In the five years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve offered many strategies for hitting that mark. Meatless Mondays. Mixing in mushrooms. Pounding schnitzel from pork loins. Curing salmon. Stretching a pastured chicken a country mile.

Today, I am writing bout making meat condimental.

Yes, that is a word. I googled it. As the adjective form of condiment, it means to use meat in very small amounts to flavor or complement the remaining vegetable-forward array of ingredients.

While the big hunk of meat sitting in the center of the plate paradigm has enjoyed long-lived success in American cuisine, you can find fine examples of condimental meat in many other cultures. I remember the first time I ate a sausage pizza in Italy. There couldn’t have been more than an ounce of crumbled, highly flavored meat sprinkled around the whole pie. I was skeptical, but it was just right.

I’d not eaten Indian food before dating my husband. As a Christmas gift early on in the relationship, my future in-laws gave me a copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s 1982 cookbook called “Indian Cookery.” I went to make the lamb biryani and found it required only 4 ounces of raw meat per serving. Since lamb loses 40 to 50 percent of its weight when it is stewed, we’ve whittled the meat to just about a 2-ounce flavor agent for the dish.

While visiting one of my brothers in Monterey, California, circa 2003, when the U.S. Army was training him to speak Korean, he treated me to my very first bibimbap. This steaming hot rice bowl was topped with cold julienned vegetables – cucumber, zucchini, mushroom, radish, spinach and sprouts – pleasingly arranged by color. The barbecued beef in the bowl was served in sparingly equal measure to the kimchi, and the whole arrangement was topped with a raw egg yolk. As is the custom, I mixed everything together before eating it, and the minuscule amount of sweet and smoky meat certainly left its mark on my memory – without being the only thing I remember about that meal.

When my chef friend, Ali Waks Adams, and I were pulling off pop-up restaurants a few years back in Brunswick, we made chicken Bisteeya, a micro-thin dough-wrapped (Moroccans use warka, but phyllo is more common here) poultry pie that originated with the Berbers. In her 13-page recipe for making the dish in “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco,” cookbook writer Paula Wolfert uses a 3 1/2-pound bird to make a pie that can feed 12 people. The meat is roasted, shredded and layered with eggs, onions and sweetened almonds. All 12 eaters will be wholly satisfied, trust me.

Condimental meat does indeed take some advanced planning in that you’re not just cutting down the amount of meat from a 5-6 ounce portion to a 2-3 ounce condiment, you are also taking measures to boost the umami blast the lesser amount will contribute. The trick to successfully using meat as a condiment is twofold: First, you must flavor the meat before cooking it, either with a punchy wet marinade or a dry rub. Buying preseasoned sausage is also an option. And secondly, you must use a cooking method that either adds flavor – think of the boost meat gets from the smokiness of the grill – or transfers flavor (like a braise used in the Middle Eastern hummus Kawarma recipe) to other ingredients in the dish, making its presence more widely known. Give it a go. Lessen the impact your diet has on the environment without missing the meat.

 

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Brown a small amount of ground lamb as a “meat condiment” for Hummus Kawarma. Shawn Ouellette

Warm Hummus Kawarma

This recipe is a mashup of dishes outlined in Ana Soturn’s “Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe” – a Middle Eastern cafe in Watertown, Massachusetts, and one of my favorite places – and Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem,” my favorite Middle Eastern cookbook. Lamb’s strong, distinct flavor makes the meat a great choice for dishes like this, where a little adds a lot of flavor.

Serves 4

FOR THE LAMB:

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried mint

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 pound ground lamb

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 (14-ounce) can cherry tomatoes, with their liquid (about 1½ cups)

1/4 cup warm lamb, chicken or vegetable stock

4 scallions, finely chopped

1-3 teaspoons harissa

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

4 tablespoons pine nuts, pistachios or pumpkin seeds, toasted

FOR THE HUMMUS:

1/2 cup tahini

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, grated

3 cups chickpeas, warmed (about two 14.5-ounce cans of drained chickpeas)

1/3 to 1/2 cup warm vegetable or chicken stock

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

2 tablespoons softened butter

Salt

Warm flatbread

Cucumber

To prepare the lamb, mix salt, allspice, black pepper, oregano, mint and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Heat olive oil and butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the lamb and cook, breaking the meat apart with a wooden spoon until it’s almost cooked through, 3-4 minutes. Add the spice mixture, tomatoes and stock. Cook until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the scallions and harissa. Reduce heat to low to keep warm while you make the hummus.

To make the hummus, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice and garlic until smooth. Depending on the brand of tahini you use, you may need to add a little warm water to thin out the sauce. It should be creamy to borderline runny.

Place the chickpeas into the food processor and process until you get a stiff paste. (First, set a few aside for garnish, if you like.) With the machine still running, add the tahini sauce, 1/3 cup of warm stock, the olive oil and butter, and salt to taste. Mix until you get a very smooth and creamy paste. Add a couple more tablespoons of stock to loosen the mixture to your liking, if necessary.

To serve, divvy up the warm hummus into four shallow bowls and use the back of the spoon to make a divot in the middle of each bowl. Remove the lamb from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Spoon the spiced lamb into the divots you created and sprinkle with parsley and the pine nuts, pistachios or pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with the flatbread and cucumbers.

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