Recipes

crispy spiced lamb and lentils

I made these lettuce cups on a whim for dinner last night and I’m so glad I did because I could see them going immediately into a regular rotation. I don’t know about you, but I think ground meat is underrated in the quick dinner category and am always looking for more things to do with it. This cooking technique, in which you flatten it out in a very hot pan and cook it until it’s browned and crisp on both sides, is like the best part of a Fake Shack Burger, amped to 12. I’m pretty sure, like the time I discovered the crispy egg and could not stop talking about it, I’m only going to want to cook it like this for now on.


what you'll need
tomato-cucumber relish salad

It’s then mixed with a larger amount of cooked lentils, which is ideal if you prefer to eat less meat or are hungry enough to eat a few lettuce cups and don’t want to eat a burger and a half along the way. Or if you figure if you’re going to eat a burger’s worth of meat, you’d like to at least have fries with it. Come sit down, you’re among friends.

crispy meat: never pretty, always tasty
assembly time

Finally, I often find lettuce “wraps” and to be embedded in stories of healthfulness and restraint and while neither are bad things, what I liked most about this is that we didn’t scoop this mixture onto crisp leaves because we think carbs are evil, but because we found it more refreshing there that it seemed in a pita. If serving a crowd, I’d definitely put out both. In fact, I’d expect this to scale well, so if you’ve been looking for an excuse to have people over soon but don’t want to spend more than 30 minutes making dinner, I think you know exactly what needs to be done.

crispy spiced lamb and lentils

Crispy Spiced Lamb and Lentils


One of the many things I like about this dish is that I think it could potentially be made with all lamb or all lentils. I didn’t find that the lentils got crisp, however, but firm small ones add a great texture.

    Crispy lamb and lentils
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds or a heaped 1/2 teaspoon ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown or green lentils (from a scant 1 cup dried)
  • Assembly
  • 8 to 10 cup-shaped leaves from 1 medium head bibb or butter lettuce
  • Tomato-cucumber “relish” salad
  • Lemon-tahini dressing, with or without yogurt, or 1 cup plain yogurt, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • A couple tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and mint, or a mixture thereof

Make crispy lamb and lentils: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add oil, and once oil is hot, arrange lamb in a large even patty about 1/4-inch thick. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until underside and browned and very crisp, about 5 minutes. Carefully pour off most of excess fat and discard. Flip meat in spatula-sized parts, sprinkle top with garlic, a good pinch of red pepper flakes (up to 1 teaspoon for real heat; I used 1/4 teaspoon), cumin and coriander, plus more salt and pepper, and cook until underside is browned, which should only take 2 to 3 more minutes. Use spatula to break lamb into smaller chunks and add lentils. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lamb is cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Transfer lamb-lentil mixture to a bowl.

To assemble: Arrange lettuce leaves on a platter and divide lamb-lentil mixture between them. Top with yogurt, tahini, or yogurt-tahini sauce, tomato-cucumber relish and herbs. Serve with hot sauce, if desired.

Extras: To make a tomato-cucumber “relish” salad: Chop a handful of tomatoes and 1 large or a few smaller cucumbers into very small pieces. Finely chop 1/4 a medium red onion. Mix vegetables and onion in a bowl and dress to taste with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. No matter how much it looks like, I promise it will be gone before the end of the meal.

To make a lemony-tahini yogurt dressing: Whisk 4 tablespoons well-stirred tahini in the bottom of a bowl. Whisk in the juice of 3/4 of a lemon, 1 minced garlic clove and 3 tablespoons water until smooth. Whisk in 2/3 cup plain yogurt, about 1/4 at a time, until smooth. Season with salt. Adjust everything to taste.

To make a lemony-tahini no-yogurt (so not thick and creamy, but still full of flavor) dressing: Combine 1/2 cup well-stirred tahini, 1 minced garlic clove, juice of 1 lemon, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bowl. Whisk in water as needed to loosen, you’ll likely need a few tablespoons. Season well with salt and pepper.


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89 comments on crispy spiced lamb and lentils

  1. Mel

    Deb, you have summarized why I so love your blog:

    ” Or if you figure if you’re going to eat a burger’s worth of meat, you’d like to at least have fries with it. Come sit down, you’re among friends.”

    Your humor and wit and writing and recipes are just…wonderful!! :) (and I can’t wait to make this recipe soon!!)

  2. Lee

    Deb, it’s like you read my mind every week. This sounds amazing and is going on the meal plan right now!! Thank you!

    “1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds or a heaped 1/2 teaspoon ground” – is this accurate? maybe 1/2 tablespoon seeds or 1/2 tsp ground?

    1. deb

      No, I really find that once ground, the volume isn’t very different. I think it’s because of the negative space inherent in seeds. Hope you like the dish!

  3. EB Russell

    I hate to be that person who starts substituting things right away, but I have ground turkey in my fridge right now, and now I know what I’m having for dinner. Thank you, as always!

    1. deb

      Actually I mean to suggest this as an alternative! I think it would work great here, although crispiness may be trickier to achieve.

    2. Jen

      @EB, I made this tonight with ground turkey thigh. I was able to get the turkey pretty browned in a very hot cast iron skillet, but the amount of time it took to do both sides rendered the meat very, very dry. It’s unpleasant, and I imagine it would only be worse with ground breast. If you use turkey, I’d recommend just browning it as normal without worrying about trying to get it crispy.

  4. Sow

    Hi Deb,

    Your friendly in-house never-stays-on-topic commenter here. Can you tell me when you prefer to use your cast iron pan vs non stick pan? In this recipe it seems pretty obvious that the cast iron is your best bet for a crispy base but in recipe where these pans can be used interchangeably, like pancakes, am often confused. My cast iron pan cooks the pancakes to an almost black color within a min, even on medium low flame.. specially if am on my 3rd or 4th pancake. My non stick on the other hand doesn’t give me a good color or takes a little longer to cook them. So am looking for pointers as to when one would use cast iron vs non stick. Hope my question makes sense :)

    I would also appreciate any suggestions for durable, pocket-friendly nonstick pans.

    Thanks!

    1. deb

      I prefer cast iron for things I want very crispy, or things that are fatty — meat, mostly, and deep-frying. Anytime you’re cooking something really oily in it, you’re giving it “water” to drink to help it grow and protect its sheen. I use to do pancakes in cast iron and have moved away from it too. If yours are blackening too fast on the lowest flame, you might benefit from some sort of muffler or diffuser (can’t think of the right word right now) for your burner to reduce the heat. But still, as pancakes are most prone to baking on the outside before the inside is set, I find a moderate to moderate-low heat in nonstick is easier and then you can use a more forgiving amount of butter. I don’t have a favorite nonstick but I know a lot of other people do. My only rule is to not spend too much on it because you should feel free to replace it if it gets damaged or severely scratched, and that’s a harder decision to make if you paid a ton for it.

      1. Rabina

        I know this is about 6 weeks later, but I will chime in and say that I am really enjoying the Calphalon Unison series pans that I have. Good non-stick, seem resistant to scratches (relative to other non-stick pans I’ve used), and they go in the oven too!

  5. Yes. This would have been perfect today, trying to get a dinner together quickly after a late sports pickup. I’m making a board for brilliant fast dinners and this is the first entry.

  6. Chris

    Do you have any suggestions for a substitute for cucumber in the salad? I’d love to include it as it seems like a great addition to the meal, but sadly the person I’m cooking for cannot eat cucumber without absurd amounts of heartburn.

    1. lauraperlman

      Staying with the Mediterranean theme, you might consider a bell pepper of the color of your choosing. Otherwise, you might try jicama to give the same crunch??

      1. Bridgit

        A small quantity of radish with tomatoes and onion would make a lovely salad in a similar vein. I think the pepper and jicama are both good suggestions too!

  7. lauraperlman

    I read it 4 times, I swear, but I can’t seem to figure out what you intend us to do with the reserved fat poured off after searing the lamb in the first step? You say to reserve it, but… for what?

    1. deb

      My bad, it’s missing a sentence or so. You’re supposed to take the lamb out of the frying pan, reheat the fat, and “crisp” the lentils in it. However, mine really didn’t get crisp so I’m going to have you skip this. Instead, once you begin breaking up the lamb, add the lentils to the frying pan and cook them together for a couple minutes until the lamb is cooked through, lentils are warm, reseason as needed. You can discard the extra fat.

      1. I frequently make a recipe from the Zahav cookbook that includes crispy lentils. It has you cook them normally and then fry them until crispy. I think I’ve used olive oil in a cast iron and they do get crispy but it takes maybe 7 minutes to really cook off the water and get crispy, fried bits. Maybe not worth the time in this recipe since you already have crispy meat?

  8. Amanda

    These look fantastic! I recently made naan tacos with ground lamb, tzatziki and pickled onions but found them heavy, can’t wait to try these – I might even be able to get the kids on board.

  9. Interesting! I love this way of browning ground meat. I’ve never heard of it before. I’d typically break it up immediately after it’s in the pan. Looks delicious :)

  10. KimC

    Oooh! This looks fantastic! Hmmm, I think I might go with endive instead of butter lettuce, though, so I have nice little boats of flavor. Is it weird that this post had me go down a tahin rabbit hole?

    1. deb

      Absolutely. I’d imagined from the beginning that one could go all meat or all lentil with this. I didn’t have luck getting lentils crispy, but it might be worth trying again.

    2. sbc

      I was thinking about trying it with red lentils in place of the meat (boiling them, mashing them, and then frying them so they get browned and crispy) and then adding in the brown lentils as described so there is a different texture. Not sure how that will turn out though!

    1. deb

      I suppose a sunflower seed butter might work but I’d probably just skip it altogether and use some seasoned or plain yogurt. You could also mix herbs and lemon into yogurt, as well as garlic, if you wish.

    2. stephabelle

      My daughter is also very allergic to sesame seeds, so I’m always looking for a good alternative to tahini (but man, do I love a good hummus.)

  11. Lamia

    For a very thick and creamy tahini-lemon sauce, without yogurt (referred to as tarator in Lebanese Arabic), I will pass along my dad’s method, which employs the ever-handy stick blender. I always taste and adjust as I go, but the amounts given here seem to line up well, except I omit the olive oil.

    Blend the ingredients in the tall container that comes with the stick blender, starting with a conservative amount of water. Continue to blend, moving the stick up and down throughout, and especially at the surface, to incorporate air into the mixture. It will become lighter and sort of fluffy, if you can imagine a fluffy tahini. Add water a bit at a time to achieve a fluffier consistency. There is, of course, a limit of how much added water it can take before it becomes un-fluffy. Stop when you reach a consistency you like.

  12. Lisa

    Looks super yummy. Thanks so much! According to kale and caramel you can crisp the lentils by drizzling with olive oil and roasting on a sheet pan for 30 minutes — maybe while the lamb is crisping/cooking?

      1. Cy

        That’s funny! I’ve never met a kid that didn’t like Mac n cheese. I love that your cuties have such sophisticated palates. :)
        You can ever talk this Armenian girl out of lamb, but love lentils too. I will also gladly come over and help you finish that Mac!

  13. marianne f murray

    Hi, this looks like another winner. Also wanted to say love the shout out to you in the NY Times “Sunday Routine” column last Sunday of Michael Kelly. You run with an interesting crowd for sure!

    1. Sow

      I found it hilarious that he refers to Deb as a mom in the neighborhood who has a blog.. I mean she is, but she also happens to be a NYT bestselling author, nbd :)

      1. marianne

        I KNOW! I was waiting for the fan love we all have for Deb. We all know she is WAY more than a “mom in the neighborhood who has a blog”. At least he mentioned the blog. I was just amused by the connection and hearing about Deb in an entirely different context……

        1. deb

          Aw, thanks. Our older kids go to the same, relatively small, school so I guess the title fits? They’re insanely nice, easygoing people and I know everyone says that stuff, I promise you I would just say nothing if it weren’t true. :)

          Also, I love that column and confess to reading it every week. This is the one I previously considered the gold standard. 😂

  14. Dawn in Vancouver

    Great, great great recipe. I couldn’t help but add about half a tsp cinnamon with the other spices. DO IT! Was perfect here, to add an indescribable warmth-without tasting “cinnamon-y”. Used puy lentils and beef because that’s what I had. I agree the heaviness of the meat/lentil mixture really benefits from the freshness of the lettuce. One and a half year old ate the meat/chopped veg with a spoon and five year old thought it was cool to eat in the lettuce. Win!

  15. Quiche

    Made this last night. Couldn’t find butter or bibb lettuce at Wegman’s, so we used the romaine lettuce we had in the fridge. We “vegetarianized” the recipe by adding Griller Crumbles instead of the lamb…and it was delicious. I loved the tomato-cucumber relish and using lettuce instead of pita bread made it feel so healthy and light. Another win!!

  16. Jill

    I made this last night for dinner. It was very tasty, though I might increase the spices a bit (mine might be old or ‘weak’). I had a hard time understanding the instructions for cooking the meat; you say to first brown the lamb patty on one side, drown the fat, then flip it in spatula sized portions, then sprinkle the garlic and spices on top and finish cooking. I took this to mean we should put the raw garlic and spices on the just-browned and now ‘top’ side of the patty. Doesn’t this prevent the spices and garlic from cooking into the meat? To me it would make more sense to put the spices and garlic on the raw side and then flip, so they cook into the meat. I was wondering if this was why mine lacked a bit in flavor, if I did this incorrectly. Thanks in advance for your clarification!

    1. deb

      Totally correct. I wanted them to warm up a bit but not cook directly for all of those minutes in that very hot pan — they’d all burn and become unpleasant. As you then break it up and saute the whole thing for a couple minutes with the lentils to finish cooking it, that’s when the spices “cook.”

  17. stephabelle

    I made this last night, and my two daughters (5 and 8) both loved it! We used ground turkey since that was what was on hand, but next time I will make the full pound of turkey (and try with lamb, because I’m sure it would be even more flavorful)

    My husband doesn’t like cucumbers, so I swapped the cucumbers for one chopped avocado.

    Finally, my older daughter is allergic to sesame seeds, so I made the dressing with lemon juice and yogurt. It was tangy, but worked well. I will definitely make it again!

  18. Wayne Hammond

    This recipe was a 10 with my family, including one “I don’t like lentils” eater. We did not make the yogurt tahini sauce because we had garlic sauce on hand already. I also had a bunch of garlic whistles with nothing better to do so I threw them in the cast iron pan surrounding the lamb as it browned (and keeping that lamb fat for the job). We chopped a little dill in with the mint and parsley too. It was outstanding. Thanks for another great recipe!

  19. JanetP

    I am swooning!! This sounds delicious. I would probably serve it with rice, but that’s just because I am a rice junkie.

  20. Jessica

    I made this for dinner and, while it was tasty (the yogurt tahini sauce is amazing), I’m not sure that cooking the meat in a patty and then breaking it up really gave me results that were all that different than just browning it like you usually would with ground meat. I used ground beef, so I’m not sure if that has something to do with it, but despite all of my efforts to flatten it out, after breaking it up in small bits I couldn’t really notice a marked increase in crispiness. I did really love the meat-lentil combination, though, and non-Asian-inspired lettuce wraps (although I love those, too!) are a nice change.

      1. Jessica

        I used cast iron. Could it be that the meat was still kind of chilled, not at room temp? It was still a delicious dinner, but maybe next time I could get those nice crispy-crunchy parts!

  21. Cait M

    Made this a few days ago at a friends house; the flavor combination is incredible! From a planning perspective, learn from my mistake and make the relish and yogurt sauce first, then cook the meat and lentils. By the time I’d gotten the cooling elements of the dish assembled the meat and lentils were cold in the pan, and we missed what I’m sure would be a great hot-and-cold temperature combo in the dish.

  22. Frederique

    I just made this! It was delicious. The lettuce brought some much needed freshness and lightness to this hot, hot day. This dish is well balanced, healthy, quick and easy to make, and surprisingly filling thanks to the lentils! The only change I made was using red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice with the tomatoes, and adding chives to the sauce. I will definitely make this again!

  23. Maria

    Made this the other night with the creamy yogurt sauce – so delicious and quick enough for a weeknight. Thanks, Deb!

  24. Hilary

    My husband and I really liked this! (The kids, still working on it.) I may have added too many lentils (not sure what the correct proportion would look like). I also made some farro for the kids. I cut my salad too large and had the wrong kind of lettuce, so it turned into more of a knife and fork meal than a lettuce wrap, but still yummy. Something for the whole family in there, like taco night with a mediterranean slant. Thanks, Deb!

  25. I made this last night, it is SO GOOD. I doubled the lamb, and used a bed of lettuce, since that’s what I had. The cucumber/onion/tom salata is awesome.

  26. Salwa Beheiry

    I have following your site since my daughter introduced me to your recipes 12 years ago. I love your creative delicious recipes. Keep up the good work, you are not only so talented but so very generous and warm!
    Cheers

  27. Dianne

    This was amazing! I used beef (couldn’t find lamb) and cooked up a full pound–doubled the spices and it turned out great. Like Jessica above, I couldn’t seem to get it to crisp up (despite using a cast iron pan), but I’ll keep trying. Love, love love! A wonderful, quick weeknight dinner perfect for warm days.

  28. Caroline

    I just had this for dinner, and it was awesome! The combo of lamb and lentils is very satisfying, and the meal came together very easily.

    I did use 1lb of lamb, and achieved crispiness with a very hot pan, coconut oil, and I opted to make four small patties rather than one large. They cooked quicker, but we’re plenty brown and crispy.

  29. Yolanda

    Made this over the weekend. Doubled the recipe, as we had houseguests. Everyone loved it. I will be making this again soon, as there were few leftovers!

  30. Katie Huffman

    I made this tonight and it was delicious. Even got my children (5 & 2) to eat it with a little pita and hummus. I did omit the pepper flakes for my kids but did add hot sauce on my helping. I’m adding this the weeknight repertoire. Thanks!

  31. What a tasty dinner! I have to admit it took me more than an hour to make all the individual components from start to finish, but after a few bites, I didn’t mind. It’s even better the next day after the flavors have had time to meld.

    Deb’s right about the cucumber-tomato relish. I made probably double the recipe and still could have used more!

  32. Delicious! I made this for dinner last night as we’re in the middle of a heatwave and I didn’t want to have the stove on to cook anything longer than 10 minutes. And the lettuce and yogurt was so nice and refreshing.

    I skipped the cumin because mine seems to have gone missing (I suspect I left it in a friend’s kitchen) but I will definitely add it in again next time. I also added about 2/3 c of finely chopped red onion to the lamb as it was getting crispy and it was yummy but not necessary.

    Will definitely add this into the rotation for summer meals (particularly as the VERY picky boyfriend will gladly eat it)

  33. I made this tonight and it’s great. I used a brand of sprouted lentils that don’t take very long to cook, which saves time. I didn’t follow the large patty method and I wish I had. My skillet wasn’t hot enough and I ended up just breaking up the lamb and cooking it like ground beef. I missed the crispy part! I also used iceberg lettuce and I will definitely do butter lettuce next time. Overall it was still delicious. We assembled it and used the tomato cucumber relish and some sour cream because that’s what I had on hand. This is a winner!

  34. This looks GREAT. Ground lamb is also expensive, so this is a nice way to stretch it. I’m going to make this for a group of girlfriends along with your hummus platter idea and grilled bread.

    Also, if you’re looking for more ground meat dinners: we are in LOVE with Korean beef which starts with ground beef and can be mixed with lentils. I think of it as an Asian sloppy joe. It’s very quick and always popular – I serve it with whatever Asian-ish veggies and herbs I have on hand. http://thriftathome.blogspot.com/2016/06/ben-attempts-lettuce-cups.html

  35. I made this a couple of days ago and love it so much! The flavour combination is just perfect. But since I love my food spicy, I changed it a bit to incorporate some chilli peppers and other spicy ingredients. Will try this recipe again with other meat, maybe ground turkey or chicken. I know it’ll still be good!

  36. Jenna

    Made this earlier this week, and my husband and I both LOVED it. I had to do a few weird things ~ I could not find ground lamb at my usual grocery stores (so disappointing!) so I used ground beef. Your spice mix still made it all taste beautiful, but I definitely want to make it again with lamb. I also spaced I was out of yogurt so I had to use sour cream for the tahini sauce. It actually turned out ok, and it tasted even better by the second day. This was such a perfect summer dinner. Thanks, Deb!

  37. Diane

    This is delicious! I used ground beef and didn’t fuss with lettuce cups — I just ate it out of a bowl with a fork. The leftovers were great, though I kept the meat/lentils, veggie salad, and tahini/yogurt sauce separate and added the dressing to the salad when I was packing it all up for lunch.

  38. Mimi

    I can say with confidence that I’ve never in the past owned nor eaten a lentil. With Aunt Irma knocking at our door here in Ft Lauderdale, we may not have enough gas or bottled water, but O God do we have lentils. As part of the Official State Hurricane Freakout, we are strongly urged to stock our pantries with huge quantities of nonperishable foods. Which we’ll probably never use, with any luck.

    So anyway, in anticipation of a couple of weeks of PB&J, I’ll be cooking these lentils for dinner tonight. I’m sure they’re delicious, if your legendary pizza, sour cream cake, pistachio cake, pistachio cake with apricots, blueberry muffins, cheese blintzes, and chopped salad of non-specific middle eastern origin are any indication. Stay safe, my Floridian people.

  39. Mia

    Delicious! If you’re making it as an entire meal, like I did, definitely double the recipe or more. I made for me, my husband, and my three 1-3.5 year old kids and doubling worked great.

    I didn’t intend any substitutions, but the cucumbers at the store weren’t crisp so I used the 1/2 farmers market cuc I had and added radishes. That worked great. Next time I’ll make per the recipe but serve with radishes.