Cumin-Lamb Meat Pies

Mmmmm, pie. Jim Gaffigan and his "hooooooot pocket!" stand-up bit be damned, I love me a good hand-held pie stuffed with meat. But unlike the half-frozen, half molten-lava, flavorless pocket Jim wishes was as good as they make it look on the package, this meat pie delivers.

I've been enjoying an evolving cumin-lamb recipe from Mandy of Lady and Pups, a food blogger I follow passionately. A New Yorker recently transplanted to Beijing, China, Mandy provides the "scratch" to my Asian cuisine "itch". Combining technique-tested traditional dishes with her love for a great mash-up, she's 98% of the reason I'm continually ordering ingredients from Amazon and stopping at the Asian markets in Vegas each time I pass through. The fact that she loves her pups to death doesn't hurt, either.

Marinating thin slices of lamb in spicy cumin and chilis, tossing it with onions and bean sprouts and draping it across hand-pulled noodles (yep, she includes the recipe), then topping it off with a drizzle of the best chili oil ever is something I've been doing for a couple of months now. And I was craving it yet again as I traveled home from Arkansas, a beautiful section of the Midwest, but not necessarily a hot-spot for Asian cuisine (though the catfish and frog legs are to die for).

Knowing lamb is hard to come by in my tiny town (though things are improving), I stopped at a store in Albuquerque to bolster the pantry back home, hoping I'd be able to score a bit of lamb as well. Perhaps it was the earliness of the day or the particular day of the week, but the joint only had ground lamb. I was hoping for a tenderloin or a chop or even leg of lamb - something I could finely slice, but they just didn't have it.

So I picked up a pound of ground lamb anyway, thinking the ground meat would offer a different and interesting experience. But as I packed everything in the cooler and continued to head west, I began to think that instead of ladling the spicy lamb over noodles or rice, perhaps it would make a yummy, spicy lamb burger. And the more I thought about that, the more I thought the ground meat encased in pizza dough would work even better.

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It works on so many levels. A hand-held spicy meat pie dipped in a cool, herby yogurt sauce - heat and spice contrasted with creamy coolness.

Yes, Jim, I'll send you one.

Cumin-Lamb Meat Pie

Adapted from an original recipe by Lady and Pups

Makes 4 hand-held pies

Ingredients

Marinade:

  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp coarsely ground cumin
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp extra dark soy sauce (for color)
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn

Pie ingredients:

  • 8oz pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1 lb pizza dough (your own recipe or store-bought, there's no judgement here!)
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Herby Yogurt Dip

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (you can go Greek but it will be a stiffer dip - heh, heh!)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped mint
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground spice of your choice (like za'atar)
  • salt and pepper to taste

 In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the marinade. Add the ground lamb and mix gently until the marinade is incorporated into the meat, but do not over-mix. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.

In a large skillet (I prefer cast-iron because it produces crispy bits of lamb), heat one tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground lamb to the skillet, smashing the meat gently to cover the entire surface area of the pan. Let the meat cook undisturbed for 30 seconds to one minute to form a crust. At this point you can begin to break of the meat and flip to brown it on all sides. 

Your kitchen should now smell amazing!

When the meat is cooked through, remove it to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil to the pan if it appears too dry - depending on how fatty your lamb is, you may have enough fat in the pan to cook the onions and sprouts. Turn the heat down to medium and add the red onion slices. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the onions start to soften, then add the minced garlic. Cook for an additional minute or two, then add the bean sprouts. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the lamb mixture back to the skillet and heat through, incorporating all the ingredients well.

Remove the mixture from the skillet and let it cool down a bit. You don't want to add the mixture to pizza dough while it's hot.

While the meat is cooling, preheat the oven to 450-degrees. Divide your pound of pizza dough into four equal parts. Dust with flour and either roll or pat out the dough to 6" rounds. Spoon 1/4 of the lamb mixture onto the dough and fold to make a half-moon pie shape. Seal the edges of the dough either by crimping or "stamping" with a fork. Cut two or three vents in the top of the pies which will allow steam to escape and keep the pies from exploding (no one likes exploding pies). Paint the pies with the beaten egg and season with salt and pepper.

Bake in a 450-degree oven for 10-12 minutes until the pies are golden brown and gleaming like the hot pockets of your dreams. While the pies are baking, make the yogurt dip.

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, herbs, and spices of your choosing (I like za'atar). Mix well. If the dip is too thick, you can add a little olive oil to loosen it up a bit. 

Allow the pies to cool for about 10 minutes as the contents inside will be piping hot. Not molten-lava hot, but, well, you know.