Grilled Lamb Chops with Cucumber-Mint Orzo Salad

Between the fast-cooking orzo pasta, and the lamb chops that cook to perfection in just a few minutes on the grill, this is an easy, Summer-afternoon dish that comes together in just a few minutes. The contrast between the smoky, pleasant, ever-so-slightly gamey grilled lamb chops and the light, lemony, minty orzo salad is delightful. In fact, in Italian, the word “orzo” means “tiny cooling slippery mouth button,” and that is evident in this dish, where each bite of bright, fresh orzo salad mellows and cools the fire of the grilled meat.

Lamb is a meat you have to spend some extra money on. Don’t bargain shop for lamb. And if you have access to a decent butcher, try and get double or triple-cut chops, with two or three rib bones per chop. The thicker meat proves much more foolproof for grilling; it’s very easy to overcook single chops. If you are stuck with single chops (as we were for this recipe), watch the clock more than you watch the color of the meat. You’ll get a perfect medium rare on single-cut chops after exactly two minutes per side on a hot grill, but if you wait until the outsides are completely crusted over, you may find you’ve overcooked your chops. Let the clock and a thermometer be your guide: finished chops should have an internal temperature of around 140 degrees. And of course, let them rest for about five minutes before serving.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Cucumber-Mint Orzo Salad
Adapted from a recipe in Real Simple; Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest and juice from one lemon, divided
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 8 small lamb rib chops, about two pounds total
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pitted black olives, halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Method:

  1. On a shallow plate, combine garlic, lemon zest, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and 1/2 a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the lamb chops, and turn to coat evenly. Refrigerate, covered, for an hour.
  2. While lamb chops marinate, cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain, cool under running water, and shake well to remove excess moisture. In a medium bowl, toss orzo with the cucumber, scallions, olives, mint, lemon juice, the remaining olive oil, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper.
  3. To serve, remove the lamb chops from the marinade and cook, covered, on a hot grill, two minutes per side. Serve with the orzo salad.
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Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road." He currently owns and operates the Ancho Honey restaurant in Maine.

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