You can learn a lot about lamb in the high country of Colorado. I was there in mid-June for the Hi-Country Lamb Cook-Off in Greeley. I not only picked up a few fabulous lamb recipes, but also learned a bit about the people who raise lamb in the high country, and about their dogs.
If you have never watched a border collie move a flock of sheep gently and quietly across a grassy meadow, you have missed a beautiful sight. With a few soft spoken commands, "way-to-me," "go-by" or "there," one man, indeed even a young boy or girl, can gently move the sheep wherever they want them to go. In Greeley, a 10-year-old lad with his 12-week-old border collie puppy put on an incredible demonstration.
Three Categories of Entries
There were 34 teams entered in the cook-off preparing lamb dishes in three categories: loin and rib, legs, and shoulder and shank. I was one of the judges in the shoulder/shank category. I can honestly say that I have never been involved in a cooking contest where so many different entries deserved to win. There were delicious dishes of all kinds, from braised lamb in a filo basket and lamb shanks in sauerkraut to lamb won tons. There was even a cured and smoked lamb shoulder, which was so delicious it would bring shivers to the spine of any pork producer.
The winning dish in my category was Lamb Fajitas, which was based on the popular south Texas dish made traditionally with beef skirts. Jim Dalton, the team captain from Eaton, Colo., got the idea for them while he was at the National Cattleman's Convention in San Antonio, Tex., last year.
The grand-prize winner was a fantastic grilled lamb loin marinated in a yogurt sauce. It was prepared by Barry Anderson, a rancher from Grover, Colo. His dish was incredibly tender with a wonderful curry-like tang. It's a great one to try on the barbecue grill this summer.
GRILLED LAMB LOINS IN YOGURT MARINADE
1 cup yogurt
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 boneless lamb loin, about 2 pounds
Mix 2/3 cup yogurt, garlic, ginger, cilantro, cumin, turmeric, salt and cayenne together. Place lamb loin in zip-lock bag, pour marinade over lamb loin to coat completely and marinate loins in refrigerator 24 hours.
Remove meat from refrigerator 1 hour before cooking. Pour off excess marinade and grill over medium-hot coals 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare.
Meanwhile, combine leftover marinade with 1/3 cup yogurt. Slice meat into 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve with sauce. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 to 3 pounds boneless shoulder or leg of lamb
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 green peppers, cut julienne
2 tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
Warm tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, salsa, refried beans and hot pepper sauce
Mix together soy sauce, Worcestershire, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Cut lamb into thin strips about 1/2 inch wide, 2 inches long and 1/8 inch thick. Be sure to trim and discard any tough connective tissue and hunks of fat.
Pour sauce over lamb slices and marinate, covered, in refrigerator 12 to 24 hours.
Drain marinade and reserve for other use. (Refrigerate in covered jar.)
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add lamb, garlic and onion. Cook, stirring, until lamb is browned and onion just begins to soften. Add pepper strips and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste and continue cooking just long enough for tomatoes to heat through.
Remove from heat and serve immediately, from skillet, accompanied by basket of warm tortillas and bowls of guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, salsa, refried beans and hot sauce.
To eat, spoon some of meat mixture onto center of tortilla. Add any or all garnishes, and roll up. Makes 6 servings.