Lamb berbere with grilled vegetables, jalapeño pesto and smoked tomato orzo

Yes, that is a segment of lamb femur with the marrow sucked out, enjoying its second life as a parsley holder.

I love having a little time to just wander around the grocery store, no agenda or list, and just see what looks good and let the ingredients inform me for what I’m hankering. A sexy leek, with its perfect alabaster root end dripping suggestively with the misters’ cool water. The vessel of colorful peppers, some chocolate-purple and peridot, rufous striated, all twisted and gnarled from errant, heirloom DNA (scrupulously bred out of modern hothouse varieties in the name of solanaceous eugenics). Eggplant heavy in its basket like a milk-distended breast. I love produce. I fucking love it.

I also love meat. Pork, beef, lamb – I love lamb so much that I can’t help but wonder how delicious other baby animals must be. Fawn – oh god, can you imagine baby venison? A properly-cooked steak (which always means medium-rare with crusty maillard) is tantamount to ascension.

Anyways, I assembled these ingredients: sweet peppers, eggplant, leek, parsley, lamb leg steak (plus tomatoes and jalapeños from the garden). Without contemplation, I gave the steak a massage with the last of the heady Berbere spice mix. I sliced the eggplant into thick wedges and salted them to leach out the bitter nightshade jus. I quartered the leek and peppers lengthwise, and doused them in red wine vinegar, lemon juice/zest, olive oil and minced shallots. The tomatoes were cut into thick chunks and nestled into a foil bowl with oil and garlic. Stashed a sack of hickory under the grate and fired up the grill.

In a few minutes, the sweet smell of hickory permeated the patio and tendrils of smoke began to sneak into the kitchen. The marinated vegetables went on the fire, the tomatoes in their little cradle. I replaced the lid to trap the smoke.

When the vegetables had received their requisite char, they were returned to their marinade bowl and the steak went down. I’m so old-fashioned that I can’t conceive of dinner without starch, so I got some orzo boiling (I was out of couscous, the “no doy” choice). When it was tender I drained it, dumped in the smoked tomatoes and garlic, some chopped parsley and cilantro, pinches of salt and chopped some of the grilled eggplant. I gave the lot a glug of olive oil and a squirt of lemon juice.

I had been thinking about a sauce for dipping the meat and veg – gremolata? Pistou? Again, I just left my instinct to its devices and plugged handfuls of parsley and cilantro into a large cup, and added a hearty glug of olive oil. A pinch of salt was added, and some minced shallot. Whiz with the immersion blender. Taste. Add a small handful of pumpkin seeds, and a whole, raw chopped jalapeño. Whiz, taste. Needs acid, and….something. A squirt of lemon, a clove of garlic and some more salt. Whiz, taste. Perfect.

Dinner was amazing. Flavors of Algiers that I’ve never imagined before – Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, African – all mingled harmoniously on my plate. Cooking by animal instinct, from the gut, has never failed me.