Surprise spice balances lamb, apricot dish |

Surprise spice balances lamb, apricot dish

Bev Bennett
Tribune Media Services
Lamb and Apricots over Orzo.
Jim Frost |

Cinnamon, your go-to spice to sprinkle over French toast, cappuccino or cookie batter, has a savory side as well, although you’re more likely to sample it in dishes from other countries.

Renowned chef Rick Bayless calls for cinnamon in his recipe for simple red mole enchiladas. Indian cuisine takes full advantage of this spice as well. Cooks add a cinnamon stick when preparing the Northern Indian recipe for chicken smothered in herbs and almonds.

The smoky-sweet spice is popular because it provides balance to so many dishes including beef and chicken as well as to vegetables.

If a dish tastes too hot, too bland, too tart, too sharp, a pinch of cinnamon is all you need to round out the flavor.

With such versatility, cinnamon tops the list of spices you’ll want to keep at hand when you’re cooking for two.

Unless you like using cinnamon sticks as a garnish for tea or coffee, your best bet is to buy ground spice in small containers. Cinnamon loses its flavor over time. Take a sniff occasionally. If the spice no longer has a pronounced aroma, toss it and buy more.

The following dish of ground lamb with cinnamon, tomatoes and apricots, which is inspired by Middle Eastern cooking, is sweet with a piquant hint. Serve it over orzo or rice.

Lamb and Apricots over Orzo

Makes 2 servings.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 large shallot, minced

8 ounces ground lamb

1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes (see note)

1⁄4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1⁄8 teaspoon pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄8 teaspoon ground cumin

1⁄4 cup sliced dried apricots (see note)

1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

11⁄2 cups cooked orzo

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet. Add garlic and shallot and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until aromatic. Add ground lamb. Brown while breaking up with wooden spoon. Pour off any fat.

Add crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin and apricots. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened and flavors are blended. Sprinkle on cilantro. Serve over orzo.

Note: Fire-roasted tomatoes have a pleasant smoky flavor. If not available substitute regular crushed tomatoes. Use plump, dried apricots.

Each serving has: 520 calories; 20 grams total fat; 26 grams protein; 55 grams carbohydrates; 82.5 milligrams cholesterol; 725 milligrams sodium and 4.5 grams dietary fiber.