This dish intensifies the exquisite pleasure of enjoying lamb’s unique and succulent flavors. Gloriously fatted rib chops are marinated with a fired-up version of berbere, the quintessential spice blend of Ethiopian cuisine, then pan-seared over high heat. Our mitmita lamb chops come with fasolia, a spicy mix of al dente green beans and carrots, with serrano peppers, potato, onion, garlic, and tomato.
Chili-centric, finely ground, and brick-red, berbere is Ethiopia’s signature spice mix. But there is a lesser-known, stripped-down, orange-hued variant that is much hotter. It’s called mitmita, and it typically features just four ingredients – African bird’s eye chilies, cardamom, cloves, and salt. It’s a sort of no-frills, race-car version of berbere.
For our hot chops’ marinade, an easily made mitmita is combined with plenty of lemon juice and garlic, two key ingredients that have always partnered perfectly with lamb that’s been crisply charred on the outside but remains tenderly pink inside.
Gloriously rich flavors
The intense complexity of lamb’s tastes means that it’s got enough strength of character to keep its own, obvious identity when paired with the big flavors of seriously fiery mitmita, garlic, and lemon juice.
That’s especially true of lamb rib chops. These are slightly larger and fattier than more delicately flavored loin chops, and their meatier, firmer centers are much better suited to robust seasoning and high heat.
And the net result with our chops? Well, the range of bold flavors is such a wonderful surprise. These chops taste fiery, salty, smoky, garlicky, and citrusy. But at the same time, shining through all that, there’s the deep, sweetly gamey flavor for which lamb is renowned.
The two, simple secrets to crisp, golden, tender pink chops
Toothpicks and a seriously hot skillet.
The toothpicks are used to pin a trio of chops together, so they look a bit like a mini rack of lamb. That little trick allows you to give the flavor-packed, fat edges enough high-heat searing in a hot skillet, to create a dark golden, crisping char.
Once that’s happened, and some of the fat has melted out, you pull your mini racks apart and finish cooking the chops for a few minutes on each side over much less intense heat.
This two-heat, toothpick trick might be really easy to do, but the effect it produces is absolutely outstanding.
The very lovely fasolia
This complements the chops’ soaring flavors so well. It’s much more mildly spiced and far more gently cooked. That means the green beans and carrots are just cooked through, keeping their toothsome crunch and all the vibrancy of their contrasting colors.
The beans, carrots, and potatoes get cooked first. They’re then warmed through in a sauce of slowly softened red onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes, and a little water. That sweetish, mellow sauce is lightly spiced with cumin, coriander, and cardamom, and it gets a touch of upfront spark from the pretty mild heat of a few fresh, thinly sliced, green serrano peppers.
The bite-size chunks of firm, waxy potato create a pleasing, earthy homeliness, adding to our fasolia’s high ranking on the comfort-food scale.
That ranking makes our fasolia an ideal companion for the chops. Its flavors, colors, and textures are all so freshly vivid that they offer a delightful balance to the assertive potency of the lamb.
A word about the mitmita marinade
Thirty minutes at room temperature is the way to go. That’s an effective combo for most marinades, rather than a lot of much-repeated, mythical guidance which suggests far longer times and chilling in the refrigerator.
Mythical? Yep, absolutely. Fact is, marinades don’t penetrate meat to any significant depth – particularly fatty ones. And, the colder the meat, the less the marinade is able to penetrate it.
Another point specifically about temperature is that whole cuts of meat never cook very well straight from the refrigerator, tending always to be tougher and less flavorsome than meat that’s about as warm as you are.
This short-and-warm approach definitely works wonders with our chops, rewarding you with an array of flavors that all respect and support one another.
Like this recipe? You’ll love these too:
- Skillet-Seared Spicy Lamb Kabobs With Mixed Vegetable Skewers: Lamb’s gaminess works so well with the earthy seared flavor.
- Tequila Marinated Steaks With Patatas Bravas: So many flavors here, and these fiery potatoes almost steal the show from the tasty steak.
- Lamb Kofta Meatballs: A tasty appetizer served with yogurt dip and flatbreads.
Mitmita Lamb Chops With Spicy Fasolia
- 12 wooden toothpicks to pin the chops into 4 ‘mini racks’
For the lamb rib chops
- 3 ¼ pounds lamb rib chops That weight gave me 12 evenly sized chops
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the mitmita marinade
- 16 dried African bird’s eye chilies finely ground. The ones I used were each about 1 inch long, and a ¼-inch thick at their widest point.
- 8 cloves garlic peeled and finely grated
- 2 lemons the juice and flesh
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground green cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 ½ heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
For the fasolia
- 3 fresh green serrano peppers sliced into ¼-inch disks, seeds and all
- 8 ounces green beans topped, tailed and cut into slices about 2 inches long
- 6 ounces carrots peeled and cut into oblong chunks, about 1 inch long, 1/3-inch wide
- 6 waxy potatoes medium size, peeled and cut into quarters. I chose ones that were bite-sized when quartered.
- 1 red onion medium size. Peeled, halved, and cut into ¼-inch slices.
- 16 cherry tomatoes halved. The ones I used were each about 1 ¼ inch long.
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
- 1 heaped tablespoon ginger root grated, skin and all
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup water
Preparing the fasolia
- We’ll start with the fasolia because the beans and carrots get partially cooked before they join the sauce along with the fully cooked potatoes.
- So, add the potatoes to a saucepan large enough to hold that trio of veg, together with a level teaspoon salt, and enough water to just cover the potatoes. Set the pan on a high heat and bring it to a boil. Now drop the heat to low and let the potatoes simmer for about 7 minutes until they’re almost cooked through.
- Now add the carrots and beans and let the pan simmer on that low heat for another 3 minutes. You’re aiming to soften the beans and carrots, so they become al dente, and for the potatoes to finish cooking right through.
- Drain the pan and let the vegetables sit in a covered bowl while you make the fasolia’s sauce.
- To do that, add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the saucepan over a medium-high heat. Let the pan heat for a minute, then stir in the onions and salt, and drop the heat to medium.
- You want to fry the onions for about 5 minutes with a few stirs so that they soften and just begin to pick up a little color. Now add the tomatoes and continue gently stir frying on that medium heat for another 5 minutes, until the tomatoes start softening and begin to lose their body. Once that happens, stir in the garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, and black pepper, and continue frying on that medium heat for another 5 minutes.
- Now stir in the water and let the pan come up to a gently bubbling simmer. Drop the heat to low and let the occasionally stirred sauce simmer away for about 5 minutes, so that the tomatoes become almost pureed. Good. Turn off the heat and let the sauce sit while you turn your attention to the chops and the mitmita marinade.
Making the mitmita marinade
- Ideally, you want to use an electric spice / coffee grinder to grind the dried African bird’s eye chilis to quite a fine powder, but a little patient work with a pestle and mortar will do the trick.
- Once the chilies are ground, combine them with all the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl that’s easily large enough to hold all the chops.
- Use your fingers to give the chops a thorough coating of the marinade and set them aside for 30 minutes..
Pinning the chops into mini-racks, ready for cooking
- This is surprisingly easy. To start, lay three chops one on top of the other, so that the fatted sides form a flat, even edge. Now push three evenly spaced toothpicks through the chops so that they’re pinned together into a mini rack. That’s it. They’re all set for some searing heat.
Cooking the chops – hot and fast
- Set a large serving platter in a low oven so that it will heat through and be ready for keeping the chops warm for a few minutes once they’ve been cooked.
- To cook the chops, I used a heavy, 12-inch skillet that was comfortably big enough to sear the fat sides on all four racks of pinned chops simultaneously.
- Set your skillet on a high heat and add a tablespoon olive oil. As soon as the oil starts shimmering, add the mini racks fat side down. Let them sear fiercely on that high heat for about 2 minutes so that you get a dark golden, crisping char all over the flat, fatted sides.
- Once that’s happened, drop the heat to medium-high, and remove the four pinned racks. Pull the chops apart, and quick as you can, return 6 of them to the skillet in a single, evenly spaced layer.
- Let them fry for 3 minutes or so on each side over that medium-high heat, until they pick up a rich gold color. Great. They’re done. Set the chops on your warmed plate and then finish frying the rest. They chops will be fine in your low oven while you give the fasolia its last few minutes’ cooking.
Finishing the fasolia
- Heat the sauce over a medium high heat until it starts to simmer, and then carefully stir in the beans, carrots and potatoes. I say carefully because it looks so much better if the potatoes’ keep their nicely angular shapes. Drop the heat to medium and give the pan a couple more stirs so that the trio of vegetables gets thoroughly warmed through at a slow simmer. Finished, and ready to serve.
I turned the fasolia into the warmed serving platter and set the chops on top of it in a circle so that folks could help themselves.