Salute spring’s arrival with lamb chops over a minty pea purée

With the arrival of spring comes many reasons to celebrate: more hours of sunlight, the first signs of warmer weather, all of the holidays, my birthday (OK, that one might just be me) and a new crop of produce to enjoy. Let’s honor the season with a meal of pan-seared lamb chops, a luscious pea and mint purée, and tart-sweet pomegranate.

Lamb has long been associated with this time of year, largely because of the animal’s religious symbolism and connection to Easter. “Since ancient times, lamb has epitomized spring and served as a symbol of salvation and sacrifice, new life, and renewal,” Washington State Magazine editor Adriana Janovich wrote.

Yet it seldom makes an appearance on most American dinner tables.

The only lamb chop I knew of in my youth was the sock puppet character and its 1990s PBS show. I imagine its higher cost compared with other types of meat was the biggest factor for my family, but even still, Americans today consume only about 1 pound of lamb annually, per the Agriculture Department, which is down from the already modest 5 pounds per capita we enjoyed in 1912.

Part of the decline is due to supply changes that followed the advent of synthetic fibers. This adversely affected the wool industry, of which lamb and mutton have historically been seen as byproducts. (Lamb comes from sheep less than 14 months old, whereas mutton comes from older animals, which means it is tougher and has a stronger flavor profile.)

In addition, demand has posed its own set of challenges as some people struggle with the gaminess of meat from sheep, which decidedly took a turn in the middle of the 20th century. “By the end of World War II, mutton had come to symbolize everything that Americans wanted to leave behind,” Modern Farmer editor-in-chief Rose Garrett wrote. “Men returned from the war swearing they’d never eat another bite of mutton after stomaching tinned army rations that included the notoriously unappetizing ‘Mutton Stew with Vegetables.’”

Though mutton is nearly impossible to source in the United States, anecdotally based on what I see on restaurant menus and social media feeds, interest in lamb might be on the rise. It’s one of my favorite meats, with a mild gaminess that I enjoy.

One of the classic ways to enjoy lamb is paired with mint, which also pops up in the spring. More than a seasonal association, the herb balances the richness of the meat and also enhances the overall flavor — thanks to science. “Mint is rich with branched-chain ketones, chemically related to the branched-chain fatty acids released during cooking lamb,” Janovich wrote. “Foods that share similar compounds and chemical structures taste better together.”

Here, the mint is blended with peas (another springtime favorite), butter and lemon juice to make a bright, luscious purée to accompany lamb chops. Sprinkle on top when serving, along with pomegranate seeds and molasses. The fruit in two forms adds exciting texture and tart-sweetness to round out the flavors of the dish.

This meal is special enough to serve as the main course of a dinner party or holiday feast, but also comes together fast enough to make it suitable for a weeknight. It’s the best of both worlds, which, on its own, is reason to celebrate.

Minty Pea Puree Scott Suchman for The Washington Post, food styling by Lisa Cherkasky

Lamb Chops With Minty Pea Purée and Pomegranate

Make ahead: The pea purée can be made up to 1 day in advance. Gently reheat in a saucepan over low heat until warm.

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Where to buy: Pomegranate molasses can be found at well-stocked supermarkets, Middle Eastern markets and online.

Fine salt

2 cups green peas (10 ounces), fresh or frozen

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, plus more for serving

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)

Freshly ground black pepper

8 lamb rib chops (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

1 tablespoon canola, vegetable or other neutral oil

pomegranate seeds (arils), for serving

pomegranate molasses, for serving

In a medium pot of lightly salted boiling water, blanch the peas until bright green and soft, 2 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer the peas to a heatproof blender along with 1/4 cup of the blanching water. Add the mint, butter, lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover loosely, gradually increase the speed to high and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the pitcher, as needed. Taste, and season with more salt and/or pepper, as desired; set aside.

Pat lamb chops dry and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, add the lamb chops and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side, depending on your desired level of doneness. (For medium-rare, an instant-read thermometer should read 130 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the chop away from the bone at serving.) Transfer to a platter and repeat with the remaining lamb chops.

To serve, transfer the pea purée to a platter, top with the lamb chops, sprinkle with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds, and drizzle with pomegranate molasses.

Serves 4 (makes 8 lamb chops and 1 cup minty pea purée)

Nutrition per serving (2 lamb chops and 1/4 cup pea purée): 627 calories, 15g carbohydrates, 187mg cholesterol, 38g fat, 5g fiber, 57g protein, 18g saturated fat, 263mg sodium, 6g sugar

— From staff writer Aaron Hutcherson.

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