Lisa Eberhahn on Challenge No. 1
I prepared Grilled Lamb Kabobs with Pepita Salsa and a side of Green Bean Celery Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette and Sweet-Salty Pepitas.
I chose this dish because I wanted to get the last bit of summer out of this year. In honor of Sept. 22, I knew I wanted to grill and include a cool salad. I don't have the luxury of grilling all year long because I use a charcoal grill.
I wanted to complete our meal by dining alfresco. With all the rain, we were forced to move the grill and our table into the garage.
My reaction to the ingredients was excitement! I love lamb, but don't usually prepare it at home. It's a meat that I typically order if I'm out at a Greek restaurant. I have never heard of monk fruit sweetener. I love learning about new ingredients and the challenge of creating something with them.
The idea of getting A LOT of sweetness from a very small amount of an ingredient is not something I've encountered. This fact made me really think outside the box and experiment with quantities. I love it!
I was so excited about the sweet element in the bag and the pepitas. My original thought was pepita brittle to sprinkle on the beans. After researching and tasting the monk fruit sweetener, I realized I would not be able to make brittle. I cannot add more sugar to an already very sweet element; this was my low point.
I had many highs during this process, but I will stick with the sweetener since I mentioned it as my low. I did a lot of experimenting with this ingredient. What I discovered was that it created the perfect balance in my vinaigrette. I make all my own dressings, and, I have to say, this is one of my favorites.
I wanted to make sure that I used the pepitas and the sweetener in both of my menu items. The pepitas because I think they bring a nice nuttiness to many dishes. I like the versatility of them, too. I chopped them very finely to add to my salsa and left them whole and roasted for the bean salad -- both very different delicious uses.
I used the sweetener in a few different ways, too. For the meat, I wanted a sweet-spicy combination. With all the spices mixed together, I incorporated the sweetener with a muddler. The result was a nice, moist combination. I would make this again to use as a rub on pork or chicken.
As I mentioned above, I used the sweetener to balance the vinaigrette. Finally, I used the sweetener to create a sweet-salty coating for the pepitas on the salad.
I had two taste-testers, my husband and 14-year-old son. My 20-year-old son is away at college and was my visual tester. My husband loved everything about the entire dish. He loved the kebabs. The lamb flavor brought him back to some happy Easter memories with his family.
He is not fond of green beans, but I won him over with the bean salad. We discovered he does not like cooked beans, but likes them raw. He also loved the small cuts.
My 14-year-old son doesn't like most vegetables but said that he might order a very small side of the salad. He liked the dressing, but he went nuts for the salsa and he finished it off by the spoonful. My college son said that he would eat everything on the plate, and he especially liked the look of the salsa.
Two surprises: I was shocked at how much sweetness one drop of the monk fruit provided. It was a challenge to get just the right amount of sweetness. It's difficult to cut a drop in half.
The meat was not cooperating with me. It was falling off the skewers. I ended up putting them in the freezer until firm. They held up much better on the grill that way.
My feelings from this challenge are happiness and accomplishment. I had such a great time creating and executing this dish. Everything from studying the sweetener to creating and recreating my recipes was a joy. My family coming in and out of the kitchen to check on my progress was fun too.
I am very happy with the outcome of my dish. I set out to create a dish for the last day of summer, and I believe I achieved it.
I only wish I had a long, narrow, white dish for plating.
-- Lisa Eberhahn