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Near East Feast : Roast Lamb Fares Well With Bulgur, Spinach and Shiitake Mushrooms

Balsley is The Times' food editor.

TWO STAPLESof Middle Eastern cooking since earliest recorded history, lamb and bulgur, seem to have a natural affinity. Bulgur--wheat that has been cooked, dried and coarsely ground--has a rich, nutty taste that blends well with lamb’s distinctive flavor.

These days, nutritionists are particularly fond of bulgur as a good source of fiber. Tabbouleh , the Middle Eastern salad, was the inspiration for the following recipe, best made with leftovers from a roast leg of lamb. Serve with Middle Eastern cracker bread and a green salad.

LAMB WITH BULGUR, SPINACH AND SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS 1 cup bulgur 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can beef broth 1 bunch fresh spinach 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 clove garlic, minced 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts 1 cup cooked, diced lamb 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves Salt, pepper Crumbled feta cheese Rinse bulgur, drain well and place in large mixing bowl. Stir in boiling broth to cover, place towel over bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.

Clean and remove stems from spinach leaves. Chop coarsely. Remove stems from mushrooms and discard. Chop mushroom tops coarsely.

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Heat olive oil in skillet, add onion and garlic, and saute a few minutes, just until onions soften. Stir in spinach leaves and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until spinach wilts and mushrooms begin to soften.

To bulgur, add spinach mixture, tomatoes, pine nuts, lamb and oregano, tossing lightly to mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Turn mixture into oven-proof casserole, and bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes. Sprinkle with feta cheese, and cook 10 minutes longer or until heated through. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Food styled by Stephen Shern; casserole dish and napkin from Crate & Barrel.

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