Lamb for the Holidays

Most cooks are familiar with basic roasted leg of lamb served with mint jelly or the more expensive roasted rack of lamb. My family enjoys both of these. But I’ve found some different ways to serve lamb that have become favorite recipes that we enjoy throughout the year.

Throughout the world lamb is a popular symbol of Easter. Today’s tradition of enjoying roasted lamb on Easter stems from the Jewish ritual of the Passover Seder. So, while we think of this as a symbol of Easter, it is actually a festive staple for both Christians and Jews.

My husband and I met when we were students studying abroad and were lucky enough to travel throughout Europe on a student budget. We hopped from country to country on our Eurail passes and managed to see 13 countries in a five month period. While traveling, we tried to familiarize ourselves with different cuisines while depleting our small bank accounts. By the time we made it to Greece, we were pretty broke but still managed to savor some fabulous food. A favorite dish we came upon was Greek Lamb Souvlaki. These tender pieces of skewered and grilled lamb were served all over Greece and fit right into our budget.

Soon after we were married I set out to find a Greek Souvlaki recipe. We didn’t have the internet then so we went to a bookstore and came upon a book by the Frugal Gourmet. We were still on a tight budget. After finding a recipe I sat on the floor of the bookshop and hand wrote it down. (Apologies to the now defunct bookstore in Millburn but my husband did give me the book later for Christmas that year.)

What’s great about this recipe is that the meat is trimmed and cubed so that most of the fat, characteristic of lamb dishes, is removed. The meat is also marinated for up to 24 hours so I find the that meat doesn’t have the “gamey” flavor often associated with lamb (and, hence, why it’s often served with mint jelly.) I usually buy a boneless leg of lamb but a less-expensive bone-in lamb can be used as well.

Greek Souvlaki
Marinate 2 lbs. of lamb in:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup red wine
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. dried mint
3 cloves minced garlic

Mix the marinade ingredients in a gallon size zip lock bag. Cube lamb into 1 inch cubes and marinate for up to 24 hours. Discard marinade and thread lamb cubes onto skewers.

Preheat a grill to medium heat and grill for 10-12 minutes rotating for even cooking.

Serve with pita bread that has been brushed with olive oil and warmed on the grill, fried onions (if you’d like) and tsatziki. I have a great green rice recipe that I usually serve with the Souvlaki, so I’ve included that below as well.

1 pint plain yoghurt
1 unpeeled cucumber, seeds removed and finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
chopped parsley

Combine all ingredients and serve with lamb.

Green Rice with Pine Nuts
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
1 cup long-grain rice, uncooked
2 cups canned low sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add green onions, and saute´ until tender. Add spinach, parsley and celery leaves; saute´
1 to 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Add rice stirring gently.

Add chicken broth to rice mixture; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. stir in pine nuts, pepper and salt. Makes 6 servings.

Another different way to cook lamb is to pound it thin and stuff it with a combination of herbs and then roll and roast it. This technique is called a “Braciole” and is common in Italian cooking. Chef Casey Pesce of D’jeet and Apple Street Kitchen has taught several classes at Taste & Technique.
Soon after T&T opened, Casey shared his Lamb Braciole Recipe with students.

Many years later, when we were traveling to St. Kitts to see our daughter for Easter, I made the dish ahead and roasted it when we arrived. I was so surprised at how well it traveled and how preparing it ahead intensified the flavor of the herbs.

Chef Casey’s Lamb Braciole
1 leg of lamb, de-boned, trimmed and pounded thin
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese
Vegetable oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Butcher twine

Preheat oven to 375˚

In a skillet on medium high heat, add 2 Tbsp of oil and brown lamb on all sides. Transfer to a roasting pan with rack. Cook in oven at 375˚ for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from oven and let lamb rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

As I said, my family loves lamb but like turkey at Thanksgiving, lamb can be one of those seasonal dishes enjoyed only at Easter and Passover. I hope that’s not the case and that you give these recipes a try throughout the year.

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