April 21, 2009
Sunday was Greek Easter (well, really, Christian Orthodox Easter, not just Greek). Yes. This past Sunday. Not the Sunday before. That was everyone else’s Easter. (There’s nothing like growing up trying to explain the Eastern Orthodox calendar to friends, but I digress.) While a very holy holiday, Easter celebrations in Greece tend to be casual gatherings as much about religion as a welcome to Spring. My mother tells stories of outdoor picnics, lambs roasting on spits, and tables full of red eggs, mezzes, and tsoureki (sweet bread made especially for Easter).
Like my mom, I have fond memories of casual Easter get-togethers centered around big meals cooked by my yiayia. And this Easter was no different. Still the baby of the family—well, besides Isaac—I have to really push to have family gatherings at my place. But I didn’t complain about heading to my aunt’s place this year since, to be honest, cooking a big holiday dinner was more of a fun fantasy than a reality I felt like taking on. So Isaac, ChowPapa, and I happily made our way to NJ for a surprisingly delicious Greek Easter meal.
With only seven of us at dinner, my aunt kept things delightfully simple: kefalotiri, feta, crackers, spanakopita, and olives to start; a green, dill laced salad; steamed string beans and asparagus dressed with nothing more than salt, olive oil, and lemon juice; perfect lemony roast potatoes; and, the star of the show, garlicky roast leg of lamb.
The cooking began before I arrived and trying to get Greeks to relay an actual recipe and measurements is like trying to herd cats. (See, Michelle, I come by it honestly!) Thankfully, this roast lamb is so simple that figuring out the recipe was easy. It’s low-maintenance enough that you don’t have to wait for a special occasion. You can make this any weekend when you can spare a couple of hours for roasting. But, if you want to wait for a special event, your guests will surely be as thankful as we all were to my aunt for making such a great meal.
Greek-Style Roast Leg of Lamb
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)*
6 lb bone-in, organic leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat
juice of 5 organic lemons
1 small head organic garlic, peeled, large cloves cut in half
organic olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the meantime, cut slits in the meat all around the leg and push garlic cloves into them. Use anywhere from 3/4 to the entire head, depending on how garlicky you like your food. Rub meat with generous amounts of salt and pepper, olive oil, and a couple of palmfuls of lemon juice. Place lamb in a roasting pan.
2. Pour remaining lemon juice in roasting pan and add enough water to create about 1″ of liquid at the bottom of the pan.
3. For medium, roast lamb for about 2 hours (approximately 20 min per pound, until your roast registers 145-150 degrees), basting every 20 minutes or so. At the hour and a half mark, raise the oven temp to 400 degrees to encourage extra crisping! If you prefer your lamb medium rare (which I usually do), cook for 12 min per pound, until your roast registers about 130 degrees.
4. Remove roast from oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for about 15 minutes before carving.
*Lamb can be served to children as young as 8 mos. You can easily roast a delicious leg of lamb without lemon juice that can be fed to your 8+ month old (ground up for the little ones). But since lemon is such a key ingredient in roasting lamb Greek style, I suggest this recipe be served only to children 12+ mos who eat citrus.