Nick Roumel: Break that 'strict fast' you've been on for Lent with Greek Easter Lamb

For Greek Orthodox, Easter is the culmination of a long, hard Lenten season where one is supposed to "strict fast" or abstain from all meat, fish, eggs, dairy, olive oil, and alcohol.

Oddly, seafood is exempted, so one could "legally" subsist on lobster, potato chips, and Coca-Cola, but I digress.

The midnight Greek Easter "Resurrection" service is a beautiful celebration, replete with singing and fireworks, and the strict fast is typically broken with a post-midnight bowl of "margeritsa," a soup made with lamb broth, rice, herbs, and various internal lamb parts, which shall remain nameless.

This is designed - theoretically - to gently reintroduce meat into the system.

Easter Sunday is devoted to meal preparation.

The image from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" of the whole spring lamb, roasting on the spit, with a crowd of loud Greek cousins in the yard, is not far from reality.

For smaller families, it is traditional to roast a leg of lamb with olive oil, garlic, and lemon - the holy trinity of Greek seasoning.

My Yia Yia would roast hers up with quartered potatoes, and I would crumble feta cheese on it and eat until I was stuffed.

This cooking tradition to me beats the American custom of an Easter ham, and this year is our opportunity to prove it, because the Greek and "American" Easters coincide.

Typically the Greek Easter is later, as it always occurs after Jewish Passover. During my childhood, this meant that the Easter bunny could always find half-priced chocolate. But this year is a rare opportunity for Greek and American Easter celebrants to dine together, and for us Greeks to demonstrate conclusively the clear superiority of lamb to ham.

The recipe I will make this year combines my love of lamb, potatoes, and feta cheese, and also incorporates abundant fresh and seasonal spring greens.

Prepare and marinate in advance, then roast.

Easter Leg of Lamb

Ingredients:

1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing

1 fennel bulb only, thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic, plus 2 garlic cloves, quartered

6-8 cups chopped/washed mixed greens (spinach, chard, pea shoots - whatever you got)

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, preferably freshly ground or crushed in a mortar

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 3 1/2-to-4 pound boneless half leg of lamb, butterflied (butcher can do this)

1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese - preferably sheep and/or goat milk

Salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

1/2 cup dry white wine, plus more if needed

1/2 cup chopped fennel fronds plus tender stalks, or fresh dill

Preparation

In a large skillet, sauté fennel bulb in oil until just tender, about 3 minutes.

Add scallions and chopped garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add greens and sauté, stirring, until barely wilted.

Remove from the heat and stir in fennel seeds and pepper. Let cool, then add the mint.

Make 8 small slits randomly in the lamb and insert the garlic quarters.

Transfer half of the greens mixture to a bowl. Add feta to the greens remaining in the skillet.

Spread the feta mixture over the lamb, squeezing it to extract the excess juices; add some of the remaining greens if needed; the lamb should be well stuffed.

Roll it up and close it with twine or skeweres. Rub the lamb all over with the remaining greens.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Scrape the greens off the surface of the lamb and reserve.

Brush the lamb with oil and sprinkle with the oregano and salt and pepper to taste.

Place the lamb in a roasting pan that just holds it comfortably, preferably a clay or Pyrex one.

Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the wine to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Add the reserved greens.

Pour the greens mixture over the lamb and roast for 5 minutes more.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and roast the lamb, basting frequently with the pan juices, adding a little more wine to the pan if necessary, for about 30 minutes longer, to an internal temperature of 135°F for medium.

Remove the lamb from the oven, sprinkle with the chopped fennel or dill, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes before serving with the reserved pan juices.

Accompaniments - this is traditionally served with roast potatoes, which are often quartered or cubed and roasted with the lamb; but with this recipe I'd bake them in a separate roasting dish.

Toss with the aforementioned "holy trinity" of oil, garlic and lemon, add water or stock partway through cooking, season with oregano, salt and pepper before serving.

Complete your meal with more feta, olives, Greek salad, spanakopita (spinach pie), bread, skordalia (garlic dip), tzadziki (yogurt dip), stuffed grape leaves, and plenty of wine and Ouzo.

You'll have to make up for all that fasting.

Kali Anastasi! Happy Easter!

(Recipes adapted from "Aglaia Kremezi, Foods of the Greek Islands.")

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

Published: Thu, Apr 21, 2011

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »