Where the past three weeks have flown to, I can’t say. We were officially caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season with a few added responsibilities this year, along with a few plagues that struck such as the inconvenience of a broken camera, the common cold, and stomach flu. Untimely, but it all only added to the food-blogging fire. So what can I offer after this recipe hiatus but a dish that is bursting with flavor, something totally unusual yet maybe most surprising … I have now happily added this to my favorite comfort foods list. If you are looking for a something unforgettably delicious to serve during the festivities, look no further. This would be a great way to start 2011.
It all began in mid-December. We were enjoying a fantastic brunch at Root Down with dear friends Nicole and Telly. We were, of course, talking about food and Telly told of his plans to make a braised leg of lamb for Christmas dinner. A few days passed and I couldn’t get it out of my head. We aren’t Greek, but why should that stop us from enjoying something so delicious? Telly kindly shared his recipe, and with much anticipation, I started stock-piling ingredients. I was especially fascinated by the inclusion of allspice. All of these years, I fell into the category of someone who thought allspice was a blend of spices. You too? Turns out it’s a berry, picked green and dried, originally from the Greater Antilles, Mexico and Central America. Columbus is credited for encountering it in Jamaica and allspice made its way into Old World kitchens in the 16th century. Now, not only do several European countries consider this spice a staple, but it’s apparently just as necessary to much of Middle-Eastern cooking. I love that so many ingredients we consider the foundations of cultural food turn out to be from somewhere else entirely…
Telly clarified that, “regarding our lamb recipe and methods, being Greek, we have many.” That’s a beautiful thing. According to him, this is a northeastern Greek recipe, with spice influences from northern Africa and Constantinople. I have to say, as I ate I thought about that and realized that was part of the difference. There was nothing “nouveau” about this, but each bite harkened back to an older time that had an appreciation for bold and complex flavor. I kept the rest of the menu quite simple, serving the lamb with orzo added in the last hour of cooking, home-made kalamata olive oil bread, and blanched green beans dressed with lemon and olive oil.
I will divulge that our guests (the family!) were quite happy with the results, if not a bit suprised at how much they loved it. It even won over a family member, who until this meal, does not care for lamb. Try it, I dare you.
Telly’s Spiced Leg of Lamb
by Eleftherios Topakas
- whole leg of lamb, not trimmed, bone in (mine was 9 lbs.)
- olive oil
- 2 c. flour
- 3 onions
- 12 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 112 oz. chopped tomatoes (be sure to use high quality canned tomatoes, unseasoned)
- 6 oz. tomato paste
- 18 oz. red wine (I used a Colorado Cabernet Savignon- good for cooking)
- 1/2 c. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. freshly ground allspice
- 6 fresh bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp. freshly ground cinnamon (I used Ceylon)
- 1 Tbsp. hot ground chiles (Telly also suggested Cayenne if you prefer)
- 1 medium bunch grapes (I used red)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 c. dried orzo
- Dredge the leg in flour, salt and pepper and shake excess off (too much flour will burn in the pan)
- In a large roasting pan on the stove top, heat several Tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat
- Brown all sides of the leg to seal in flavor
- Remove from heat and add all the ingredients, except the grapes, salt and pepper.
- Slow roast the leg at 350 F, covered, from 4-6 hours until the meat is falling off of the bone. Telly’s took 5 hours, he added some water halfway through, and turned the heat down. My oven’s heat stays very consistent, and it took about 4 hours and 15 minutes with plenty of the braising mixture remaining. I did not have a lid large enough for my roasting pan so it was not covered, but the meat was incredibly tender and there was plenty of braising liquid for the duration in the oven.
- If you would like to serve orzo with this, Telly suggested adding it in the last 45 minutes or so directly to the braising liquid. I did this and the orzo was out of this world! Be sure to mix it well into the tomato-wine liquid.
- Stir in the whole grapes 15 minutes before the lamb is finished.
- Once the lamb is finished, slice and serve with plenty of the spiced tomato wine sauce and orzo.
Telly suggested serving this with a Xinomavro from Naoussa or a Nebbiolo from Piedmont- Barolo or Barbaresco. We chose a ’97 and ’05 Barbaresco which were great pairings. Many thanks again, Telly, for sharing a superior recipe!