Slow-cooked, melt-in-your-mouth lamb is a classic winter meal, yet the Mediterranean spin on this family favourite makes it a firm weekend lunch fixture at any time of the year, rain, hail or shine.
Add some carrots, parsnips, turnips or sweet potatoes to the roasting pan to soak up the delicious juices of the herb-infused meat as it roasts, and you’ve created an easy side dish to serve alongside it. This lamb also teams perfectly with high-fibre, low-carb mashed cauliflower.
Bursting with protein and healthy anti-inflammatory fats, slow cooked Greek lamb is delicious and a welcome bonus to slow cooking fans the world over.
Lamb is perhaps one of the most common meats in Greece, consumed at least several times a week. An important holiday food, lamb is a crucial part of Greece’s culinary heritage. Considered a specialty, this meal is often accompanied by red wine or ouzo, a traditional Greek alcoholic drink served ice cold.
At Easter, lamb is the meal of choice, roasted whole on a spit. Following forty days of lent, there is something magical about having the entire family unite to enjoy a good dose of healthy protein. Even today in some Greek villages, this Sunday dinner is brought to the bakery (or fourno) and, for a small fee, the bakers cook the meal. This custom stems back from a time when many Greek homes did not have an oven.
Nowadays, this tradition is a rather crafty way for Greeks to ensure they don't have to make the whole apartment unbearably hot, especially during the sweltering Mediterranean summer.
One thing doctors, nutritionists and dietitians sing the praises of and all agree on is the Mediterranean diet, an answer to a range of ailments, from obesity to high cholesterol.
It’s the absence of processed high-carb foods, and high reliance on fresh produce, extra virgin olive oil, and quality protein that has been attributed to the numerous health benefits of the Greek diet.
Back in Aus, where ‘lamb on the barbie” is a frequent family favourite, recent studies have shown lamb to rank among the top omega-3 foods in the Australian daily diet.
In this dish the quality of the lamb makes all the difference. When choosing lamb, be sure to look out for organic, grass-fed varieties, as this has been shown to contain at least one-quarter more omega-3s than conventionally fed lamb.
Lamb is also a rich source of omega-6 fatty acids. Since the average westerner consumes too many omega-6 fatty acids in relation to omega-3s, most studies have focused on the benefits of limiting omega-6 intake while neglecting this vital nutrient’s amazing health benefits.
Increased intake of the omega-6 fatty acid CLA (or, to get technical, conjugated linoleic acid), has actually been shown to improve your immune and inflammatory function, bone mass, blood sugar regulation, and to reduce body fat while maintaining lean body mass.
Grass-fed lamb is also a very good source of selenium and zinc, two antioxidant minerals that protect your body against oxidative stress and the development of heart disease. As if this weren’t enough, lamb is also a rich source of B6, B12, folate, and choline, nutrients essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism. Perhaps we’ve just solved the mystery of how Greeks seem to eat whatever they like and remain so slim!
This recipe sticks to the traditional way of cooking lamb the "Greek way". Despite calling for only a handful of ingredients, its flavor profile is extensive. Garlic cloves are inserted into the flesh, and the rest of the lamb is covered in a mixture of salt, lemon juice, olive oil and two herbs essential in Mediterranean cooking – parsley and oregano.
When indulging in a hearty meat-based dish, it’s a good idea to include a number of natural aids that will help you digest the proteins and break down the amino acids so that you can enjoy your meal without any unpleasant digestive symptoms such as reflux or heartburn afterwards. The lemon in this dish will enhance your stomach’s natural acidity, and activate your primary protein-digesting enzyme known as pepsin.
Herbs are also great natural aids to assist the process of protein digestion. In this dish, parsley and oregano unite to create a heaven sent flavour. Since the days of Hippocrates, parsley has been used in medicinal recipes to treat gastrointestinal disorders due to its ability to stimulate digestion, help eliminate toxins, and relieve water retention, bloating, and flatulence.
Another herbal digestive remedy, oregano, has been shown to act as an extremely powerful anti-parasitic, antibacterial, and antifungal. In fact, oregano oil can be just as effective as many over-the-counter drugs and antibiotics at eliminating pathogens, which often can complicate digestion.
The beauty in this dish is not only the succulent meat that results from the slow-roasting process, but also the tantalising sauce that forms at the base of the pan. The olive oil, lamb juices, parsley, oregano and lemon juice combine to make a melt-in-the-mouth sauce or zoumi as it is known in Greek. Of course, it's compulsory that this zoumi is served on top of the meat.
Sharing good quality food is a bonding experience. Create a ceremonial experience by placing and serving the roast at the centre of the dinner table making it accessible to all. Choose the guest of honour to gently flake the meat off the bone it’ll come off easily and in no time requests for seconds will start flooding in.
Find more of my family recipes in my recipe books here.
Slow Cooked Greek Lamb
WF DF GF SF
For a taste of the Mediterranean, there’s nothing more special than this succulent lamb, all sweet and tender and melt-in-the-mouth.
- 3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 4 tbs lemon juice
- 1 tbs dried oregano
- 1.8–2 kg (4–4 lb 8 oz) leg of lamb, organic if possible
- 750 ml (26 fl oz/3 cups) filtered water, approximately
- 1–2 lemon wedges
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Preheat the oven to 160ºC (315ºF/Gas 2–3).
- Mix 2 tbs of the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and oregano together in a small bowl, and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Rub the garlic mixture all over the lamb.
- Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting tin.
- Pour filtered water into the tin to a depth of about 2 cm (3/4 inch).
- Bake the lamb for 5 hours, basting every hour with the pan juices.
- Remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes.
- To serve, place the whole leg on a warm platter in the centre of the table.
- Squeeze the juice from the lemon wedges over the lamb, then drizzle with the remaining extra virgin olive oil.
- Flake the meat off the bone with a fork, sprinkle with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, scatter the parsley over and serve.