Monday, April 13, 2009


Growing up, the two main holidays in my family were Passover and Thanksgiving; it was not a coincidence that both center around a meal. These days, since we observe nothing in particular, Sunday was better for us and our guests so that's when the meal happened. I do have sentimental attachments to the Seder, but only the people- not to the tedium and all the rules. My Grandmother used to make a mean leg of lamb, and my Mom learned from her, but sitting there for what seemed like an eternity before we actually got to eat it was never any fun. Since they're gone, it falls to me to continue the tradition, only without the waiting and with a few modifications to the technique.

The trick my ancestors used was to cut slits in the meat and poke garlic cloves inside to perfume the meat and cook along with it. I do the same, but I cut the cloves in half lengthwise so they're thinner, and I wrap each one in a few rosemary leaves before I tuck them in. I also like a spice rub and cooking it on the grill instead of the oven. The above is a whole local lamb leg, with the shank cut off and frozen for another time, prepared thus and well-rubbed with a mixture of salt, pepper, pimentón, cumin, 5-spice, and mustard powder, then left to sit for about three hours to soak up the flavor and come to room temperature.

After a spell on the grill, it was perfect: nice and smoky on the outside, and still very red at the bone. We all took slices from different depths to enjoy the full spectrum. Around the lamb, moving clockwise, are preserved lemons puréed with good brown mustard, a pesto made only from things that I picked in the yard and garden (wild chives, ramps, oregano, parsley, chervil, kale, pan di zucchero, radicchio, sorrel, sage and enough oil to bring it together) then arugula salad, C&S's kale and turnips in dashi, their burdock and celery with black sesame seeds, and parsnips they brought (all the vegetables came from their root cellar) which I steamed and mashed with sour cream, vanilla, and the steaming water.

We all went back several times. The two condiments were wicked with the meat, and all of the vegetables were amazingly rich and satisfying. My wife, who is much more into traditions and holidays and such, took it upon herself to make a cake. Lacking a lamb-shaped baking dish, she went with a simple springform and made a banana cake with sour cream and lemon buttercream covered in coconut. It too was well-received, especially by the kids. Best of all, when you have a big meal at 2 PM and linger over it you can skip dinner altogether.


cook eat FRET said...

absolutely breathtaking. i so so so love a great leg of lamb. cake looks delicious.

in my next llfe you will be my house boy. of course in your next life, i will not exist.

Zoomie said...

Like you, I think it's the people who are the tradition, not the date. Sounds like a great get-together with all contributing to the feast. Just what Easter/Passover/Vernal celebration should be.

Heather said...

This year, since the nieces and nephews can eat something besides EasyMac without having a meltdown, I made an Easter ham with mandarin-honey-bourbon glaze, and the bro-in-law made the simple sides (my fussy request): mashed potatoes and peas. All I could really eat were the mash and peas, but it was still nice to have a family dinner, without the religious obligations implied by the holiday.

Chag Same'ach!

Jana Martin said...

Ah. Heard that lamb was wonderful. Cutting slits in the meat was something a Brit boy showed me when grilling chicken; I'll try it next with other meaties. Love your bright green, microlocal pesto (hey -- there's an article idea), and C&S's dishes sure do bring back memories. Happy posteaster.

peter said...

Claudia: Don't you already have a houseboy?

Zoomie: I agree.

Blanche: Nothing says Easter like some martyrdom.

Jana: Well, if you'd come this morning, you could have had leftovers.

The Spiteful Chef said...

You Jews know how to eat, I'll give you that. With the exception of gefilte fish. But my people are responsible for lutefisk, so I guess there's no finger pointing for ancestral culinary abortions. Happy spring holiday, Peter.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

It looks amazing. I do a similar technique with pork, but as usual, my spicing has much less depth than yours.

We had a very non-traditional Easter dinner and like you, pretty much observe no specific traditions these days - I'm from a mixed background so we did it all when I was growing up. I made a mean beef tenderloin and a french chocolate cake that will definitely stay on the roster. That was rounded out by asparagus, salad and baked potatoes.

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Wow that lamb looks amazing. I saw legs of lamb on sale at wholefoods today. I may have to go back tomorrow and get one. Love the idea of the wild green pesto. I have a bunch of ramps and nettles sitting in the fridge from a recent foraging expedition.

Brooke said...

Funny, all my favorite holidays revolve around food too. So, Thanksgiving, pretty much. I never got into the Easter thing because it's the "candy holiday". Candy can suck it - I just want food.

That lamb looks absolutely beautiful. I want a slice.

Anonymous said...

The gyros and condiments were amazing.
Sorry I missed the pho.