It starts with a love story
There is a single word in Greek, kefi, that explains a philosophy of life. Kefi is the culmination of a celebration when music, dance, food, liquor, and the company you share intersect. The effect is so ethereal and the feeling so euphoric that you realize this is what life is about. It isn’t material possessions – the size of your house or the kind of car you drive – that are important. It’s the joy you derive from celebrating life with the people you love.
This cookbook is a love story. About a man and his family. His family and food. And food as love.
Michael Psilakis has written a cookbook that you just want to sit down and read with a glass of wine in the evening. He’s crafted a story about his family, including his deep, personal relationship with his late father, that can make you misty-eyed at times. Love, faith, teenage angst and family dinners all coincide and then you look up, and remember it’s a cookbook.
A beautiful book
How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking is a beautiful book with mouth-watering recipes. The pictures and pages have a matte-texture to them that I find both modern and classic. Combining full color pictures of many of the recipes, alongside black and white family photos, How to Roast a Lamb is like thumbing through a treasured family scrapbook.
The cookbook is organized into the following chapters : My Father’s Garden, Open Water, Dinner, Family Style, My First Recipes, The Hunting Trip, A Lamb and a Goat, Psilakis Birthday Dinners, Kefi – A Time to Dance, Big-Party Cooking, Anthos – The New World, and The Aegean Pantry. If you’ve read my blog for some time you might quickly realize why I love this book so much.
It relates to the way we naturally eat.
With family, for feasts, with friends, from the fishing basket, and with an emphasis on using homemade, hand-crafted pantry goodies. It is like it was written for me!
Coming from a family of hunters and fishers myself (with a freezer loaded to prove it) I appreciated Psilakis’ appreciation for and recipes for wild game and fish, along with both traditional Greek fare as well as next generation Greek recipes that you might not expect. (see his venison sausage recipe)
In the chapter entitled, “The Hunting Trip,” Psilakis explains,
“We are so removed from the origins of our food that to see the animal in its natural habitat is to learn a new respect for the food we eat and the people with whom we share our food. The food is more special because we know where it came from, and the respect that we show for it – by cooking it well, by enjoying it, and by gaining nutrition and life from the animal that gave its life – are part of the Greek culture that most of us don’t get a chance to experience.”
Michael Psilakis, though I’ve never met him, reminds me of a man’s man. A Hemingway. One that hunts, fishes, adores his wife, children and mother and is man enough to cry from joy when he dances, in his words, becoming
“consumed by kefi and the spirit and soul of the dance,”
before wiping his eyes, tossing back a glass of metaxa and brandishing his knife to cut up a large cut of meat to serve to his family.
About that Lamb
When I was in elementary school I grew up in a small town in California, affectionately nicknamed, “Lambtown, USA.” You might have guessed, they were known for raising lambs there. Every year the town hosted a big fair that showcased the best of the community, from FFA animal showings to quilts and jams and always had lots of rides which I looked forward to every year.
The first time I had lamb that I truly relished was at a barbecue hosted in conjunction with the fair. With rows of charcoal grills underneath the oak trees, the men in their best jeans and button-down shirts manned the grills with an air of nonchalance and experience. I was maybe only ten at the time, but this barbecue and the lamb I ate there is a taste memory that is as clear today as if I enjoyed that morsel last week. Succulent and rich, I loved it. That taste memory, along with the following recipe, inspired me to make lamb for our Easter dinner this year.
In a book entitled How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking you’d expect a roast lamb recipe, right? Psilakis doesn’t let you down. He actually shares two, the one below along with a whole spit-roasted lamb for “Big-Party Cooking.” Can’t decide? Check out the book for both!
Roasted Leg of Lamb
serves 6, or more family-style
Butterflying the lamb gives you options that you don’t have with a bone. A good butcher will be happy to do this for you. Here, I’ve made a very flavorful stuffing from sun-dried tomatoes, which looks great when you carve the roast. Normally, I don’t see the point of mincing herbs, but rosemary, with its woody sprigs, is hard to eat. If you’re using it only as a flavoring agent, you can just pull the sprigs out at the end, but if you want to eat it – and lamb loves rosemary – it has to be very finely chopped.
For the Stuffing
1-1/2 cups large, plump, sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
Leaves only from 3 small sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon dry Greek oregano
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
15 cloves garlic confit or 1/3 cup garlic puree*
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
About 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
For the Lamb
3 to 3-1/2 pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied to flatten, some of the fat trimmed off
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 Tablespoon Garlic Puree or 2 to 3 cloves Garlic Confit*
3 large sprigs rosemary
3 Tablespoons blended oil (90 percent canola,10 percent extra-virgin olive oil)**
In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients for the stuffing and puree to a smooth, thick paste, about 45 to 60 seconds. reserve about 2 Tablespoons of the stuffing.
Lay the lamb out on a work surface with the fattier side down. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper and spread an even layer of stuffing over it, pressing the stuffing down into the crevices. Drizzle with a little olive oil and roll the lamb up in a spiral, seasoning the fatty side with salt and pepper as you roll. Tie in 3 or 4 places crosswise and 1 or 2 places lengthwise (twist the string around itself 3 times instead of just once before you pull it tight, so it won’t loosen as soon as you let go). Ideally, allow the meat to sit on a rack, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight, to dry the surface well and develop all the Greek flavors.
Bring the lamb to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small roasting pan, whisk the reserved stuffing with the water, mustard, and Garlic Puree. Throw in the rosemary sprigs. Place a roasting rack in the pan; the rack should not touch the liquid.
Again, season the lamb on all sides very generously with kosher salt and pepper. In a large, heavy skillet, warm the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, sear the lamb well on all sides, using tongs and leaning the meat up against the side of the pan to sear the thinner sides and cut ends. Transfer the lamb to the rack seam-side up and roast for about 1 hour, basting every 15 minutes with the pan liquid. (When the meat is medium-rare – 140 degrees Fahrenheit – a skewer inserted at the thickest point should feel warm when pressed against your lower lip.)
Rest the meat for about 15 minutes. Slice 1/4-inch-thick-pieces, drizzle with the pan sauce, and finish with a little extra-virgin olive oil.
Optional : Peel and cut a few potatoes into rough wedges, toss with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and throw in the roasting pan.
**Sarah’s note : I don’t personally use canola oil but this is what the original recipe calls for. If you prefer not to use canola oil try substituting a high-heatable oil like coconut or palm oil or non-hydrogenated leaf lard.
images from How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking