Roasted lamb is one of my absolute favorites. In 2015, I spent a summer living in a small village on the island of Crete with my Aunt and Uncle. They live off the land and practically everything they consume is of their own production. This is one of the Greek lamb recipes that is a great example of how local and seasonal ingredients are used by the Cretan people. Because my Aunt doesn’t write down her recipes, I had to try and recreate this by observing her make it a bunch of times. I really think I’ve got it down. Starting with the meat, my Aunt and Uncle raise two to three lambs at a time until they are ready to butcher for meat. They freeze the meat in portions to use throughout the year. The lambs eat organic greens and plants from the olive vineyards and surrounding countryside. This gives them a very pure taste that isn’t gamey and overpowering.
My Uncle, Manoli, cultivates large patches of potatoes. These potatoes are stored in the basement and my Aunt will cook with them throughout the year. In his summer garden filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and other vegetables, he grows a ridiculous amount of zucchini. The zucchini in Crete are so abundant that if you don’t pick every day, they will grow too large. The small to medium size zucchini have more flavor and are more tender. I love how my Aunt adds some zucchini to the tray of lamb and potatoes.
My Uncle grows an abundance of tomatoes and he’s very proud of the quality of them. They are red, juicy, sweet, and beefy. My Aunt grates the tomato for this recipe. They also grow their own garlic which goes into this recipe. For the oregano, they have a friend who collects wild oregano in the mountains, dries it, and gives them huge bags of it. This is some of the best oregano in the world in my opinion. It doesn’t get much better than wild Cretan mountain oregano.
The last and most important ingredient is the extra virgin olive oil. They grow around 500-600 olive trees now, and it used to be even more when they were younger. This is extremely high quality extra virgin olive oil grown from the Koroneiki variety of olive. It’s a small black olive that has very high anti-inflammatory properties which has contributed to the Cretan people’s longevity rates.
This dish is Greek comfort food at its best. Greeks are known to eat lamb, but they don’t eat it as much as you think. This is a weekend and special occasion dish. We would eat this every other weekend or so, because some weekends we would have a different meat dish, like grilled pork chops, or fish. What I love most about this dish is how the potatoes and zucchini soak up some of the flavor from the lamb. I would serve this dish with a traditional Greek salad, good crusty bread, and a glass of red wine.
Cut the lamb into 4 equal sized pieces, or as close as possible.
Add all of the ingredients to a baking dish and mix well with your hands. After mixing, arrange the pieces of lamb on top of the potatoes and zucchini so the potatoes and zucchini are flavored by the meat.
Bake at 400 F for an hour and fifteen minutes. Halfway through the cooking process, flip the meat and turn the potatoes and zucchini over. This will ensure even cooking throughout. The lamb should be pulling away from the bone when it's done, and the potatoes should be soft throughout.
George studied International Business in Greece in 2015 for three semesters. His family is from the island of Crete, and he lived with them for a whole summer. During that time, he started working for Mediterranean Living and contributing his firsthand experiences of the traditional Cretan diet. He learned fluent Greek along the way, being fully immersed in a traditional Cretan village. He is since graduated with a business degree from Worcester State University. George loves language and traveling, so he completed a TEFL certificate program at the Boston Language Institute in order to teach English abroad and travel the world. He currently works full-time blogging, recipe formulating, and social media marketing for Mediterranean Living. His passions include language, gardening, hiking, skateboarding, and watching sports. He dreams of living in Crete one day, after he travels the world learning as many languages and cultures as possible.