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.
Here are some recipes to pair with this dish: