Putting lamb in your chops this Easter?
Easter is family feast time. Whether it be for religious merriment or just in celebration of the extra two days off work, we often gather friends and family around us over the break to eat. And usually it is lamb. A big roasted leg often, but why lamb?
The answer is simple - it's all about the season. New season's lamb, which is considered to be the tastiest, tenderest and finest of all is just ready for eating around about this time every year. After the long harsh winter, what better way to celebrate the new season of Spring and Easter all in one with this fresh and readily available meat at its very best?
Delving back into memories of Sunday school lessons, I remember also a Passover story. The people of Egypt in the book of Exodus suffered a series of terrible plagues and curses, including the death of all first born sons (cheerful hey) and a custom developed where Jewish people would paint their doors with the blood of first born lambs to encourage God to 'pass over' their house when carrying out this awful curse. This I assume led to the eating of the lamb too.
Whatever led us to enjoy scoffing lamb at Easter, I’m glad it happened. Lamb is a unique flavour. Unlike anything else. It is one of nature's most natural free range foods too, as they only get a short spell indoors during the really cold spells of winter. The rest of the time they are roaming the pastures and eating all manner of tasty things, which in turn makes them heavenly to eat.
If you read my Christmas feast blog, you'll know I quite like a change from the traditional and typical roast. Mainly because as the cook I like to enjoy the meal too, rather than spending hours and hours in the kitchen getting stressed and worrying about timings. What time to start the broccoli? Have I got time to listen to The Archer's omnibus before putting the spuds in? If I enlist two helpers can I get everything on the table before Aunty Betty has her third sherry and starts espousing rationing stories again? I prefer a more relaxed approach to my feasting and the key is cooking in advance.
So what can be done before yor Easter meal to make this easy?
Well, this Easter my table will have only one home-cooked thing on it. The lamb. A four hour slow roast spice rubbed shoulder to be precise. The rest will be a carefully but simply put together cacophony of accompaniments to which people can help themselves and create lovely oozy succulent tender parcels of joy. Warm soft tortilla wraps, sliced tomatoes, ribbons of cucumber, finely shredded red onions, mint parsley and pomegranate seeds to sprinkle on like jewels. Hummus to smear on the wraps, thinly sliced chillies for those who want to add heat and big bowls of sumac scented yoghurt to cool it down. Sumac is one of my favourite spices and will be used to rub the lamb too. Lamb and sumac go hand in hand like rhubarb and custard. Sumac has a lemony flavour and a very attractive reddish purple colour; in fact its name is derived from the Arabic word for red.
Sumac isn't just used as a spice but a dye too in some cultures - Native Americans used the woody stems hollowed as pipes and mixed the spice in with their smoking tobacco. It also can be used as a tanning agent for leather which makes it super soft and silky and certain varieties are absolutely stellar antioxidants . A truly multifunctional super spice! But I am only concerned with cooking with it. Lamb and sumac have a history together, often in various versions of kebab throughout the middle east, and in the spice mix Za'atar. I think it works for me as lamb is a rich meat, with a fatty taste, the lemony zing and fragrance of sumac cuts right through that without over powering it. I'm mixing my sumac with some cinnamon and cumin too, a touch of thyme and some fresh lemon juice to make it all come together in a happy paste. Many napkins will be needed, shirt fronts dabbed at and fingers licked. But there will be smiles all round, including me. Knowing it took me under an hour to prepare the whole lot from start to finish.
I'll be raising a glass to this Easter miracle. Hope you do too. Cheers!