Not just for Easter: Grilled lamb; green beans, red peppers and tomatoes; Greek sticky rice; and tzatziki Photo: Jeff O’Heir
For barbecue fanatics and weekend warriors alike, there are few dishes better than a butterflied leg of lamb to celebrate the first feast of spring and to kick off the warm-weather grilling season. And if you’re looking for a twist on your traditional Easter menu, this menu fits the bill.
If you haven’t cooked lamb like this before — grilled directly over coals — chances are you’ll soon be making it for more than Easter and Passover. The savory, earthy flavor of the meat and charred, crusted herbs makes it a more flavorful alternative to typical grilled steak and pork. It also complements a variety of side dishes, cooks up fast, and, due to the unevenness of the slab, yields cuts that range from rare to well done.
Photo: Jeff O’Heir
That makes it a perfect protein for the large holiday crowds I feed. My sister-in-law likes her meat burnt, my mother prefers well done, my father wants it rare, and my brother goes for bloody. I like it all, from the crunchy, salty charred bits to the silky rare to the buttery medium. Everybody leaves the table happy.
Cooking the lamb directly over the coals yields that variety of flavors and textures more easily than indirect grilling (also called a two-zone setup or reverse-sear). Indirect grilling is preferred by barbecue perfectionists because it cooks the meat more evenly, beginning from the center of the cut to the edges. This direct method, though, saves a few steps from the process and yields similar evenness. If your looking for sides, try the Greek sticky rice; green beans, tomatoes, and red peppers; and tzatziki recipes below.
Grilled Butterflied Lamb Recipe
Plan on letting the meat marinade in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight before you start grilling it.
First comes the marinade. I hate to have any fresh herbs left over from my side dishes, so I throw whatever I won’t be using in the marinade. Mint, oregano, rosemary, and garlic all work well together. Don’t skimp on the herbs and other seasonings.
1½ cups of olive oil (or enough to fully coat the meat)
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
Juice of a medium-size lemon
Kosher salt and cracked pepper for rub
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Let the marinade sit at room temperature for an hour to infuse the oil with all of that herbal goodness. Stir occasionally.
When the marinade is ready, spread the lamb on a cutting board. Rub a few full pinches of salt and cracked pepper (about six to eight turns of the pepper mill) over the meat, place it in a sealable plastic bag, and add the marinade. Stick your hands in there and work the herbs into all of the nooks and crannies of the meat. Seal the bag, give it a good shake to cover all of the meat, and let it marinate in the fridge. Flip the bag over every now and then. Let it marinate for at least 4 hours, and ideally overnight.
After the meat has marinated, remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room for about 30 minutes. This is a good time to start your coals. Use a coal chimney starter (Weber makes a sturdy one, about $15 at Home Depot). Don’t use lighter fluid. You’ll be covering the grill to roast the lamb and you don’t want any gassy flavors.
Avoid using lighter fluid, since you’ll be cooking the meat with the grill covered. Photo: Jeff O’Heir
When the coals are covered with gray ash, spread them over the bottom grate of the grill. Replace the cooking grate, let it heat up for a few minutes, and place your meat on it. The exterior will sear fast (which is what you want), so keep an eye on things. After about 1½ minutes (or until the exterior is nicely browned, with a few crusty ridges here and there), flip the meat. Sear for another 1½ minutes. Cover the grill (leaving the vents about ¾ open) and cook the meat for 4 minutes. Flip it and let it cook for about another 3 minutes.
This is a good time to check doneness. Insert a digital rapid-read meat thermometer halfway into the thickest part of the meat. The meat’s ready when the thermometer reaches 130° F, definitely no more than 135° F. Remove the meat from grill, let it rest for at least 15 minutes, slice thin and serve.
A few charred onion bits and chicken broth adds extra flavor to the rice. Photo: Jeff O’Heir
Greek Sticky Rice
This side is especially useful if you need a starch to round out a quick dinner cobbled together from the days-old scraps of an Easter feast. Clean out the fridge and put that leftover dill, mint, and feta to good use. Of course, you can also use fresh ingredients to make a tasty side for the main holiday spread. Lightly fried onions and chicken broth add some extra flavor and color to the rice. Bulgarian feta, especially the double cream variety, has a smooth, soft texture that blends well with the rice. Then again, any imported feta is always good.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion (about 1 ½ cups), diced
4 cups rice, rinsed
48-oz. can fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup of feta cheese (more if you want)
1 heaping tablespoon of chopped dill
1 heaping tablespoon of chopped mint
Add the oil to a large pot and heat on a medium-low flame. Lightly sauté the onion for about 3 minutes. Add the rice, mix with the oil and onions, and cook for about 5 minutes, frequently stirring to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken broth and stir well. Bring the broth to a boil and continue boiling, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Kill the flame, cover the pot, and let sit for about 25 minutes, or until the top layer of rice is fully cooked. Mix in the herbs and feta. Let sit about 15 minutes before serving.
Green beans, red peppers, and tomatoes made better with feta. Photo: Jeff O’Heir
Green Beans, Red Peppers, and Tomatoes
This go-to side complements a variety of meat and fish. It also makes a delicious vegetarian entrée served on a bed of rice or pasta, topped with feta, and accompanied by a big salad.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion
2 large cloves garlic, diced (about one heaping tablespoon)
One 28-ounce can of whole or diced tomatoes
1½ pounds of green beans, ends removed
1 large, thinly sliced red pepper
1 large sprig of rosemary
Heat oil on medium-low flame in a large pan or medium-size pot. Sauté onions and garlic for about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes (if using whole tomatoes, break them up with a potato masher), stir, and bring to boil. Add the rosemary and lower heat to simmer. Cover pot or pan and let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, bring two cups of water to boil in a medium pot. Place the beans in a colander and fit it over the pot. Cover the colander with a lid and steam for about 5 minutes, until the beans are barely cooked (you want some snap and color to them). Add the beans and peppers to the tomato sauce, add cracked pepper to taste, stir, and simmer uncovered for 7 to 8 minutes, or until beans are lightly cooked.
Double the recipe. This tzatziki goes fast. Photo: Jeff O’Heir
This is a tasty foundation for a bright, fresh sauce that tastes great with a variety of meats and fish, all kinds of raw and cooked vegetables, grape leaves, pita bread, and much more. Adjust the amount of any ingredient to your taste. Instead of salting the sliced cucumber to remove the moisture, which I think takes too long, finely grate the cucumber into a strainer and use your hand to force out the water. Finely chop any remaining bits of cucumber and add it to the mix.
17.6 ounce container Greek yogurt (any level of fat content works)
1 small garlic clove, chopped.
1½ tablespoons of fresh dill, chopped
1½ tablespoons of fresh mint, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, grated, and strained
Juice of ½ small lemon
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Need more ideas for your Easter feast?
What are you making for Easter brunch or dinner? Let us know below!